The fragmentation of attention


Fragmentation of the media. Innumerable ways of communicating with each other (I worked out I have around 15 different ways for people to get in touch with me), adds up to the worst possible context for preventing procrastination
– or rather, having ones attention removed from the job in hand.

Landline phone/home phone
Mobile phone
Email (office email account, plus various personal email accounts)
IM (AOL, MS Messenger, iChat)
Skype
(and lets not forget the time spent plouging through Netnewswire RSS feeds and CIX Conferencing)

Rupert Goodwins at ZDNet clearly has the same issue:

Rupert on procrastination

For anyone with a predisposition towards wandering attention, the Internet is a ghastly place. No matter how deeply embedded you are in your work, Alt+Tab will transport you more efficiently than the starship Enterprise to anywhere in the galaxy you fancy. And that’s it; you’ve lost context, concentration and focus. Everything in your head (which could well include whatever it is you picked up last time you alt-tabbed) dissipates into nothingness like a breath of cigarette smoke: it’s more disruptive than booze, dope or women. Forget the pram in the hallway, the sombre enemy of good art is the wireless router in the cupboard.

What I’d like to see is a little utility that monitors the number of times I move focus away from a document while I’m editing it. Each IM, each email, each slipping away to Firefox should be noted — and ideally, marked in the document by a tag of some sort. And then, perhaps, some sort of automated stick or carrot: each time I do it, my net connection slows down, or if I get to the end of a page without blemish a little door in the PC opens and a cold miniature of tequila is dispensed. Doubtless this could be adapted to the education environment — a small tube of glue, perhaps, or a ringtone.

Rupert has a point. Engineering time to properly devote some really focussed thought and effort to a piece of work is becoming ever harder – not only that, but even if you do manage to create something  worthy of the effort, will anyone actually pay any attention to it – because they are too busy having their attention diverted for all the reasons above?

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Comments

  1. I rememeber reading a report in Metro before Christmas that claimed a university study showed that email alerts led to a loss of concentration worse than that caused by using cannabis.

    The persistent golden envelope in the bottom right of the screen led to an acute inability to focus on the task in hand.

    And believe it or not… as I’m typing this, one of those glorious envelopes has just appeared. I was going to write lots more reasoned and scientific arguments but I think I’ll just pop off and check my emails!

    Like

  2. I now I’ve read this week’s Economist, I see there is already a phrase that describes the essence of my post – continuous partial attention. Apparently the “joy of focus” is what we are all meant to be rediscovering…..

    Like

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