I’m not sure “trade” is the right verb here. Or even “attention.” This is the transactional view often used to rationalize advertising in otherwise free media services, such as online publishing and search. But it’s too simple, and fails to take into account the subtle but substantive role advertising can play in publishing. For example, one can pay little explicit attention to an ad and still be aware of it, and even appreciate it.

According to Michael Polanyi, most of our awareness is tacit, rather than explicit. All contextual awareness, for example, is tacit. When a reader pages through Vogue, for example, she may be tacitly aware of the ads while she looks for editorial matter. If she is curious about an ad, she might attend to it explicitly while being tacitly aware that she is still reading Vogue and knowing in a tacit way some of what’s in the rest of the magazine.

There are also arguments, which to some degree I accept, that say we do need advertising to at least be aware that certain companies have worthwhile goods and services to offer. I doubt we’ll ever settle that argument, but I do think it’s worth considering.

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