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The Political Economy of Distraction in Digitized Denmark

Project description

The Battle for Our Attention

The average person today uses digital technologies more than ever before, constantly watching news, sending and receiving messages, and following offers on smartphones. While big tech corporations sell user data on to advertisers, governments are rapidly changing the public sphere through data driven analytics and digital interfaces. In this new political data economy, our attention has become a limited resource that advertisers, politicians, and software programmers fight for. Combining classical social science methods with data science techniques, the EU-funded DISTRACT project brings together an interdisciplinary team to examine the mental, social and material dimensions of attention and its distraction in the digital age. The research will be conducted in Denmark, Europe’s most digitalized country.


Bridging anthropology, sociology, economics, psychology, political science, and data science, DISTRACT combines advanced data science tools and established social science analysis to explore a pressing challenge: the ever more alluring distractions of human attention in the age of smartphones and other digitized technologies. DISTRACT departs from five linked hypotheses: 1) The attention is commonly (by scholars and laymen) seen as finite; ⇒ (2) As such, it is a scarce resource that is subject to competition and regulation; ⇒ 3) This is not new but it is acquiring unseen urgency in the current data economy; ⇒ 4) An interdisciplinary social data science approach allows for solid and novel investigation of this unmet scientific and societal need; and ⇒ 5) As the world’s most digitized country (and homogeneous population and state-of-the-art public databases), Denmark is an ideal site to study this political economy of distraction. Combining qualitative and quantitative data from four case studies, DISTRACT thus aims to trace and analyse the mental, social and material techniques by which attention is captured, retained and deflected in digitized Denmark. Analytically, we distinguish between three layers in which attention is managed and manipulated: a “mental”, “social” and “material” dimension. We also differentiate between three components of given attention/distraction sequence: the ‘”capturing”, “retention” and “deflection” phase. Empirically, case-studies shall be carried out of (a) national politics, (b) the tech business, (c) “off-the-grid” alternative communities, and (d) education and workplace environments. Data shall be collected, integrated and analysed via a combination of 1) qualitative methods, including ethnographic fieldwork and semi-structured interviews and discourse analysis; (2) quantitative methods, including natural experiments and predictive models; and (3) quali-quantitative methods including web scraping and supervised machine learning.


Net EU contribution
€ 2 476 790,00
Norregade 10
1165 Kobenhavn

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Danmark Hovedstaden Byen København
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (2)