Monday, August 15, 2005


From an Ellen Goodman column, "A snail mail tale":

How do you describe the times we live in, so connected and yet fractured? Linda Stone, a former Microsoft techie, characterizes ours as an era of ''continuous partial attention." At the extreme end are teenagers instant-messaging while they are talking on the cell phone, downloading music, and doing homework. But adults too live with all systems go, interrupted and distracted, scanning everything, multi-technological-tasking everywhere.

We suffer from the illusion, says Stone, that we can expand our personal bandwidth, connecting to more and more. Instead, we end up overstimulated, overwhelmed and, she adds, unfulfilled. Continuous partial attention inevitably feels like a lack of full attention.

But now there are signs of people searching for ways to slow down and listen up. We are told that experienced e-mail users are taking longer to answer, freeing themselves from the tyranny of the reply button. Caller ID is used to find out who we don't have to talk to. And the next ''killer ap," they say, will be software that can triage the important from the trivial e-mail.

Meanwhile, at companies where technology interrupts creativity and online contact prevents face-to-face contact, there are now e-mail-free Fridays. At others, there are bosses who require that you check your BlackBerry at the meeting door.

If a ringing cell phone once signaled your importance to a client, now that client is impressed when you turn off the cell phone. People who stayed connected 10 ways, 24/7, now pride themselves on ''going dark."

''People hunger for more attention," says Stone, whose message has been welcomed even at a conference of bloggers. ''Full attention will be the aphrodisiac of the future."
These thoughts remind me of the words from Simone Weil taped to my office door: "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."

comments: 2

Crritic! said...

This is one of those terms that deserves to become so well known that it actually defines the times. I can honestly say I am a sufferer of "continuous partial attention thingy" and... um. Where was I?

Michael Leddy said...

What did you say?

"Continuous partial attention" seems to be a "meme" (see the post above this one). It certainly accounts for many of the difficulties people have in focusing. Two semesters ago a student told me (with happiness and gratitude) that in my class he had finally read books all the way through. At the time I wondered: How can someone get to college without reading a book all the way through? Now I'm beginning to understand.