Linda Stone on Attention


Linda Stone, speaking on Attention as the Real Aphrodisiac asks the audience these questions:

  1. I always pay attention
  2. I pay partial attention
  3. The way I use technology improves my quality of life
  4. Technology compromises the way I live my life
  5. Technology sets me free
  6. Technology enslves me

Continuous partial attention (CPA) is a phrase Linda coined to describe the way people live in the world of high-tech. It's an adaptive behavior. We're on our way toa dapting beyond it. CPA has been a way of life for many. It's a post multi-tasking approach. In multi-tasking, we give the same priority to much of what we do. We get as many things done as we can.

In the case of CPA, we're not motivated by getting things done. We're motivated by getting noticed, connecting with others, scanning for opportunities, at any given moment. There used to be a time when people wouldn't consider picking up a phone during lunch, but now it's commonplace. You go to lunch and you spend it witnessing each other's phone calls. We've stretched out attention bandwidth to it's upper limits.

We operate with a collective sense of ideals and values. In the era from 1965 to 1985 the collective ideal was all about "me" and "self expression." We began yearning for a connection to others. From 1985 to 2005, we lived in the era of connecting. The network was the center of gravity. We moved from valuing productivity to valuing connecting. We went from creating opportunity to scanning for opprotunities.

The 24/7 thing isn't feeling so good. One CEO demanded that people disarm when they come in. Other's have different types of meetings. Informational meetings are OK for CPA, but decisions meetings require no distractions. How many of the 500 emails you get a day are urgent (a tiger). The CPA lifestyle is becoming overwhelming.

Everything in nature has a cycle. There are periods of training, periods of rest. If there is no winter, there is no spring. At the moment, we use every technology at our disposal to communicate and to be communicated with. Email is not very effective for decision making and crisis management. But we're still trying. We have to opportunity to come up with new strategies.

Conflict resolution is best done synchronous and with high bandwidth. Crisis management demands synchornous communication at any bandwidth. Email is an attention "chipper shredder." It is a dangerous tool that should come with instructions on how to use it safely.

We're on the edge of the next shift. "Connect, connect, connect" brought us to the place where we're overwhelmed and unprotected. We want protection and security. We're moving into an era that's all about discerning opportunity. We want to sort through noise to find signal. iPods are as much about protection as they are about choice (that's why I use one on airplanes).

Discerning opportunity: what do we really need? what do we pay attention to? Ease of use has been the mantra of everyone and that's good, but it's no longer good enough. The new mantra, the new differentiator is "does this product or service improve quality of life?" That's the only way to differentiate going forward. Does it help protect, filter, create a meaningful relationship going forward?

Quoting Dee Hock, Linda talks about how information becomes knowledge when it's integrated with other information. Knowlege becomes understanding when it's useful for making decisions. The knew opportunity is to move from being knowledge workers to being uderstanding and wisdom workers.