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Scott Galloway@profgalloway

Published on March 10, 2023

The universe is a product of the collision of materials and gases that added value to one another. Humanity’s ascent to the world’s apex predator is also a function of our ability to add value, converting one substance into another. We learned to morph wood into fire, and walnut oil into ink and then into information. We turn sand into windows, computer chips, and water filters. Conversion often produces byproducts, sometimes a bonus: Converting fat into soap produces glycerin, useful in everything from moisturizers to explosives.

More often, those byproducts are a problem. Roasting coffee beans emits compounds linked to lung disease. The vapors that escape aging whiskey feed a black fungus that’s eating whole towns in Kentucky. One hugely inefficient conversion is plants into meat. It takes 25 pounds of feed to produce a pound of beef; 40 times more energy goes into beef than comes out of it as food. Livestock account for 14% of all carbon emissions — equal to all modes of transportation combined.

Carbon emissions are believed to be the mother of all negative byproducts. The conversion of fossil fuels (themselves the product of a conversion) into energy has been the boon and burden of the past century. But there’s something worse:

Converting attention into profit.

It’s made a very few very wealthy and left the rest of us choking on the fumes: rage and polarization. The discharge of the attention economy weakens our immune system, rendering us vulnerable to other emissions, as polarization paralyzes our ability to respond to other externalities: inequality, autocracy, gun deaths, depression, addiction, obesity, and the OG itself, carbon.

The Attention Economy

The media business was built on the back of the attention-to-profits arbitrage, but for centuries the conversion technology was rudimentary, and its emissions were tolerable. Mass media had issues, but free media made us more informed, entertained, and connected. When we released ad-supported reticulated pythons into the online ecosystem, however, they became an invasive species.

Converting attention into profit has become the world’s best business. Between 2002 and 2022, Google generated over $1 trillion in ad revenue. Amazon, a retailer, makes $38 billion a year selling ads. Thanks to rising oil prices, 2022 was a historically profitable year for Chevron, up 127% from 2021; Google, which had a terrible year, registered double Chevron’s profits. In 1980, 7 of the 10 most valuable businesses in America were oil companies. Today, 7 of the top 10 profit from refined attention. An eighth, Tesla, built the world’s most valuable automaker by mastering the attention-harvesting channels of social media.

The emissions have matched the profits. Pre-digital media cast the broadest net possible. The internet is spearfishing at scale. Your New York Times home page is different from mine. Our TikTok For You pages are likely from different planets.

Alignment Problem

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and anything else with a “feed” employ teraflops of processing power to register signals and calibrate their messages to keep us scrolling. Even if that content makes us angrier or drives us into more and more narrow tribal identities. Old media is populated with beautiful people, usually in sleeveless dresses, as sex sells. It turns out, rage and tribalism sell better.

This is not the first time I’ve raised this alarm, nor am I the only one raising it. Hungry for novelty, though, the chattering classes have moved on, and artificial intelligence is now at peak hype cycle. AI skeptics (and many supporters) fear that powerful AI will pursue goals divergent from our own. This is known as the “alignment problem.” The classic example is Nick Bostrum’s Paper Clip Maximizer. Tell an advanced AI to produce as many paper clips as possible, and it may stop at nothing to fulfill its mission, including killing off humans and turning our entire solar system into a giant paper clip machine. Only here’s the thing: Powerful AI is already here, and it’s already doing this. It’s called Instagram. Advertising is optimizing media — and by extension, optimizing us — not for paper clips, but for fear and polarization.

The model works so well that it’s no longer limited to customized feeds. Traditional media is getting in on the action. Rupert Murdoch primes the rage machine at Fox News, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and the New York Post. If there was any doubt that it’s all an exercise in conversion, ignoring emissions, Murdoch dispelled them under oath when he testified that Fox was pushing bullshit stories about Dominion voting machines, even though he and his biggest hosts knew the theories were “insane” and “shockingly reckless.” “It is not red or blue, it is green,” he admitted. Wall-to-wall coverage of transgender youth athletes and “immigrant caravans” are to Fox News what the Safaniya Oil Field is to Saudi Aramco.

It’s not just companies — individuals are also climate terrorists. How did a failed businessman take over the GOP and ascend to the White House? Simple: ratings via rage. And not just on Fox; CNN couldn’t tear itself away, and neither could we. The richest person in the world is so addicted to the rage machine that he paid $44 billion to make it his own. Misogynist Andrew Tate made millions gaming the social algorithm by feeding it vile content. His team determined the optimal ratio of positive to negative comments on videos is 60/40 — he wanted nearly half his viewers to be angry. Machiavelli asked if it was better to be loved or feared. Turns out, neither. You want to piss people off. In the new economy, attention is oil, and whoever refines it most efficiently into rage and polarization.

A fair question: “Scott, aren’t you in the business of ad-supported media and active on ad-supported platforms?” We are, but we don’t shape content to inflame, enrage and pose for algorithms.  Also, to the best of our ability, we fact-check our content.

Gasping for Air

There are first- and second-order effects from these emissions. The first-order effects are bad. The second-order effects are worse.

The first-order effects: Between 2009 and 2019, teen depression rates doubled. Last year, 1 in 3 teen girls seriously considered suicide and 1 in 5 LGBTQ teens attempted suicide. Over the past decade in the U.K., self-harm among young girls and boys has increased 78% and 134%, respectively. Teens now spend an average of 8.2 hours per day on their devices — many log double that time: 35% of American teens report using one of YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook “almost constantly.”

How to prove causation and not correlation? A: Use common sense and eliminate every other cause. The academic term to describe social media’s impact on society is … awful. Its corrosive harms are myriad, from undermining dating and relationship formation to degrading our ability to process information.

Even with this rapid corrosion, is the attention crisis really worse than climate change? I think it is. Because the impact of those emissions on our discourse isn’t just to make it coarse, but to make it nonfunctional. It’s not HIV that kills, but the opportunistic infections the patient is helpless to fight. On Twitter, lies spread six times faster than truth. The Twitter engineer who created the retweet button regrets it — as he put it: “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”

It reaches beyond lies. Research shows the most viral news articles are those that elicit anger. The combination of misinformation and rage online has led to a general distrust in mainstream media. Fewer than 6 in 10 Americans trust information that comes from national news organizations, an all-time low. That distrust is amplified across party lines, and we’ve now reached a point where half of Democrats and a third of Republicans aren’t comfortable with their child marrying someone of the opposite party — in 1960, those numbers were around 5% for both.


The path to collapse is atomization, and we are fraying every day. The problems are significant: climate change, rogue states, the fraught China-U.S. relationship, pandemics. Yet it’s difficult to have a dialogue, much less develop consensus on solutions and action. The rage machine sorts us into camps that are increasingly distrustful of one another and very difficult to escape. During the pandemic, there was urgent interest in finding the source of Covid. Since illness had originated in the same Chinese city as a major research center that studied coronaviruses, a lab leak was an obvious theory. Yet once voices on the right endorsed this explanation, the left became suspicious of its veracity, and the algorithms spun up. On the left, raising the lab leak theory was labeled racist.

None of us is immune to our biases — that’s the nature of bias. You can’t read the label from inside the bottle. And the excretions of the Attention Economy are steroids for bias. In addition, it’s easier to fool Americans than convince us we’ve been fooled. As a result, most of us believe we’re part of a small cohort that sees the real issue and isn’t subject to bias fueled by the rage machine.

Taking the Temperature Down

Climate scientists have proven rising temperatures are causing widespread damage, and if we don’t reduce emissions, things will get worse. That will take collective action, and collective action requires civil discourse. So, how do we debilitate the rage machine? How do we take the temperature down?

Building the consumer internet on advertising was the original sin. Serving ads next to our search bars and on our homepages gave us a free internet via layaway, but the payments have become untenable.

Separating the consumer and the customer creates an alignment problem. We need to reconnect them. Paid content is to an ad-supported model what renewables are to internal combustion. Subscriptions connect end users to content providers directly, in that they are customers, vs. products being harvested for the ad model’s true customer, the advertiser. It’s a basic observation, but still holds that Fox and Meta have levied a great deal more damage than Netflix or LinkedIn (most of its revenue comes from recruitment services), neither of which is depressing our teens or being weaponized by the GRU.

Subscriptions are not the only payment model — micropayments are the most rational way to connect value with price. However, micropayments continue to be the missing piece, the fission of media: promise vs. practical performance. One of the downsides of moving away from free media is that we’ll further bifurcate into a world of Android (ad supported) vs. iOS (premium). I’ve always felt the assumption that “people can’t afford” subscription content was a bit hyperbolic, as almost two-thirds of U.S. households are Netflix consumers. With robust micropayments technology, businesses could differentiate and price discriminate (i.e. base charges, in part, on ability to pay).

An AI generated, textual news summary might cost a digital penny, while the same content with a layer of design, charts, and an audio option goes for 25¢. There is scant transportation that is free, but trains, planes, automobiles, buses, and bikes put faster-than-walking travel within reach for nearly all Americans.


I’ve been in the U.K. for eight months now. The weather sucks (really awful), and there isn’t as much opportunity here. However, there appear to be greater emissions standards. People, generally speaking, are more civil to one another. I’ve been to a football match almost every week, and the only hooligans I’ve seen are U.S. media notifications on my phone.

In the U.S., our last president and the wealthiest man openly mock the disabled, and we tolerate it. We let domestic and foreign platforms run unchecked, even as their algorithms elevate imprisoned misogynists into global celebrities and email images of nooses and razor blades to preteen girls contemplating self-harm. Our new heroes hawk EVs and metaverses while generating more emissions than a coal-fired plant. America is still the biggest, most prosperous house on the global block. But it’s dysfunctional and depressed, and anybody who walks by hears the inhabitants screaming at each other. Parents and leaders need to turn down the temperature, align incentives, and avoid EVs, platforms, and public figures that run on coal.

Life is so rich,

P.S. Join us for Office Hours on Wednesdays on the Prof G Pod, where Scott answers your questions.

P.S. Can you build a billion-dollar product that doesn’t destroy our mental health and/or the planet? It’s worth a shot. Our new Product Strategy Sprint closes enrollment next Wednesday. Sign up now.



  1. Joseph says:

    All of this spot-on commentary is unfortunately preaching to the choir. There’s no rescue in sight from a polarized Congress or self-policing from the profit-motivated private sector.

  2. Papa says:

    For the first time in my life it’s nice to be I tell everyone humans are the worst species on the planet! Conquer, dominate, and horde it’s who we are

  3. Rey says:

    “America is still the biggest, most prosperous house on the global block. But it’s dysfunctional and depressed, and anybody who walks by hears the inhabitants screaming at each other.” There’s a thread that runs through much of your commentary that equates prosperity with money. Prosperity and dysfunction are not in a simultaneous partnership. If there is dysfunction behind the label, there is no prosperity inside the bottle. Isn’t it a bit like saying, “I have more money than everyone else, it’s just too bad my boat is sinking under the weight of all that cash.” As well, being an apex predator on a sinking boat when you can’t swim is not really much of an endgame. Adding value for terrible humans who only live in the now. Adding value for the narrow interests of one small subsection of the human race while sinking the boat we live on is just a terrible, terrible thing. We need to start separating strictly monetary outcomes from what it means to be human. Constantly “adding value” in an economic sense only is not the answer. Building one another up might be.

  4. Richard R LaFace says:

    Well done, practical, factual article, thanks. I don’t believe its hateful to say maybe Tate might meet the same fate as Epstein, it’s called karma, inherent to the universe we live in.

  5. Sly says:

    This is exactly why I hate, when almost everybody talks about how great the digital age is and that we need more of it to make the world a better place. I love the 80s not only the music was much better 🙂

  6. S.hyman says:

    Hi Scott, maybe come to Sydney afetr London and give your growing boys some real meat (joke). I think you’d be celebrated here once they got to know you. And you could tone it down in a good way. You are awesome and I could stare into your eyes for a long time 😉

  7. marino says:

    thank you Scott…. per tutte le cazzate che dici!
    bravo !

  8. C Cook says:

    ‘Climate scientists have proven rising temperatures are causing widespread damage, and if we don’t reduce emissions, things will get worse’
    Climate scientist ‘THAT LEFT MEDIA PROPAGATE’ have proven….’
    I fixed it for you.
    No one seems to quote academics or scientist who already HAVE tenure, or do not NEED government financing for their livelihood. MIT and other institutions have such experts. They will debate ‘Current Thing’ with grifters such as Gore, Kerry, MSM, CNN(+), or Gates. But, that would hurt ‘The Narrative’ that runs cover for WEF, Paris Accords, and other organizations who provide parties, celebs, hookers, and free parking for the Private Jets. You don’t expect John Kerry to get a real job, do you?

    • marino says:

      Well Said!!!
      so easy to spot …
      I studied Univ books of Astrophysics since 12 years old and we are so little respect the chastity of the earth especially when a couple Vulcano can disrupt earth for the amount of 2 human civilization … they are clearly dragging the limited brain of the lefties who in their sheep land tend to conform, as too hard too question… Joke: Democrats can measure ½ degree of chances in the middle of the Glaciers for 3 billion years, but they cannot stop 1000 ‘retarded’ crazy high extremists entering the White House! sure!!

    • Matt says:

      Wow… it’s like you didn’t read the blog at all.

  9. Eric H says:

    This is — plainly, beyond argument — a brilliant and incisive article. The detractors in the comments section illustrate perfectly how desperate and intractable the (dis)information economy has become. I fear we are lost.

  10. Nick T says:

    Climate Change is a Scam, has been and always will be. Liberalism created this dangerous scam. Yes Pollution exists, and we should all gradually come up with innovative technologies to eliminate it. But doing so in a gradual way, not a way that bankrupts farmers, hard working people etc., which this climate change scam is doing.

    The people that created this emissions or carbon nonsense that got filthy rich from it are now pitching us another idea. Ya no thanks.

    • Eric H says:

      You’re profoundly confused about what the word “scam” means.

      • C Cook says:

        The ‘scam’ is a way to get rich(er), as Gore and others do with carbon credits and exchanges. Or the celeb and hooker filled parties that ‘Current Thing’ billionaires enjoy. Scam is when 161 Private Jets line up runways for miles around Davos, and the attendees tell the rest of us we need to live in cold, dark houses and eat bugs.

    • M Lab says:

      You speak as if liberalism rules most governments. Current governments are run by corrupt right wing politicians mascareding as centrists. Others are straight out fascist pretending to be centrist, but Scott is correct, one cannot read the message from inside the bottle.

  11. Patrick says:

    Abolishing advertising online is never going to happen and you/we should stop talking about it. It’s misleading and unproductive. I (and I assume, you) worked in marketing before data/algorithms took it over, and it wasn’t “evil”. It was similar to print advertising. We can however ban the collection of private data through laws, etc. You know that’s where the evil lies, and your dislike for advertising is personal. You also know that price-gating everything would lead to the less wealthy having a lack of access to information/education, which I know you aren’t a fan of. So….stop leading us astray. Repeatedly.

  12. David Black says:

    Your observations and numbers about polarization are valuable. One of your examples at the beginning is about the multiples from plants to animals. I’ve been a vegetarian for 50 years, have known this and rarely read about it. But your conservative bashing to totally biased. And your example of climate change, widely taken as PROVEN SCIENCE on the left, simply isn’t supported by the facts. Look at simple things like predictions that were made 20 years ago. The fact that temps have been flat while CO2 has grown. Most important, crop yields have grown as plants love the extra sustenance. The Manhattan Contrarian is a good place to start finding the facts. Also Peter Clack. We’re in a break from the repeating ice ages right now, and better hope it stays warm for a while — that’s the real danger from climate.

    • Eric H says:

      It’s not taken as proven science by the left. It’s taken by proven science by, you know…scientists. You seem to imply that temps have been flat for the last 20 years, which could be not be more wrong. The ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 2010. Some facts for you:

    • Matt says:

      Droughts are something plants don’t love.
      You’re wrong about the predictions made 20 years ago. they’re almost spot on.
      The danger from the climate is not that we are going to go up in flames. it’s that we have built societies in areas that are prone to major disasters and we cannot adjust quickly enough to mitigate the incredible changes coming our way. From the floods, droughts, more intense and frequent storms to climate refugees and the effects on coastal communities, which makes up the majority of populaces.
      Being a contrarian does not make you look as smart as you hope.

  13. DEW says:

    Again with the conservative bashing and ignoring obvious liberal bias and rage for clicks. Give me a break. It works both ways. You are part of the problem.

  14. Phillip says:

    Scott!! my Walter Cronkite for the 21st Century.

  15. Dave says:

    This is super well presented, and I live in a bubble where this all rings true. I wonder though if there is a better way to win hearts and minds than using your rage about how much rage there is, to fight against rage.
    I have listened to many hours of your commentary and constructive disagreements with Kara, so I know you have nuanced opinions and you are open to changing them with new data and that is the best thing you have brought into my head, what a person with strong opinions sounds like when they listen and change their mind.

  16. Jason says:

    LinkedIn although not a threat to society is becoming a virtue signalling platform and also look how amazing I am style environment. Glad you are loving the U.K. Scott – you obviously haven’t been to some of the less wealthy areas of London if you think UK is civil to each other all the time… 😂 When you get chance – try and visit Cornwall for the scenery and Bristol for a different slice of U.K. life.

  17. greg says:

    You’ve nailed it—one of your best.

  18. Andrea says:

    Life is so rich – can you write a column that is positive – I’m exhausted by your negativity.

    • Nomad says:

      It’s his blog. You don’t like it then don’t read it. I’m exhausted by these stupid comments.

  19. Allen Thomas says:

    Best part is that Scott discusses the economics and resultant dangers of tribalism – while nearly every one of his posts bashes the right (or goes out of his way to flagellate Trump).

    It’s like a fat guy telling us to eat better. SMH.

    I tell my wife how insightful I find Scott’s analysis, often synthesizing it into my own. However, like most media left and right I have to tune out his politics.

    To his other point, the demonization of any ideas that originate on one side (with the recent exclusion of China) is considered conspiratorial or evil by the other. I am thankful that my TV has all three “news” channels because you may not like it but Fox and MSNBC are vital counterweights. They both play the same game, and you need to be a thoughtful consumer in order to determine where truth lies. (Intentional twist of phrase.)

    What is this CNN you speak of?

    • Will says:

      100% agree! Thank you, Scott, for even discussing the effect that “free” media has had on American civilization. But where is personal responsibility as a consumer and a parent in all this? Independent critical thinking (also known as common sense) is our only lifeboat in this information/advertising storm. So, we should be talking about improving public education and a return to learning what we all have in common and how we CAN learn to live together. Now that everyone can express their “identity” how about not cancelling their ideas. And I am talking about in education as well as the media. And it should start with the professors!

  20. Brewyajones says:

    Isn’t a micropayment system of media by its very nature decentralized? And thus antithetical to the prevailing highly centralized media that we (the US citizenry) have endured since the consolidation of radio? It would seem that you are hitting on a generational problem whereby media tend towards centralization because it most appeals to the polity.

  21. Maggie says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    Incredibly well said!
    Keep up the good work.

  22. Bernard W Kyle says:

    Hey Prof, some good points but rather biased. I think you will find the majority of people don’t use SM to spread hate and polarization – just to connect w/friends and family. Also, you will find ‘most ‘ people can see through the algorithm prodding and learn to use the medium to their own advantage.
    That weather in the U.K. can make one rather pessimistic. The best,

    • Danny says:

      Agree that most people can see through the algorithm. “ As a result, most of us believe we’re part of a small cohort that sees the real issue and isn’t subject to bias fueled by the rage machine.”

      Yes, many of us believe we see the real issues, but not that we are a small cohort. We believe (hope, pray) most people can synthesize the information they are receiving to get to some form of truth. The challenge is we don’t have a big enough voice to shout back and demand the biased and rage-fueling sources change their behavior.

    • Matt says:

      bernard, it doesn’t matter if you think you can see through the algorithm’s prodding. the problem is about the milieu of arguing that fills the feeds and that there is SO MUCH more benign content out there that you’re not seeing because the algorithm didn’t elevate it. You don’t have to realize that your view of reality is being morphed for it to be true.

  23. Bernard W Kyle says:

    Hey Prof, some good points but rather biased. I think you will find the majority of people don’t use SM to spread hate and polarization – just to connect w/friends and family. Also, you will find ‘most ‘ people can see through the algorithm prodding and learn to use the medium to their own advantage.
    That weather in the U.K. can make one rather pessimistic. The best,

  24. Donna says:

    Excellent, well-written, bull’s-eye article on the unsavory side of social media and its destructive emissions.

  25. Dan says:

    Correlation is not causation! It is too simplistic to say that suicide and depression in teens went up as a result of the release of the iPhone. There was another major event in 2008 that gets ignored in all of this. And it’s effects have persisted for many.

    Your points about the attention economy make a lot sense tho…

    • Richard says:

      Not sure he’s using iPhone to correlate although it’s an unfortunate selection. It’s more of an avatar for gossip, unreasoned screaming that has been exponentially enabled by the internet and freedom of speech combined to drown us in bad info.

  26. Cynthia says:

    OMG, Scott!! I didn’t think you could get any more insightful and thought provoking than you already are, but you really raised your bar on this post! I’m forwarding it to everyone I know!
    Thank you and may the powers that be bless you. We have never needed your ilk more!
    Cynthia Sands

  27. robert says:

    Read this article: Climate ‘Emergency’? Not So Fast

    Richard Lindzen & William Happer

    • Stephen says:

      Pro tip: don’t take seriously the work of libertarians funded by right-wing “think tanks” in turn funded by Koch etc. The overwhelming evidence, and overwhelming consensus of credible scientists, is that climate change is the most pressing issue of our time – and being accelerated by polarized dysfunction.

      • C Cook says:

        As opposed to left-wing scammers who use ‘think tanks’ to run cover for their ‘climate conferences’. You know, where billionaires can enjoy $500 bottles of French wine, massive food tables, and all those Danish hookers, while tell us to take cold showers and eat bugs.

  28. Dahn Shaulis (Higher Education Inquirer) says:

    Scott, your stories are always an interesting view into the privileged neoliberal mind.

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