Week 7: Searcher Post

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” – Andy Warhol

This past week, I got on TikTok to watch a man go on a perilous cave diving journey, struggle to breathe, and struggle to turn around because he trapped himself. New fear unlocked. Then this was followed by what it’s like to be inside the Las Vegas Sphere during a performance by the band U2. This was followed by an interview with a pop star who had spent $150,000 on ketamine. And then a sponsored post that featured a “Shadow Work” journal that promised to help with personal growth and spiritual development. This is the reality now—an endless flow of random and meaningless information that only gets better and more addictive the more we consume it. It enters our minds through our screens and quickly exits without much thought. Andy Warhol’s famous quote about “15 minutes of fame” reflects this exactly and goes to show how he predicted that the future is going to be a fleeting information-saturated world. 

I found an article that draws a connection between Warhol’s works and the modern-day attention economy, which you can read here: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mqr;c=mqr;c=mqrarchive;idno=act2080.0036.206;g=mqrg;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1. This piece is an in-depth scholarly article that explores the shift from an industrial society that focused on the production of material goods into an information society/attention economy where we (our attention) are the product. Richard Lanham, the author, investigates how, in comparison to more traditional production components like land, labor, and capital, information and our attention have become important resources. In the age of information, human attention has become the most precious commodity. We are bombarded with an overwhelming volume of content that is impossible to process and understand. And it has become so effective that distinguishing between actual content and advertisements is increasingly challenging. Despite human attention spans being affected the most in recent years thanks to the internet, Warhol was one of the few artists to understand the increasing importance of capturing people’s attention in the world of art and entertainment. Lanham highlights Warhol’s view that the people themselves became the art exhibit. This concept resonates with the idea that people’s attention and online interactions are extremely valuable commodities sold to advertisers and are now prioritized over the actual material products being marketed to consumers. 

Apart from his pop art paintings, Warhol’s anti-climatic and non-narrative films also connect with his ideas about the attention economy and are an interesting retreat from traditional cinematic norms. Lanham states, “When he made his non-eventful films, he was, like Cage, calling attention to a temporal attention structure. He was acutely aware that the new economics of attention changed both self and society.” Warhol instead encourages viewers to experience uncomfortably long films that force them to participate in an alternative mode of viewing that requires patience and reception to temporality. Warhol essentially makes a commentary on our own capacity for sustained attention and challenges the fast-paced, sensationalist characteristics of mass media and culture at the time. His films also apply to our contemporary society in that we are forced to consider whether we are letting technology dictate our pace of life or if we can reclaim control over our attention and have technology serve us instead. Ultimately, his ideas and works prompt us to reflect on how we choose to use technology and how we are serving its demands.