Thursday, March 23, 2006

Continuous Partial Attention

On Slashdot this morning, I ran across an interesting and true piece submitted by ubercombatwombat on what is called "Continuous Partial Attention," a syndrome brought on by a high-tech age in which you can count on people who should be paying attention to you discreetly (or indiscreetly) using one or more mobile devices while you speak. The article he links speaks mainly of conferences and business meetings, but I can see this happening in college, too. Laptop keys chatter incessantly (especially in a class like philosophy), and I know they can't all be taking notes the whole time. Even the tables at GPC, which are generally 6 inches shorter than that class's textbook, can hide a cellphone at waist level for the purpose of txt msgs.
While answering my softphone and checking my mail simultaneously I ran across the following article by Steven Levy. In it he writes about a speaker named Linda Stone and something she called "Continuous Partial Attention." I finally had a phrase for the reason I turn off wi-fi, asked people to turn off their cell phones and put away their crackberrys when I am speaking to a group. I suffer from this too. Starting today I am going to do something about it, brb.
Isn't this how we all look at it? I can sit and wonder why people are instant messaging during math class (and sharing the screen with their neighbor, too), but I still walk up to the bookstore counter with iPod earbuds in my ears—whether I have the music up loud or not. Americans today are always trying to keep the plates spinning. And, if I can take my non-multi-tasking self as any example, the majority of the time, the most annoying task wins over the others.

Maybe this is why we can't sit still in church. Maybe this is why 8-hour sermons would kill a church faster than the preacher showing up with a nose ring. Maybe this is why people have to be reminded to silence their cellphones. Maybe this is why this generation can't enjoy a silent movie, but a shirtless, rectangular sponge constantly screaming in the soprano range is deemed entertainment. Maybe this is why we can plug a sermon podcast into the rush hour drive but can't sit and directly read Scripture for an hour.

What have we lost? What is the cause of this phenomenon? That will take some more thought on my part and on yours. My duty of dredging up the symptoms is done: now we all have to figure out the cause and, in true Barney Fife style, nip it in the bud. We're losing the ability to be still, and you know what comes next...

And is it any coincidence that the TLA here is CPA? I think not. smile wink grin repeat

2 Comments:

Anonymous Hugh said...

Just wait 'til you've got kids, chief. I don't have a crackberry, but I've got some other things that I'll share with you -- after this break.

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This comment is brought to you by the letter "E".

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We're back. I have FeedDemon watching my blogs, the gmail notifier watching my e-mail, a cell phone in my pocket, Outlook watching my work e-mail and calendar, I work in a cube farm that blocks no sound at all, and I have a compulsive thinking problem. What does this do to my attention span? The answer -- when we return.

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This comment is brought to you by the number e.

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My attention span is asymptotically approaching zero.

As a programmer, I think of this as the context switching penalty...

... shoot, I forgot what I was going to say. Nevermind.

3:53 PM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Amy said...

That is so, so true. I sit through a lesson on Wednesday night trying to pay attention amongst those who are playing with their cell phones, watching videos on their iPods, writing on their hands, and taking apart styrofoam cups. The concept of their actions being distracting never occurs to them because they're taught that it's acceptable.

However, I am guilty of coloring on my sermon notes and forgetting to fill in the blanks :-)

Continuous partial attention. I like that.
-Amy

7:15 PM, March 23, 2006  

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