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
Conscious Computing Allows Technology to Become a Prosthetic for Engaging with Our Full Potential
Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.
In our current relationship with technology, we bring our bodies, but our minds rule.
“Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll. Yes, pick up that phone call, you can still answer these six emails. Watch the Twitter stream while working on PowerPoint? Why not?” Our minds push, demand, coax, and cajole. “No break yet, we’re not done. No dinner until this draft is done.”
Our tyrannical minds conspire with enabling technologies and our bodies do their best to hang on for the wild ride.
Glenn Fleishman posted on software that disables bits of the computer to make us more productive and to minimize distractions. Programs like Freedom, Isolator, RescueTime, LeechBlock, Turn Off the Lights and others were mentioned — all tools that block distractions. This software category is called: Internet Blocking Productivity Software. Users can choose to disable Internet access and/or local network access. Users claim that software like Freedom makes them more productive by blocking tempting distractions.
I’m not opposed to using technologies to support us in reclaiming our attention. But I prefer passive, ambient, non-invasive technologies that address our bodymind, over parental ones.
Consider the Toyota Prius. The Prius doesn’t stop in the middle of a highway and say, “Listen to me, Mr. Irresponsible Driver, you’re using too much gas and this car isn’t going to move another inch until you commit to fix that.” Instead, a display engages us in a playful way and our body implicitly learns to shift to use less gas.
Glenn was kind enough to call me for a comment as he prepared his post. We talked about email apnea, continuous partial attention, and how, while software that locks out distractions is a great first step, our ultimate opportunity is to evolve our relationship with personal technologies.
With technologies like Freedom, we take away, from our mind, the role of tyrant, and re-assign that role to the technology. The technology then dictates to the mind. The mind then dictates to the body. Meanwhile, the body that senses and feels, that turns out to offer more wisdom than the finest mind could even imagine, is ignored.
There are techniques and technologies that actually tune us in to our bodies, and our nervous systems. These technologies let us know when we’re stressed, or when we’re engaged. One of these technologies, from Heartmath, has been particularly helpful to me. A clip goes on the earlobe, and is connected to a small, lightweight box, that can sit next to the computer. There are lights on the box that indicate the state of the nervous system. One of these products, the emWave2, can be used while doing work on the computer (in other contexts as well). Heartmath also offer software games that work with the emWave2. The 5-10 minute games involve actions that are totally controlled by the state of your nervous system.
At the heart of compromised attention is compromised breathing. Breathing, attention, and emotion, are commutative. Athletes, dancers, and musicians are among those who don’t have email apnea. Optimal breathing contributes to regulating our autonomic nervous system and it’s in this regulated state that our cognition and memory, social and emotional intelligence, and even innovative thinking can be fueled.
Scientists, like Antonio Damasio, Daniel Siegel, and Daniel Goleman, have shown us that aspects of our intelligence come from sensing and feeling and that our bodies offer a kind of wisdom.
Thirty years ago, personal computing technologies created a revolution in personal productivity, supporting a value on self-expression, output and efficiency. The personal communications technology era that followed the era of personal productivity amplified accessibility and responsiveness. Personal technologies have served us well as prosthetics for the mind, in service of thinking and doing.
Our focus has been on technologies as prosthetics for the mind, and human-as-machine style productivity. This has led to burn-out, poor health, poor sleep, and what I call email apnea or screen apnea. We wonder where our attention has gone. Turns out, it’s right where we left it — with our ability to breathe fully.
We can use personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings, to enhance our lives. I call this Conscious Computing.
We can use technology to help enable Conscious Computing, or we can find it on our own, through attending to how we feel. For advice from a musician on how to do Conscious Computing, I interviewed the organist, Cameron Carpenter.
Conscious Computing with the help of passive, ambient, non-invasive Heart Rate Variability (HRV) technology is poised to take off over the next few years. It has the potential to help all of us learn the skills that musicians, athletes and dancers have, that immunizes them from email apnea.
With a musical instrument, it’s awkward at first. All thumbs. Uncomfortable. We don’t know how to sit, stand or breathe. With practice, a musician becomes self-contained versus merged with the instrument. 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. Self-contained. Present.
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.
These days, the discussions about information overload are contributing to the overload! It’s refreshing to the tenth power when there’s a glimpse of what IS preferred vs. where we’re stuck.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been noticing that about 1/3 of people walking, crossing streets, or standing on the sidewalk, are ON their cell phones. In most cases, they are not just talking; they are texting or emailing — attention fully focused on the little screen in front of them. Tsunami warning? They’d miss it.
With an iPod, at least as the person listens, they visually attend to where they’re going. For those walking while texting or sending an email, attention to the world outside of the screen is absent. The primary intimacy is with the device and it’s possibilities.
Do you intentionally take time away from the screens in your life? Please share your story.
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?