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Being Free in the Digital Age

James Williams

How can we lead meaningful lives amidst relentless and powerful forms of digital distraction? Ex-Google strategist turned Oxford ethicist James Williams invites us to rethink technology and take back control.

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    James Williams

About the Course


The technological revolution has led to the 21st Century becoming the era of digital distraction, thanks to most people having a personal computer in their pockets and their personal information scattered across the internet.

In a world where myriad media organisations and tech companies are competing for the public’s attention through advertising, social media and mobile phone notifications, how are people supposed to carve out unique and meaningful lives for themselves? Are our decisions our own, or are they influenced by the constant stream of digital diversions presented to us through our phones, computers and televisions?

James Williams, ex-Google strategist and current doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute, talks us through the effects advanced digital technologies are having on our attention spans, our decisions and our lives, and lays out the techniques we can use to liberate ourselves from the stranglehold of digital distractions.


By the end of the course, you will have learned:

  • The history of digital technologies and distraction
  • What the relationship between information and attention is
  • What the Attention Economy is, and how it is affecting our lives
  • The tools tech companies use to attract our attention and influence our decisions
  • Why tech companies see their customers as products, not user
  • How we can change our habits to retake control of our attention
  • How technology can be used to nurture us, instead of distract us
  • The role nations need to play in order to manifest this change


As part of the course there are in-video quiz questions to consolidate your learning, suggested further readings to stimulate a deeper exploration of the topic and discussion boards to have your say.

IAI Academy courses are designed to be challenging but accessible to the interested student. No specialist knowledge is required.


About the Instructor

  • James Williams

    Award-winning Oxford Internet Institute researcher, Williams previously worked at Google for over 10 years, and is the author of Stand Out of Our Light.

Course Syllabus

  • Part One: Look Out
    How is our attention being so effectively monopolised? Williams exposes the digital tricks corrupting our minds.
  • Part Two: Look Away
    How can we liberate ourselves? Williams shares his vision of ethical tech designed to nurture, not distract.

Suggested Further Readings

Schüll, N. (2014) Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, Princeton University Press.

Williams, J. (2018) Stand out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, Cambridge University Press.

Postman, N. (1987) Amusing Ourselves to Death, Mentheun.