Atencao Parcial Continua

Fim de ano é sempre legal para darmos dicas e fazermos promessas que nunca cumpriremos…Mas é para isso que serve mesmo o fim do ano…

Bom, recebi hoje esse post da lista IDC, Institute for Distributed Creativity, coordenada pelo Trebor Scholz, do próprio, sobre o que se chama de “atenção parcial contínua”, um dos males da cibercultura causados pelas dispersões devido ao uso simultâneo das diversas ferramentas/janelas à nossa disposição como email, MSN, blogs, etc. No post vocês terão dicas para se concentrar no que realmente interessa. Quem sabe não realizamos essa promessa em 2007: lutar contra a “atenção parcial contínua”.

Subject: [iDC] How to overcome continuous partial attention.
Date: 29 de dezembro de 2006 13h51min26s GMT-02:00

“Our husbands come home from work, glued to their Blackberries. They don’t talk with us or with the children. They don’t connect with us. And then, when we go to bed, they want sex. I don’t think so.”
-a wife and mother in New York City in November 2006

In 1998 former Microsoft researcher Linda Stone coined the term continuous partial attention. Most of us sit in front of a computer screen while texting with a friend or communicate our order in the cafe with the cellphone on our ear. We are aware of several things at once, shifting our attention to whatever we deem most important at any given moment. That’s continuous partial attention. Many students are affected by this phenomenon and the methods with which we engage them need to reflect these changes.

Snow Crash author Neal Stephenson’s website makes his take on continuous partial attention abundantly clear. He writes:
“Every productive thing that I do requires ALL my attention. I cannot put it any better than Donald Knuth, who writes on his website, ‘Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible

Continuous partial attention goes beyond multi-tasking and efficiency optimization. We are what we are paying attention to. We listen to our ipod while on a bicycle. We are online while the TV runs in the background. We answer our cellphone while checking email. Being part of an opportunity-rich social network is what matters most. Many of us take calls on our cellphone while we are on lunch break. Or even worse, according to a recent study 22% of German cellphone users report having interrupted sex to answer their cellphone. Stone argues that multi-tasking always aims for the most advantageous, beneficial communication link for each moment. Sex with your partner may be less of an overall opportunity than the call from the boss. However, sometimes the moving of attention from one object to the next may not be related to an eagerness not to miss out — the mind follows stimuli and many of us get wrapped up in the next task before we even realize that it happened.

The 24/7 e-leash makes people work longer hours in virtually any place. The work place crisis intrudes into our personal life at any time. Life is marked by continuous partial attention equipped with anytime, anywhere, any place technologies. A recent study by Berry Schwartz at Swarthmore College study directly linked what he called the vertigo of voice to the widespread increase in depression and anxiety. Too much choice makes us unhappy.

Therefore, to improve your quality of life, the ability to judge the credibility of information becomes essential. Today, groups of people help each other to filter information. They recommend content on sites like Digg or link to the URL of a website that they appreciated thus promoting this site’s Google ranking. But Google’s evaluation is flawed because sites like JewWatch score high rankings despite brainless and offensive content. Also other ranking systems are controversial as they merely indicate popularity, which does not inevitably stand for informative and relevant content. Britney Spears scores highest rankings in the referral system of the Itunes Store and yet listeners with refined music taste may not appreciate her stuff. The network on is a helpful filtering system as it relies on a small group of people whom we trust. They look through a large number of sites and vote for a site or article by saving and describing it. Human judgment alongside more sophisticated tools will lead to higher trustworthiness of online resources.

Many technologists read a large number of weblogs every morning. This is followed by a quick check of the latest bookmarks in their network. After that people draw their attention to the dozens if not hundreds of emails in their inboxes. It is a constant cycle of intake. And, not paying attention to it does not make it stop. The default is absorption and not reflection. How much time are we left with to think? Standing on terabytes of information does not make us more reflective.

Students readily admit to computer addiction or continuous partial attention and ask what can be done about it.
Here are a few practical guidelines for students (and the rest of us):
Twenty minutes in the morning should be sufficient to

1) read all emails (!) and write short responses to mails of low importance,
2) delete uncaught spam and anything that does not need a response,
3) file away emails that require in-depth responses and
4) subsequently end up with an empty inbox.

Later in the afternoon, ideally always at the same time, take an hour to respond to important messages that require some thought and sensitivity. Apart from these two times, *email programs are off.*

This is very hard because at the move of a finger, a push of a button, your email program pops up. However, with sufficient intentionality it should be possible. Just think of the fact that fewer interruptions lead to more focused work on your projects. You will experience an increased sense of well-being. At work many people will not be able to stay off email from 9-5pm, of course. But you can adapt these guidelines for your schedule.

A 24-hour response time for email messages is appropriate.

A recent New York Times article found that current day students often demand a prompt reply to their email requests from professors, which is unreasonable. Don’t expect others to immediately answer and also you do not need to get back right away.

Some people developed the habit of not responding to some emails addressed to them. (They simply delete them.) This is exceedingly rude and passive aggressive. A brief, clear email explaining a lack of time or interest could often solve unnecessary tensions.

Emails that are charged with conflict should not be responded to right away. Save them in your drafts folder and get back to them when you feel less afflicted. If the conflict is more severe, email is the wrong medium. In that case, a face-to-face meeting has a much greater chance to lead to conflict resolution.

Strategies to avoid network distraction include intentionally working in a place such as a cafe that does not have wireless service. Or, if you are disciplined enough, just switch off the wireless connection on your computer. Online or off, it becomes increasingly important to intently create time to think.

In addition, a clean desktop can contribute to focus. Furthermore, having only one application visible makes it easier to concentrate. Applications like the free Mac program WriteRoom and the very useful but proprietary, for-pay program DevonThink switch your computer to full-screen. You write green text on a black background just like in the old days.

Such tools are helpful but the assumption that continuous partial attention can be fixed by yet another software application is misguided. Machines are supposed to fix the problems that we would not have without them. There is not a technological answer to all social problems. In the end, your focus and presence throughout the day is not entirely determined by your mastery of sociable media skills. However, the ability to judge the credibility of information is a core skill that will help you to fight continuous partial attention.


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