Columbia law professor Tim Wu makes me feel boring and underaccomplished. He’s been a Supreme Court clerk, a Silicon Valley startup employee, a bestselling author, and a star academic. He coined the term “network neutrality,” wrote the superb book The Master Switch, and was dubbed “Genius Wu” by Richard Posner — a man many consider to be our smartest living judge. And this is to say nothing of Wu’s award-winning side-gig as a — yes — travel writer.
Anyway, screw that guy.
Wu’s new book is The Attention Merchants, and it’s a history of how the advertising business has shaped the information we consume, the products we crave, and the way we think. We talk about that book, but we also talk about Wu’s approach to life. He explains why his great strength is his ability to ignore inconsistency, how Larry Lessig shaped his career and his marriage, why working in Silicon Valley left him skeptical of markets, and Marshall McLuhan and Timothy Leary’s advertising jingle for acid (really).
We also go deep into antitrust law, the inner workings of the Supreme Court, whether Google and Facebook are monopolies, and what a world without advertising in media might look like.
So this conversation covers a lot of ground. Enjoy!