Can we be productive in a world full of constant updates? Will we adapt or will we burn out? Linda Stone and William Powers at AIF 2011
Category Archives: attention management
Watching Cameron Carpenter play the organ is a transcendant experience. It’s as if he’s “lit.” The organ just sits there, and Carpenter’s body exudes a powerful energy. Most of us, when we interact with digital technologies, “merge” our energies with the device, exhausting ourselves. Experienced musicians don’t do this. In the evolution of our relationship with digital devices, we have a lot to learn from experienced musicians.
A little more context first:
“Email apnea,” or “screen apnea” is temporary cessation of breath when we’re in front of a screen, especially when texting or doing email. This chronic breath-holding puts us in a state of fight or flight, affecting emotions, physiology, and attention.
Our opportunity is to evolve toward, “Conscious Computing.” Instead of merging with or into the screen and our digital devices, we stay embodied, breathing, and separate from the devices, in the same way an experienced musician relates to his or her instrument.
Carpenter plays the organ; a complicated instrument with complicated controls. He paused for a minute before responding to us, then with complete confidence, advised:
“You’ve gotta dominate the mofo!”
The next day, I related this story to Wendy Palmer, who coaches leaders in conscious embodiment. Her reaction, “There’s a gentle way to just let it know you’re the boss.”
Take your pick.
Iʼm in NY and staying at a friendʼs apartment. Heʼs not there.
Iʼve had a terrific nightʼs sleep, a hot shower, and now, plan to dry my hair and head over to a conference, where Iʼll be speaking about millenials in the workplace. After my session, several videotaped interviews are planned. Iʼm figuring out what to wear.
I brought several things to choose from so I could feel comfortable in front of the cameras. I even called my friendʼs assistant in advance, “Do I need to bring a hair dryer or is there one in the apartment?” Caught without a hair dryer on a previous visit, I knew Iʼd need a hair dryer for camera-ready hair. She assured me I would find one in the apartment.
I check the hall closet for a hair dryer. Then I check another closet. And another. One more. OMG, no hair dryer!
I start catastrophizing as I imagine my fine, unruly hair without a dryer. I go through the closets again. Every closet. Panicked, I call my friendʼs office. His assistant, Lesley, is helpful. Five minutes later, thereʼs a knock on the door. Someone in the building has a new hair dryer for me. Relief.
I notice the box is purple and looks familiar. I return to the hall closet. The box matches a box in the closet.
I had been looking for a hair dryer. What good is a box?
Laughing as I dry my hair, I wonder, how much is life like this every day? How many things am I looking for with such vigilance, and such absolute certainty, that, even when theyʼre right in front of me, I fail to notice them.
When I donʼt know, it’s possible to see.
I was so struck by this example of what is called inattentional blindness. We fail to notice things in plain sight. The Chabris and Simons website includes some great video demos; you can see how easy it is to miss what’s right in front of you.
One of my favorite books on this topic is Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions.
For many of us, our evolving relationship with technology in a 24/7, mobile, always-connected world, traps us in a hyper-focus on the screen, and a blindness to the rich world around us.
Do you have a story about your own inattentional blindness? Feel free to share it below.
Experiencing the video was a knock on the side of the head. Being chosen by Tim Gallwey to play catch with him on stage, in front of my colleagues, was utterly terrifying. Then, there it was. When he tossed the ball, asking me to notice the shape of the holes, I, a legally blind without glasses human, easily caught the ball. Our game of catch was flowing perfectly, until my mind interrupted with an internal broadcast: “Linda, you are catching a ball onstage, in front of 500 people.” I dropped the ball.
My cognitive science background sent me to the literature, and, one of my favorite resources today, in the study of attention, is the work of Chabris and Simons, on “selective attention,” or, “inattentional blindness.” Scholarpedia defines this as the failure to notice a fully-visible, but unexpected object because attention is engaged on another task, event, or object.
Then it hit me. Our relationships with our SmartPhones, and this wicked habit that many of us have, of walking or driving while texting or talking, holds us in a state of perpetual inattentional blindness.
On a trip to New York City in fall, 2010, the real cost of perpetual inattentional blindness came through loud and clear.
Diary, September 2010
I’m in NY and staying at a friend’s apartment. He’s not there. I’ve had a terrific night’s sleep, a hot shower, and now, plan to dry my hair and head over to a conference, where I’ll be speaking about millenials in the workplace.
After my session, several videotaped interviews are planned. I’m figuring out what to wear. I brought several things to choose from so I could feel comfortable in front of the cameras. I even called my friend’s assistant in advance, “Do I need to bring a hair dryer or is there one in the apartment?” Caught without a hair dryer on a previous visit, I knew I’d need a hair dryer for camera-ready hair. She assured me I would find one in the apartment.
I check the hall closet for a hair dryer. Then I check another closet. And another. One more. OMG, no hair dryer! I start catastrophizing as I imagine my fine, unruly hair without a dryer. I go through the closets again. Every closet. Panicked, I call my friend’s office. His assistant, Lesley, is helpful.
Five minutes later, there’s a knock on the door. Someone in the building has a new hair dryer for me. Relief. I notice the box is purple and looks familiar. I return to the hall closet. The box matches a box in the closet. I had been looking for a hair dryer. What good is a box?
Laughing as I dry my hair, I wonder, how much is life like this every day? How many things am I looking for with such vigilance, and such absolute certainty, that, even when they’re right in front of me, I fail to notice them. What does happiness look like? What does love look like? When I have “I don’t know,” mind, anything is possible.
Can you recall moments of inattentional blindness? How do you cultivate an open state?
With a musical instrument, it’s awkward at first. All thumbs. Uncomfortable. Noise. With practice, the musician becomes self-contained vs. consumed by the instrument; co-creating music. So it will be with personal technology. Now, a prosthetic of mind, it will become a prosthetic of being. A violinist with a violin. Us with our gadgets, embodied, attending as we choose.
Those who have heard me speak know that I often quote Dee Hock, the Founder of Visa, and one of the great business innovators of our time.
I use his quote below to describe how technology is evolving us, how we’re evolving technology and how both are evolving culture.
- Noise becomes data when it has a cognitive pattern.
- Data becomes information when assembled into a coherent whole, which can be related to other information.
- Information becomes knowledge when integrated with other information in a form useful for making decisions and determining actions.
- Knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner useful in anticipating, judging and acting.
- Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principles, memory and projection.
Further, I map this evolution to a timeline:
Noise to Data
Data to Information
Information to Knowledge
Knowledge to Understanding
Understanding to Wisdom
Today, we are Knowledge Workers evolving into Understanding Workers. Understanding Workers use technology to anticipate, judge and act. Think about it. This is what we’re doing with FitBit, Quantified Self, 23andMe.com, Facebook, and so many other technologies of this era.
As we move into an Era of Conscious Computing, we’ll also be moving deeper into Understanding and closer toward Wisdom.
Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds. Our opportunity is to create personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings. Conscious computing is post-productivity, post-communication era computing. Personal technologies that enhance our lives. Personal technologies that are prosthetics of our full human potential.
Thank you for the interesting comments and insights on intentions vs. goals. In thinking about this today, I realized –
Intentions happen in the present. Goals are about the future.
Where does behavior change? In the present.
Where does intention come from? For me, goals come from the mind. Intentions from the heart, from emotion, from feeling.
Can one choose to have an intention or must it emerge more naturally?
How does this relate to attention? Intention is the most powerful force driving attention.
Someone always stops me in the hall at a conference or asks anxiously after a talk: How much time should I spend in front of a screen? At what point should I pull back and take a break? Should I stop every 30 or 45 minutes?
My response is always the same: How do you feel? Your body is wiser than your mind in these matters.
The challenge is, most of us, especially the brainy future thinking high tech types, tend to favor the inclinations of the mind. The mind, for many of us, is often tyrannical towards the body. “Just stay up 3 more hours. One more all-nighter. A Red Bull or two and I’ll meet this deadline! No walk until this paper is done…”
Our always-on lifestyle has favored thinking and doing. As we move toward a lifestyle that seeks quality of life, we’ll find ourselves valuing sensing and feeling. We see the first signs of this in the various food related movements that are gaining popularity: slow foods, Farmer’s Markets, and preferences for artisanal and local organic foods.
The operative questions are: How do I feel? What would feel better? These questions can help create a flexible, flowing workstyle that will enable the wisdom of both body and mind to come through in everything we do.
This piece also appeared on the Huffington Post.
Distraction and procrastination come in a variety of flavors. I’ve noticed that when I’m “distracted,” and I walk over and stare out the window, it’s a very different experience than when I feed the distraction by cramming in a few emails or make a phone call.
How often do you let your mind wander? Are you able to give up the list in your head when you’re cooking or in the shower or taking a walk? It’s no accident that new ideas pop into our heads when we least expect it. In our enthusiasm to be productive, we forget to give our mind/body moments to be “receptive” — that is, open to daydreaming, open to letting our minds wander.