Continuous Partial Attention? Hey you, listen!!!

I was blown away by the ideas in Linda Stone’s talk at O’Reilly’s e-tech conference, summarized on Radar.  In a nutshell, she talks about the limits of "continuous partial attention" and urges that we use employ "quality of life" as the benchmark for adopting new technologies.  It reminded me of an idea expounded by Frank Moretti at the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning in his History of Communications class.   In sum, modern, web connected society may herald a return to pre-literate, oral cultures–where the notion of the self was something that existed outside of us–where we responded like a chorus and pinned our actions on the furies.  Does continuous partial attention really mean that we’re not paying attention to what’s important to us?  Or is it just adaptatation to new tools?  Like Stone, I’m inclined to agree about smarter technologies really being able to help us manage what’s important and what’s not.  Just being able to create a master feed on Bloglines is a massive improvement on surfing from one site to another–of course, it means that one can consume even more, which brings me back to her question:  how is this technology improving my quality of life?

6 thoughts on “Continuous Partial Attention? Hey you, listen!!!

  1. .Ted Bongiovanni

    Linda Stone, she’s 50?, I’m 60 but I like her anyway.
    I like what she tuned in. Does all this stuff really work, I mean where did it really take us.
    The only thing I think I have a bit of a qualification to talk about is cars, yeah cars, and my own experiences. Please forgive my namesakes disinterest in this subject, I still don’t know where I went wrong.
    For the record I drive an ’86 Firebird from which I removed the computer (brain) and as much technology as I could. I still prefer to be the brain and sensor rather than give this task to the “computer and electronics.”
    I suppose what bothers me most in this hi tech world is why with all these high tech goodies, I never enough time to do what I want. Being 60, I recall when high tech was no where to be found, the highest tech item in the household was the TV and in all it’s high tech wonder used to break now and then and we either fixed it, had it fixed but seldom threw it away. And we all had time to be “bored silly.”
    Social Security, them guys, yeah they had a computer. Some banks did too. Your little tax refund came printed on this green government Hollerith card with holes in it. Nothing personal about it, it was them and us, the closest we got to high tech was choosing between CBS, NBC or ABC or maybe we knew someone with a radio who could “Tune in the world.”
    I like quality of life issues, I was reminded by a class of sixth graders about whale blubber and how the quest for same was so important to the early colonists, why? “Quality of Life” issue, History tells you the were willing to fight over less smoke from their lamps. At the same time, a bath maybe every six months, go figure.
    So where am I going with this? I think Linda Stone has really captured the essence of the problem, since her coining of her phrase in 1998 it should have become a rallying cry for “Quality of Life” issues. But Linda, please, why hasn’t it?
    Back to the cars, back to Social Security. Big Numbers, we have a lot of those now, we didn’t have as many then. Face it Social Security needed high tech, there was just to much drudgery in the office with all those “Big Numers,” even in 1950 there were a lot of people, more than the most creative “one write” creative accounting device could handle, you can only punch so many holes, cut so much paper in a quest for efficiency.
    So “Social Security” had the first happy office, less drudgery longer coffe breaks, office nirvana if you will, surely we were on our way to real “quality of life.” But…………
    Along the way something happened and some of us over sixties can see it. I will try to explain using the cars. I just tried to find the magazine issue to reference but I wasn’t able, please permit my lack of reference and reliance on memory.
    It was this article in one of my Hot Rod publications, I believe it was POPULAR HOT RODDING which dealt with some enterprising young gents who had developed software and an interface for a laptop for maximimum power extractions from one of the worlds latest high performance Automotive offerings, that is, “high tech” offerings. The bottom line; for something like an investment of $1500 for their device and the support equipment the were able to get voila! ten horespower more than before. Most Hot Rodders know a bag of ice on the motor on a hot day will get you about the same thing.
    So we’re back to the ancient pitchmans “bang for the buck.” I recall my economic training, more correctly the economists called it “marginal utility” or the increase in satisfaction derived from the addition of a dollar input to the “satisafaction” equation.
    Have computers met the demands of diminishing marginal utility? Please answer this. After the entire population is happy with cars that start remotely in any weather at the touch of a button and seem to run tireslessly until one day they get “thrown out” like the old television have we really made anybody happier with all our clean air. My overworked, “you can’t smell the beach anymore!” for lack of contrast really does need an answer you know, just saying “the air is cleaner” doesn’t yield to the marginal utility requirement of “quality of life” and therefore just doesn’t get it.
    Let’s get crackin!!!!

  2. Ted Bongiovanni

    Yeah, that’s the same marginal utility, if you research further you will see they use “utils” to measure the diminishing effect.
    What I am saying is computers have given us “reverse” diminishing marginal utility. Each additional computer brings us more, but at a cost that is much higher.
    Here is what I mean and I attempted to use the Popular Hot Rodding article to show it. In the explanation of marginal utility they show how the addition of a car to a household results in less satisfaction than the first, OK but it cost the same as the first, same with the third car. Each additional unit COST THE SAME.
    Not so with the computer, You keep getting less for more. Again, look at their example. They show how the second car could replace the first car if it had to, hence it has tremendous “potential value.” Could the gents replace the original computer in the hot rod with the gadgetry they used to get 10 H.P. And it is that way with all the electronic goodies.
    Another example of how this problem even crosses over into computer software; I believe you are familiar with such programs as Microsoft Money or Quicken, both great efforts at removing the drudgery from personal finance, but at a price!
    Balance your checkbook with both and leave out a deposit, you know forget to put it in the your ledger using both systems, “parallel” them as it were. Now go through your end of month balancing routine (if you still do it just at the end of the month that is now that we have instant access through the internet to our daily bank balance and a few clicks to see if everything is ok, another issue.) If you have done it correctly both ways you will uncover the serious flaw in the computer algorithm with which errors can be overlooked!
    So what have we done, Well we balance our checkbooks everytime we get a little queasy about a “bounce” but we use a program with some serious flaws in it to “write off our minds.”
    This is what I read into Linda Stone’s comments. I wonder does she see this too, though she places the problem on an interpersonal level.

  3. Ted Bongiovanni

    I can only guess you couldn’t find the flaw in the algorithm, that you thought the logic to “reverse marginal utility” was crap or you all couldn’t care less.

  4. Ted Bongiovanni

    Nice to see a comment and it prods me to say more. If you love the truth, abide by it, you can call me your friend. You can also call some people in the highest of places your friends. Abide elsewhere and?
    The past two days have been a computing adventure. Yesterday after backup my “microsoft money” program wouldnt let me reenter as the password must have some how got corrupted. Beat that somehow, do we ever really know how as we hack away until success.
    Today the same “Microsoft Money” as if by magic had a discrepancy in the starting balance. Again as if by magic, the amount of a direct pay I made to Verizon Wireless had changed by the amount of the discrepancy, again as if by magic.
    Well, about the fault in the algorithm, it used to be real hard on the old green lined ledger paper to change the amount of an entry, smudges and the like from dirty erasures were a problem. Why do I only write in ink? Check out Linda again, there is a lot between the lines on her paper,
    paper that can’t be altered.
    Fill in the blanks, Jason. You better figure out how to write in ink with one of these things or there going to bring back paper and ink and increase the amount of disposed of electronic gizmos.


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