Continuous Partial Attention

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Definition

Negative Definition

Continuous Partial Attention = "the increasing inability and undesire to pay full attention to just one task, item or person and instead continually scan for other opportunity… while waiting for the next interruption" (http://www.openbusiness.cc/2006/03/08/e-tech-day-1-attention-as-currency-aphrodisiac/)


Positive Definition

From the specialized wiki page at http://continuouspartialattention.jot.com/WikiHome


"To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention -- CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.

We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of multi-tasking.

Is continuous partial attention a good thing or a bad thing?

Like so many things, in small doses, continuous partial attention can be a very functional behavior. However, in large doses, it contributes to a stressful lifestyle, to operating in crisis management mode, and to a compromised ability to reflect, to make decisions, and to think creatively. In a 24/7, always-on world, continuous partial attention used as our dominant attention mode contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, over-stimulation and to a sense of being unfulfilled. We are so accessible, we're inaccessible. The latest, greatest powerful technologies have contributed to our feeling increasingly powerless." (http://continuouspartialattention.jot.com/WikiHome)


Discussion

Trebor Scholz in the IDc mailing list:

"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 concentration.'" (http://www.well.com/~neal/)

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." ([1])

More Information

Podcasts on this topic at http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail672.html, and at http://cdn.itconversations.com/ITC.ETech2006-LindaStone-2006.03.07.mp3 (see Linda Stone on Continuous Partial Attention

The Continuous Partial Attention wiki is at http://continuouspartialattention.jot.com/WikiHome

Read the text by Trebor Scholz, How to Overcome Continuous Partial Attention, at http://www.collectivate.net/journalisms/2006/12/29/how-to-overcome-continuous-partial-attention.html