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Thoughts on Continuous Partial Attention

This week I came across the podcast Attention: The *Real* Aphrodisiac which challenged me about the Continuous Partial Attention in my own life.

The talk, from the 2006 Emerging Technology Conference, was given by Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft. She begins the talk asking questions of the audience about their experiences in an Anywhere, Anytime, Anyplace, Always-On lifestyle:

1. When people talk to me I really pay attention.

2. When people talk to me I pay partial attention so I can be aware of other things coming up (my phone, blackberry, other people, etc.)

3. The way I currently use computer and communications technology improves my quality of life.

4. My quality of life is often compromised by technology.

5. Technology sets me free.

6. Technology enslaves me.

Pretty interesting questions for anyone living with technology.

Linda coined the phrase Continuous Partial Attention back in the 90s, as she saw this new type of lifestyle emerging in the high tech sector.

Continuous Partial Attention is different than multi-tasking, where the motivation is productivity: giving equal attention to many activities.

Continuous Partial Attention's motivation: being a live node on the network, gaining meaning from the network, being ready for new opportunities at any moment.

But there is a problem. In Linda's experience, people of various ages living this way, share with her a desire for strategies to deal with an always on lifestyle. They want ways to deal with the flood, overload, and over-stimulation of being a live node on the network. I love this quote:

"But this always on, anytime, anywhere, anyplace era has has created an artificial sense of constant crisis. The adrenalized fight or flight mechanism kicks in.

It's great when we're being chased by tigers. How many of those 500 emails a day is a tiger? Or are they mostly mice?

Is everything really such an emergency?

Our way of using the current set of technologies would have us believe it is."

24/7 lifestyles are great, until you can't turn off the fire-hose. We need limits, natural cycles and downtime, to deal with ever-increasing demands and noise we need to continuously filter.

Rather than a continuous barrage of information, input and connections, we need time to focus, to find purpose, to understand the meaning and wisdom from the constant noise all around us.

Check out Attention: The *Real* Aphrodisiac — It's well worth the 24 minutes.

Related Links:
The Power Of Focus by Michael Ashby

Reader Comments (4)

you know, i refused for the longest time to own a cell phone because i had no desire to be "on" 24/7. while i have one now, i've given the number to very very few people and really only use it to communicate with my other half.

but i am one of those people who enjoys being online and on my computer 24/7 ... to the point where the dogs consider the laptop the "hated sibling" that they try to knock out of my lap ... or lay on top of.

i'll have to check out the podcast when i'm not at work. :)
June 30, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterender
Ender, I too enjoy being online � this talk was a reminder to see being online as part of a cycle and not a continuous thing.

Sometimes when I'm just downstairs checking email and my son comes down and says "Daddy, stop working and come play!" which is a great reminder to not overdo it. :-)
June 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Yes yes yes, i know i suffer from this. I will definitely be checking out these links. Thanks for this!
July 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Caputo
You're welcome Mike, glad to help!
July 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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