Riley was in a Mr. Clean Commercial

Also, it's my birthday

Riley was in a Mr. Clean Commercial

Today is my birthday. I am 38. 

I’m going to spend the day writing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I am here visiting my friend Camille Andros. We’re kind of being writing accountability partners. So that means we write all day, only meeting up for walks and food. It’s the best. Camille is an amazing children’s book author. I love all her books, but The Dress and The Girl has a very special place in my heart. 

When I got to her house, she had a lovely room waiting for me, a big bed with white sheets and a little basket of snacks. There was a present too. It was the coziest pair of pajamas. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I had a proper set of pajamas now that I think about it? I usually just wear sweats and whatever t shirt I’ve stained past the point of wearing in public. I called Riley as soon as I opened the gift, “She got me pajamas! Like I am a grown up!” Sometimes we just don’t deserve the goodness we get. 

I am writing this newsletter from this bed. My cup runneth over.

Thank you so much for your comments and emails about yesterday’s piece. It really felt amazing to connect with so many of you through it. And thank you, thank you, thank you to the 4 readers who became paid subscribers after reading the piece. You made my day.

A little supplement to yesterday's piece about attention.

Yesterday, I listened to an excellent podcast episode from Ezra Klein about the attention industry. In it, Klein argues that attention is a public good, but that it’s been uniquely commoditized by the tech industry. He interviews Tim Hwang, the author of Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet.

Here’s a little snippet from the show notes: 

“For most of us, seeing an advertisement pop up while we’re scrolling on Instagram or reading an article or watching a video is the most banal experience possible. But in the background of those experiences is a $500 billion marketplace where our attention is being bought, packaged and sold at split-second speeds virtually every minute of every day. Online advertising is the economic engine of the internet, and that engine is fueled by our attention.”

It’s funny we call them influencers, when really they’re more like attention placeholders. 

It’s not just the ads being served up to you when you search for stuff on Google. The internet as we know it has been built to be a deliverer of ads. The like button was created to track engagement for advertisers. Follower numbers exist to push creators to scale up so that they can command more attention, mostly for the ads being served up between their posts. It’s funny we call them influencers, when really they’re more like attention placeholders. Data mining began to serve up personalized ads! It’s now used for other horrifying things like misinformation and social engineering. Algorithms are made to hold attention, even as they fragment it. 

It didn’t have to be this way! We could have decided to build around different priorities. We could have had a totally different kind of internet experience! But when the dot com bubble crashed, Google’s investors began to really push to see a return. So Google began to build out the advertising scheme that infiltrates so much of our lives today. Still, we can build that different internet now. Instead, it seems like social engineering via data mining is about to be turbo-boosted with a particular type of VC funded AI. More to come on that btw. But back to the ads, for now.

A funny thing about the attention industry when it comes to advertising is how it’s made advertising impossible to remember. Growing up, most advertising took place on television. And I still have TV ads from my youth stuck in my head. But I could not tell you the details of a single ad I’ve seen since this morning, when I got on to the computer to start my work day. Which is wild, because on average a single person sees 4,000 - 10,000 ads per day! I’ve already been on the computer for hours today and I can’t even remember a single one! Those ads are part of an automated marketplace that makes money off of my fragmented attention. And I don’t get anything in return, not even a memory! 

My husband, Riley, is a twin. In the late-1980s, he and his brother were briefly the Mary Kate and Ashley of TV commercials. Look at Riley (or his twin) crawling across the floor and giggling in that TV dad’s lap in this Mr. Clean commercial! Also, like….the 1980s were a rough time for gender roles in commercials.

What commercials do you remember from your childhood? What jingles or slogans still have your attention all these years later?

Mr. Clean is definitely memorable for me. But I really, really have vivid memories of this Mcdonald’s commercial with a moon piano man? Like I LOVED this ad campaign. Which is hilarious because I would have been three when this came out?! Why was this so appealing?