It’s been said that we now live in an attention economy, what I equate to what everyone used to call ‘information overload.’
It addresses a situation where there is so much to which you could give your attention that the only way to deal with it all is to divide your attention and share it among many needs.
I’ve been calling this a ‘partial attention economy,’ which is what you get when you cannot give your exclusive attention to so many different things.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had the feeling for quite a while that I seem to be living in a continuous partial attention economy.
How apt, then, to read this text that defines the term:
Continuous Partial Attention [CPA] is the trend of stretching our â€˜attention bandwidthâ€™ to cope with the myriad demands on our concentration posed by technology. The term was coined by the writer Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft, who describes CPA as â€˜the behaviour of continuously monitoring as many inputs as possible, paying partial attention to eachâ€™. Stone, notes that CPA is a â€˜post-multitasking behaviourâ€™. If multitasking is â€˜motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficientâ€™, CPA is â€˜motivated by a desire to be a live node on the networkâ€™. Anxious to connect and desperate not to miss any opportunities, CPA â€˜contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, over-stimulation, and a sense of being unfulfilledâ€™. Indeed, the â€˜always onâ€™ character of technology (such as emails, PDAs, IM, VOIP) compromises â€˜normalâ€™ social interactions (checking your Blackberry at lunch) and, in Stoneâ€™s analysis, â€˜has created an artificial sense of constant crisisâ€™. Like wild animals in a continuous state of alert, an â€˜adrenalised fight or flight mechanism kicks inâ€™. Of the hundreds of emails received each day, Stone asks, how many are â€˜tigersâ€™, requiring immediate action, and how many are merely â€˜miceâ€™? (Most, in fact, are likely to be spam.) Faced with this profusion of inputs we increasingly turn to filters (Sky+) and blocks (iPods) to find a signal amidst the noise.
Stone elegantly, and perhaps presciently, calls committed and undivided attention â€˜the real aphrodisiacâ€™. And she suggests that â€˜the world may continue to be noisy, but, our yearning and fulfilment are more likely to come from getting to the bottom of things, from stillness, and from opportunities for meaningful connectionâ€™.
From Schott’s Almanac 2007, one of the little gifts I received on Christmas Day.
I’d not encountered Linda Stone before reading this. I’m glad I have now.