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Historicizing "the Economy of attention": the Idea of Attention in the early Industrial Psychology and Film Theory.

SHINOGI Ryo 20100529
 グローバルCOE「生存学」創成拠点 国際プログラム 「国際研究交流会議」 於:京畿[キョンギ]大学(水原[スウォン])

last update:20100524

  Since the late 1990s, visual culture studies have focused their eyes on the function of attention. In the pioneering work, Suspension of Perception (1999), Jonathan Crary stated that the visuality is dependent on the function of attention and the discourse on it has been influenced by the demand of the industrial capitalism. The intensive attention of workers was demanded by the pursuit of the industrial efficiency, and a newly-established science, the scientific psychology, responded that trend. He insisted that post-impressionist paintings showed the ways for escaping from the control of attention by the industrial society.

  In the twenty-first century, Jonathan Beller has criticized the economy of attention pointing out the fact that the idea is used by the business administration to name the way of managing our work and life in the age of ubiquitous media. He claims, in his The Cinematic Mode of Production (2006), that the modern capitalism permanently takes the attention as the use value and exploits it. He believes that the economy of attentions has its root in the 1910s, just at the period when the psychoanalysis and the behavioral psychology were developing, and he finds the resistance to the attention economy in the Soviet Montage Cinema.

  But we should not forget that John B. Watson declared "psychology as the behaviorist views it" in 1913, and, also in the same year, Hugo M?nsterberg published Psychology and Industrial Efficiency 1). The latter work laid the cornerstone of the industrial psychology. There he stated that "the problem of attention, indeed, seems to stand quite in the center of the field of industrial efficiency. " We can find in this work his evolution theory of technology where the natural selection of technology is dependent on the extent that the technology adapts to the human mind and body. He thought that the modern machine technology survived the selection but still did not perfectly adapt to our mind and body, especially to attention. For example, the noise of industrial machine often made factory workers very fatigued and distracted their attention from their labour.

  The same interests(/points of view) are also found in his film theory, The Photoplay: a Psychological Study (1916), which is likewise the first academic writing in the field of film theory. There he equated the function of close-up in film with that of attention in mind, and thought that the close-up was one of the most important film techniques. He also stated that the filmic device didn't make us tired, because the film could create some aesthetic experience in our mind. It seems that his evolution theory of technology involved not only the industrial technology but also filmic device, and that the filmic device adapted to our attention much more than the industrial machinery. Thus we can say that M?nsterberg's industrial psychology and film theory shared one and the same theory of technology: the theory on the adaptation of technology to the human attention.

  Thus we can read M?nsterberg's industrial psychology and film theory in order to historicize the economy of attention. They teach us at best the interrelation among the human attention, the history of technology, visual media, and the industrial efficiency 2).

[note]

 1) Münsterberg, Hugo, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913, p.136.
 2) See Shinogi, Ryo, "The Management of Attention: Hugo M?nsterberg, Industrial Psychology, and Film Theory," in Ars Vivendi, vol.2, Seikatsu Shoin, 2010, pp.374-389 (written in Japanese).



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