Sam bought a bow yesterday. Let the arrows fly.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
This scene is one of two of my favorites from The Social Network. I love this part not (only) for the reason that it probably gets so much recognition. Yes, it is the moment where the nerd basically demolishes the privileged jocks - and Jesse Eisenberg absolutely owns these lines - and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross somehow play the exact sounds going on in your head during the tension-filled moment. So yes, all that movie/narrative magic is awesome and deeply appeals to my emotions, but intellectually I strongly believe in the words:
You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.We place so much emphasis on "full attention." I've been reading a bit of Cathy N Davidson's wonderful book Now You See It, about attention. I have yet to immerse myself in it (to the point of this post) but it is on my list of hopeful contenders for my time this holiday break. One of the driving ideas in the book is that attention is much more complex and diverse than we often think about it or how it is perceived culturally, as well as linguistically.
You and I don't have the same type of attention. Also, the rate of attention disorders will continue to increase, not because of chemical/genetic problems, not because of behavioral problems, but because of large societal institutions failure to adapt to 21st century realities. Chief among these problems being the classrooms which then feeds into the workplace. My guess is that we are living in the only time when a majority of classrooms and workplaces are ill-equipped for the future of individual, business and societal needs. And the failure to recognize how attention works and build appropriate systems for it is one of major reasons why. (By the way, I teach so I am knocking myself in this post.)
If you have read Clay Shirky's incredible book Cognitive Surplus, then you know the attitude of How dare you? many of us feel towards the single-focus time-suck of television, which lulled us into an inappropriate single focus (much of which I devoted to Three's Company in my youth.) Furthermore, we are celebrating that today's technology is unraveling that insufficiency significantly.
Two of the primary tools of the wildfire spreading of Internet content are email and the web browser. Both of these things hit revolution points with relative "tack-ons." Reply-All for e-mail (while still shockingly incorrectly used by many - Oh, Aunt Tina and Mike at work) was an add-on. Who knew people would be able to have complex group conversations with intricate dynamics? I don't know much about the actual development of tabbed interface, but I do remember what it was like building stuff for the web pre-2000. We were obsessed with slow-speed (Client: Can I put a small, 15-second video on my website? Us: Laughter. Can you fit an elephant up your ass? Client: Well, that's unprofessional.) I'm guessing much of the thought for browser tabs revolved around being able to do x while y was loading. Remember when waiting for something to load was 85% of time online? Now, browser tabs allow us to be like an octopus playing Twister with our content. It isn't about load-time it is about mashing up all our attention.
My attention allows me to do certain things, your attention allows you to do certain things. We have very few mainstream societal tools that respond to this fact in a productive way. Our default for so long has been to build a system which looks at a single-focus attention, even though very few of us operate that way. It is believed to achieve the greatest average among the community - and that is why we are flattening out at average lately. As a society, we consistently underestimate our ability to process information. Davidson's book discusses the first speeding ticket being issued for the speed of 12mph; many people did not believe the human brain could make proper decisions at that speed: we did not evolve with that ability. (And as a bus commuter, I am well aware of most drivers having a gross overestimation of their attention while driving. STOP TEXTING WHILE DRIVING PEOPLE. However, I would guess so many people do this because we have lost faith in society and our institutions to truly understand our attention ability, so we have trained ourselves to test our own capabilities and ignore societal rules.)
If you pay attention (get it?) to Daniel Pink's Whole New Mind you know about the power of Symphonic Thinking. Or if you have read Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From (or at least seen this nifty video: ) then you know the importance of connections and shared ideas. We are learning that the power of creativity is much more about these intangibles we call connections. Connections grow exponentially with variables. Single-focused attention reduces variables. We need to stop building an educational and workplace world where single-focus structures dominate. We need to allow variables and connections to flourish with abandon.
Please, embrace your scattered, complex attention. Be thoughtful and aware when society (teaching by subject, sitting at a workplace by department, taking a bus/google maps route that is always the same), culture (single channel media, more and more highly specific recommendations based on like-mindedness) and your own behavior (bucketing and pattern recognition that may not even exist) try to restrict your attention. I completely understand that these things all have advantages and very positive purposes, but we tend to see it as an all or none position (how meta?) and fail to recognize the opportunity to fulfill our attention's ability. Just be aware - it is your attention afterall - it is who you are and how you prioritize your life, shouldn't you give it more attention?
Hey, Look! A Squirrel!
at 9:07 AM