Is our attention spread too thin?

A Wired post today brought my attention to a new book coming out this fall, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, by journalist Maggie Jackson. The book focuses on the Web 2.0 world, where the pressure of an infinite number of technologies has forced us to be at all places at all times, both real and virtual. Phone calls, email, meetings, IMs, Facebook messages, Twitter updates…the list goes on and on. And in our attempt to “keep up” with the ever-changing methods of communication and interaction, we are instead losing a good part of the content, and maybe ourselves. Or, at least that’s what I get from the sensationalist-driven, doomsday-is-upon-us title.

Linda Stone, a well-known technology consultant I had the pleasure of meeting during my tenure at Pew, would call this “continuous partial attention.” In the technologically driven world of 2008, we have no choice but to divide our attention between tasks. It is not only a skill to have, but expected–and sometimes demanded–of us in our daily lives. Whether it is juggling a full-time job and a family life or struggling through a PhD program in hopes of becoming the best professor and researcher out there, we can no longer afford the luxury of focusing 100% on a given task. There are too many demands on us to even contemplate such a life.

Is this a bad thing? Maybe. On the other hand, maybe it’s just not the right way to look at the situation. From the little I’ve read regarding Jackson’s upcoming book, she is right on in many ways. Sometimes I feel stretched so thin that any further addition will surely break me into a thousand pieces. But we are humans, and we can change our future. We do not need to be slaves to technology. Instead, maybe we should consider new ways of harnessing technology to give us the ability to not only step away from it for a few minutes, but maybe even turn it off for awhile.

Turn it off, you say incredulously? Yes, I am just as scared as you. But as much as we let technology be a part of our lives, we should never let it take over our lives.

And that, my friends, is your daily food for thought.


One thought on “Is our attention spread too thin?

  1. I’ve been meaning to blog about attention myself, lately, but I’m just too distracted. Narf!

    Had I done so, though, I would have called out this article about how “controlling attention” is to the digital economy what “work ethic” was to the industrial economy:


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