Amusing Ourselves to Death in the Attention Economy

Brad Stulberg
5 min readOct 20, 2022

Recently at the gas station, I was filling up my tank as a beautiful woman appeared on the high-definition screen placed on the pump. She told me when I’m feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, I need to repeat to myself a few times the phrase everything is figureoutable and then I’d be okay. My brain, she explained, would learn not to become stressed out.

First off, this advice falls flat. Not everything is figureoutable. Part of being a mature adult is coming to terms with the uncertainty of life. Every single third-wave clinical psychology therapy — from CBT to ACT to DBT to MBSR — holds in common the importance of learning to release from needing to figure out and control everything.

Second off, in addition to the bizarre and toxic positivity, why on earth do I need someone giving me so-called wellness advice while I’m pumping gas? This question answered itself with the next video on the screen: an advertisement highlighting two for six dollar whoppers at the Burger King.

It seems that no public space is safe from attention economics, a term that is shorthand for marketers and advertisers trying to monetize every bit of open space in our lives. I found the entire episode at the gas station absurd. That I can’t even pump gas without being hocked something. That the first thing I was hocked was utter bullshit dressed up in pseudoscience. That it was followed by a total non sequitur: double whoppers. Perhaps if it would have been even more outrageous had the health and wellness advice been serious. Who can say. The whole thing is a disaster.

That same weekend, we had family in town. They are lovely. Truly, the best. One person enjoys watching the morning news shows, which is something my nuclear family hasn’t done for the last decade or so. Instead of being frustrated by this, I thought maybe I’d learn something. After all, this was serious programming, Face the Nation and This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

However, what ensued felt nothing like serious discourse and everything like cheap entertainment. Each segment of the show was introduced with music made for an action movie. The latest political polling was always unveiled right after a commercial break. Worst of all, the distinguished guests, former governors and staffers and…

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Brad Stulberg

Bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness