Tag Archives: continuous partial attention

Our Powerful and Fragile Attention

What if I told you that the way we are talking about attention is part of the problem today? Our conversation about distraction, multi-tasking, and the stern command to focus actually creates a level of stress, anxiety, and shame.

Headlines read: Dangers of Digital Distraction! Taming the Distraction Monster! Time to Unplug! This conversation stresses us in a way similar to the techniques magicians and con artists use to create misdirection. As we consider how distracted we are, we shame ourselves with messages like: “I should unplug!” “I have too much to do!” “I’m distracted!” “I have to focus!”

All of these thoughts, all of this stress, zaps our attention bandwidth. We twist in the winds of our own misdirection. Isn’t it ironic that even in our efforts to manage our attention effectively, we are, instead, contributing to stress and misdirection!

If we don’t consciously choose where we want to direct our attention, there will always be something in our path tomisdirect it. From the news, to pickpockets, to Facebook — every choice we don’t make is made for us.

If we want to harness the superpower that is our attention, instead of talking about distraction and a need to unplug and disconnect, let’s talk about what it is we choose to connect to. As we reach for what we prefer, we can stop stressing and shaming ourselves regarding what it is we’re getting wrong.

Click here to read the whole post on the HuffingtonPost

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From the Atlantic: Interview with James Fallows

Jim Fallows asked me to talk with him about the future of attention.  I wanted to share the links for the short version that appeared in the magazine, and the longer version that appeared online.

The short version, followed by a link:

From the time we’re born, we’re learning and modeling a variety of attention and communication strategies. For example, one parent might put one toy after another in front of the baby until the baby stops crying. Another parent might work with the baby to demonstrate a new way to play with the same toy. These are very different strategies, and they set up a very different way of relating to the world for those children. Adults model attention and communication strategies, and children imitate. In some cases, through sports or crafts or performing arts, children are taught attention strategies. Some of the training might involve managing the breath and emotions—bringing one’s body and mind to the same place at the same time.

Read more here…

Here’s an excerpt from the full interview, which Jim posted on his blog:

We learn by imitation, from the very start. That’s how we’re wired. Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl, professors at the University of Washington I-LABS, show videos of babies at 42 minutes old, imitating adults. The adult sticks his tongue out. The baby sticks his tongue out, mirroring the adult’s behavior. Children are also cued by where a parent focuses attention. The child’s gaze follows the mother’s gaze. Not long ago, I had brunch with friends who are doctors, and both of them were on call. They were constantly pulling out their smartphones. The focus of their 1-year-old turned to the smartphone: Mommy’s got it, Daddy’s got it. I want it.

We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with what-ever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be! I interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12 about this. They said things like “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.”

Kids learn empathy in part through eye contact and gaze. If kids are learning empathy through eye contact, and our eye contact is with devices, they will miss out on empathy.

Read more here…

Both in the interview with Jim and later in a post for the Atlantic website, I talked about how we think about and measure productivity today:  more work, faster pace, more efficiently, and how we might rethink productivity and how we measure it going forward.

Note that I’m not arguing against being productive.  I’m asking that we re-consider how we evaluate productivity.  Is it the number of emails we send and receive?  The number of hours a child spends on homework?  Read the excerpt and click on the link below.  Please consider sharing your experience and thinking on this.

An unintended and tragic consequence of our metrics for schools is that what we measure causes us to remove self-directed play from the school day. Children’s lives are completely programmed, filled with homework, lessons, and other activities.. There is less and less space for the kind of self-directed play that can be a fantastically fertile way for us to develop resilience and a broad set of attention strategies, not to mention a sense of who we are, and what questions captivate us. We have narrowed ourselves in service to the gods of productivity, a type of productivity that is about output and not about results.

Read more here…

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A Badass Musician & a Sixth Degree Aikido Black Belt Advise on Email Apnea

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.

So, recently, when a friend and I had a chance to talk with Cameron about email apnea (also called screen apnea), and conscious computing, and to solicit his advice, we seized at the opportunity.

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.

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