Because life is a series of edits

Continuous Partial Attention

In Humanity, Thought on November 2, 2006 at 2:00 am

My friend, Will, passed along an article by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman called "The Taxi Driver," a piece that chronicled a cab ride he recently took in Paris.

Apparently, from the time the cab driver picked him up to the time he dropped him off, the cabbie was talking on his cell phone non-stop. The irony is that Friedman realized he wasn't perhaps as bothered as he should have been; after all, he himself was trying to finish an article on his laptop while listening to his iPod to drown out the cabbie. He writes:

"I relate all this because it illustrates something I’ve been feeling more and more lately — that technology is dividing us as much as uniting us. Yes, technology can make the far feel near. But it can also make the near feel very far. For all I know, my driver was talking to his parents in Africa. How wonderful! But that meant the two of us wouldn’t talk at all. And we were sitting two feet from each other.

When I shared this story with Linda Stone, the technologist who once labeled the disease of the Internet age 'continuous partial attention' — two people doing six things, devoting only partial attention to each one — she remarked: 'We’re so accessible, we’re inaccessible. We can’t find the off switch on our devices or on ourselves…We want to wear an iPod as much to listen to our own playlists as to block out the rest of the world and protect ourselves from all that noise. We are everywhere — except where we actually are physically.'"
I've written on the topic of technology and how it affects our humanity before here, and am teaching on it as well this Sunday at Memorial. I'd appreciate any thoughts and/or links you have as I pull some new content together for it. Your own stories are appreciated as well.

And how about that phrase "continuous partial attention"? That's beautiful…and accurate.

  1. Along the “continuous partial attention” theme… Merlin Mann over at 43Folders has some good thoughts on The Myth of Multitasking that you might find interesting.

  2. Also, I got rid of internet at home for this same reason. It’s so freeing to not be connected! If only I could get rid of my cell phone…

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