<body> Public Ad Campaign: Notes On Attention and Meaning Creation
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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Notes On Attention and Meaning Creation

In this excerpt from Hugo Munsterber's, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study, written in 1916, we can begin to understand the psychological effects of public advertising on our experience of our public environment. If the way in which we create meaning out of the world is by what we pay attention to then our creativity and individuality would be best served by a lack of involuntary attention manipulation. Advertising's ability to hold our attentions while we try to focus on what we as individuals consider important about the space we are moving through is a theft of our consciousness. The fact that we grant public advertising permission to steal our ability to focus on those sights and sounds we voluntarily would like to pay attention to is a tragedy.

"Of all internal functions which create the meaning of the world around us, the most central is the attention. The chaos of the surrounding impressions is organized into a real cosmos of experience by our selection of that which is significant and of consequence. This is true for life and stage alike. Our attention must be drawn now here, now there, if we want to bind together that which is scattered in the space before us. Everything must be shaded by attention and inattention. Whatever is focused by our attention wins emphasis and irradiates meaning over the course of events. In practical life we discriminate between voluntary and involuntary attention. We call it voluntary if we approach the impressions with an idea in our minds as to what we want to focus our attention on. We carry our personal interest, our own idea into the observation of the objects. Our attention has chosen its aim beforehand, and we ignore all that does not fulfill this specific interest. All our working is controlled by such voluntary attention. We have the idea of the goal which we meet to this selective energy. Through our voluntary attention we seek something and accept the offering of the surroundings only in so far as it brings us what we are seeking."

"It is quite different with the involuntary attention. The guiding influence here comes from without. The cue for the focusing of our attention lies in the events which we perceive. What is loud and shining and unusual attracts our involuntary attention. We must turn our mind to a place where an explosion occurs, we must read the glaring electric signs which flash up. To be sure, the perceptions which force themselves on our involuntary attention may get their motive power from our own reactions. Everything which appeals to our natural instincts, everything which stirs up hope or fear, enthusiasm or indignation, or any strong emotional excitement will get control of our attention. But in spite of this circuit through our emotional responses the starting point lies without and our attention is accordingly of the involuntary type. In our daily activity voluntary and involuntary attention are always intertwined. Our life is a great compromise between that which our voluntary attention aims at and that which the aims of the surrounding world force on our involuntary attention."

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