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Book Launch: Selling the American People by Lee McGuigan

Submitted on Thursday, August 17, 2023

Selling the American People by Lee McGuigan
Algorithms, data extraction, digital marketers monetizing “eyeballs”: these all seem like such recent features of our lives. And yet, Lee McGuigan tells us in this eye-opening book, digital advertising was well underway before the widespread use of the Internet. Explaining how marketers have brandished the tools of automation and management science to exploit new profit opportunities, Selling the American People: Advertising, Optimization, and the Origins of Adtech (MIT Press, 2023) traces data-driven surveillance all the way back to the 1950s, when the computerization of the advertising business began to blend science, technology, and calculative cultures in an ideology of optimization. With that ideology came adtech, a major infrastructure of digital capitalism.

To help make sense of today’s attention merchants and choice architects, McGuigan explores a few key questions:

  • How did technical experts working at the intersection of data processing and management sciences come to command the center of gravity in the advertising and media industries?
  • How did their ambition to remake marketing through mathematical optimization shape and reflect developments in digital technology?
  • In short, where did adtech come from, and how did data-driven marketing come to mediate the daily encounters of people, products, and public spheres?

His answers show how the advertising industry’s efforts to bend information technologies toward its dream of efficiency and rational management helped to make “surveillance capitalism” one of the defining experiences of public life.

Author Lee McGuigan is Assistant Professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an associate at Cornell Tech’s Digital Life Initiative. He is a co-editor of The Audience Commodity in a Digital Age.

Join us on Thursday, Sept. 14, 6-8 p.m. for the Toronto launch of Dr. McGuigan’s book. There will be a presentation by the author, followed by an interactive Q&A session with the audience. The event is in-person, free, and open to the public.


Organized by the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT) at University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM).

Cosponsored by the Canadian Communication Association (CCA), the Communication and Digital Media Studies Program (CDMS) at Ontario Tech University, and the Institute for Technoscience & Society (ITS) at York University.

Organized by the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT) at University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM).

Cosponsored by the Canadian Communication Association (CCA), the Communication and Digital Media Studies Program (CDMS) at Ontario Tech University, and the Institute for Technoscience & Society (ITS) at York University.

Bonus for PhD students: If you are a PhD student researching platform studies, platform governance, critical data studies, advertising and marketing tech, or the political economy of information and technology and are interested in participating in a workshop with Dr. McGuigan on Friday, Sept. 15 at ICCIT at the University of Toronto Mississauga, please email Lunch and transportation (U of T shuttle tickets) provided.