Jacob Saindon: Doctoral Dissertation Research: Digital Advertising and Commercial Conceptions of Attention Space

Grants and Contracts Details


Project Summary Advertising revenues are vitally important to the contemporary digital media landscape, wherein many free-to-use platforms draw in huge volumes of users to profit from their attention. Social media are used by more than 72% of Americans, and the digital advertising sector brings in estimated yearly revenues exceeding $200 billion. The profitability of digital media platforms is typically situated in terms of the attention economy, wherein the relative abundance of content and scarcity of individual cognitive capacity valorizes users’ attention. Studies of digital media and the attention economy, however, have largely presumed to know the role advertising plays, neglecting to examine how the advertising industry informs the very terms of the digital attention economy—in particular, defining how attention is counted. This project aims to determine the commercial conceptions of attention which are developed and put into practice by digital advertisers, which it investigates by asking: RQ1: How have advertisers historically produced commercial conceptions of attention? RQ2: How do digital media technologies impact the advertising industry’s commercial conceptions of attention? RQ3: How do advertisers operationalize commercial conceptions of attention through digital advertising platforms? This project builds upon a range of social scientific scholarship within and beyond the discipline of geography. Within the broad remit of human geography, a growing corpus of scholarship examines how financial and media technologies produce and engage space. Much of this work, however, has been siloed within geographic subdisciplines—particularly media, digital, and financial geographies. This project both bridges these bodies of work and incorporates scholarship from cognate disciplines such as media studies, science and technology studies, anthropology, sociology, and more. Situated at this juncture, this project’s empirical and theoretical contributions stand to advance knowledge regarding mundane spaces of mediated attention, the datafication of everyday lives, and the financialization of personal data. Geography has paid little attention to the contemporary advertising industry even as scholarship on digital technologies and social media has multiplied. Furthermore, digitally-mediated attention has been well-theorized but remains empirically under-examined. This project’s conceptualization of attention spaces—and its use in examining processes of mediatization, datafication, and financialization—stands to offer rich analytic and theoretical possibilities for further research. This project’s contributions also speak directly to pressing questions about the encroachment of digital media technologies into Americans’ everyday life. Analyzing the impacts of advertising knowledge practices on digital media responds to urgent concerns regarding societal well-being and contributes to improved public technoscientific literacy regarding everyday digital technologies. In its examination of digital advertising platforms–including numerous major social media platforms–and the attention economy, this project directly engages concerns related to regulation and public policy regarding both advertising and digital media. The U.S. is grappling with questions about discriminatory ad targeting, web tracking and data privacy, transparency in political advertising, advertising fatigue, and broader concerns related to digital mediation, attention, and well-being. Through broad dissemination, this research will help digital media users, professionals, and regulators to better manage the impacts of the social internet and specifically to mitigate its harms and inequities. In addition to scholarly publications and conference reports, we will use this project’s analysis to prepare policy briefs related to the impacts of digital advertising. These briefs will be shared with policy advocacy organization such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Integrity Institute. We will also share the research findings through public-facing publications such as The Conversation, and appearances on ‘responsible technology’ podcasts such as IRL, Trust in Tech, and Your Undivided Attention, which regularly host scholars studying the U.S. technology industry.
Effective start/end date7/1/2412/31/25


  • National Science Foundation: $12,493.00


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