Please see below selected recent attention-related change.
- What's New? - Attention
- What's Changing? - Flow
- What's Changing? - Habit
- What's Changing? - Nature
- What's Changing? - Quietness
- What's Changing? - Slowness
- On Mindfulness
- Research into human-machine collaboration revealed that our attention might diminish when we work alongside robots. When participants were tasked with identifying defects on circuit boards, they detected fewer flaws with robot assistance, spotting an average of 3.3 defects, compared with the 4.2 defects identified when working solo. This suggested a potential drop in mental engagement when humans and machines collaborated, noted Exponential View.
- Neuroscientist Amishi Jha, in her book, Peak Mind, discussed attention and specifically, the many ways we can disconnect from it. Depleted attention creates a mental fog. Hijacked attention manifests as anxiety and worry. Fragmented attention shatters our ability to focus. Disconnected attention keeps us detached from others. Each attentional affliction causes us to grow out of sync with what’s happening around us, affecting what we think, how feel, learn, how we react, and our relationships with others.
- So-called “phubbing” is the phenomenon of people going on their phones instead of paying attention to the people around them. Phubbing erodes social connection: studies have argued that if people have their phones on the dinner table when they dine with family and friends, they feel less connection to the people they’re with.
- Attention shapes our entire experience of the world. As defined by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset in 1940, attention is ‘the function charged with giving the mind its structure and cohesion’. Yet, our attention is often not our own: for example, a third of all Americans clock 45 hours or more of work per week, with 8 million reporting 60-plus hours. Our down time isn’t ours either: compared with 1940, individuals on average now consume almost 90 times more screen-fed information: that’s 82 hours per week, or 69% of waking hours.
- Big Think warned that a perpetual state of distraction is not just personally detrimental, but societally devastating. Through a phenomenon called attentional bias, perception can be affected by select environmental factors. For example, attentional bias can be used to elevate fear levels by bombarding someone with threatening stimuli, such as fearful propaganda. Fear, in turn, can influence our unconscious, implicit biases, and lead to aversion toward groups of people we once thought harmless.
- In her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019), artist Jenny Odell described how, through the simple act of learning to identify local plant and animal species, her preconceived reality was deconstructed. By paying attention to our local natural surroundings, we pay attention to our global surroundings and the part we play in shaping them.
- William James insisted that our experience is what we agree to attend to, while Simone Weil asserted that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”, noted Maria Popova.
- Research on mind-wandering has shown that thoughts and attention are in constant flux. They’re always flitting about, drifting from the here and now. This constant fluidity can override our attempts to focus on what we are doing: estimates suggest that healthy adults spend up to 50 % life mind-wandering.
- Attention is a crucial aspect of the human experience, as it allows us to think, feel, and connect with others. However, attention can be fragile and vulnerable, and it can be disrupted by stress, threat, negative mood, and other factors. Neuroscientist Amishi Jha has studied the brain’s attention system and found that mindfulness meditation can help to strengthen attention and improve psychological well-being. By training the brain to focus on the present moment, individuals can become more resilient to the challenges that can disrupt attention and improve their overall mental health.
- In an article, a philosopher, two cognitive scientists and an education scientist argued that as much as we need critical thinking, we also need critical ignoring, the ability to choose what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities. Critical ignoring is more than just not paying attention – it’s about practising mindful and healthy habits in the face of information overabundance.
- “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer,” Simone Weil observed as she considered the relationship between attention and grace.
- On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes is an exploration of how powerfully our experience of “reality” is framed by the limitations of our attention and sensory awareness.
- Further reading:
- While we’ll never keep our minds completely tethered to the objects of our attention, we can improve our ability to keep our minds and task-relevant thoughts. When it’s appropriate, we can let our minds wander and think freely - making that the relevant task, which research shows people enjoy more than they thought they would.
- Sometimes, attention can mislead us about the world. There is evidence, for example, that paying attention to a gap between two lines will make the gap look bigger, or paying attention to an object can make it appear more vivid than objects that we don’t pay attention to. Amazingly, attention also affects our perception of time. Paying attention to a particular event can also make it seem to take longer than it really does (which might be why people often report traffic collisions as happening ‘in slow motion’...your attention will be grabbed suddenly and, as a result, you might experience it as taking longer than it actually does).
- Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind, warns of growing problems around attention - specifically, the many ways we can disconnect from it. Depleted attention creates a mental fog. Hijacked attention manifests as anxiety and worry. Fragmented attention shatters our ability to focus. Disconnected attention keeps us detached from others. Each attentional affliction causes us to grow out of sync with what’s happening around us, affecting what we think, feel, learn, react, and your relationships with others.
- Our body's executive functions are labour-intensive. They demand massive amounts of neural power, and the chatter of our "inner voice" can sap away this power by locking our attention on something emotionally distressing, a stressful situation, or a past regret. When negative thoughts drain our attention, they can lead us to overvent, disconnect from relationships, or lash out in irritation. Such “social repellants” can burden our relationships and lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. These negative emotions can then further reinforce the chatter in our head, creating a vicious and stressful cycle.
- In Psyche, Alan Jay Levinovitz, from the James Madison University in Virginia, argued that we can set ourselves free through ritual, as long we observe the following:
- Ritual is not about stale traditionalism. The teachings of Confucius’s Analects are about submission to life-as-ritual, not about enforcing the status quo or obeying fusty old rules.
- We should treat the world around us seriously, with respect for its rhythms and patterns.
- We shouldn’t restrict the scope of ritual to activities such as weddings and funerals. The world is a sacred space with its own patterns, and we can ritually harmonise with it at all times.
- Habits are inflexible, and that’s a liability. Confucian ritual is flexible, and entails willingness to adjust to different contexts.
- Reading widely and asking questions when we’re confused is, itself, part of ritual.
- Without cultivating sincerity and kindness, our rituals will be hollow. A fake ritual is not a ritual at all, no matter how much it looks like one.
- Further reading:
- Many people feel overwhelmed by everyday life; with too many things demanding our attention, we can run out of focus and start to make mistakes. However, many don't realise that the drawbacks of this stretch far beyond stress, with a study determining that the demands of intense flight situations create a cognitive bottleneck resulting, for example, in airline pilots so focused on their tasks that they cannot register the sound of an alarm. Neuroergonomic researchers are now investigating using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to see what can be done to overcome this overload and thereby improve safety. A human brain has a finite capacity with access to limited amounts of energy, so some argue that technology can reduce our cognitive workload and prevent potentially catastrophic outcomes.
- The 4 steps to becoming indistractable argued that overcoming distraction is the struggle of our time. Distraction can overtake our lives by diverting mental resources toward things that don’t matter. In addition, time-wasting can easily manipulate our brains if we don't have the mechanisms to manage distraction.
- Professor Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained that our brains can only produce one or two thoughts in our conscious mind at once. That’s it. “We’re very, very single-minded.” We have “very limited cognitive capacity”. However, the average teenager now reportedly believes they can follow six forms of media at the same time. When neuroscientists studied this, they found that when people believe they are doing several things at once, they are actually juggling. They’re switching back and forth. They don’t notice the switching because their brain sort of papers it over to give a seamless experience of consciousness, but what they’re actually doing is switching and reconfiguring their brain moment-to-moment, task-to-task and that comes with a cost.
- Amor fati is a mindset that people can take on for making the best out of anything that happens: Treating each and every moment, no matter how challenging, as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only be okay with it, but love it and be better for it, so that like oxygen to a fire, obstacles and adversity become fuel for our potential.
- The Financial Times noted that, in today’s “attention economy”, it often seems that people have decided on what they believe not after any kind of rational assessment of the facts, but rather according to the belief system of their particular political or ideological camp. It is by now pretty well established that the internet - and in particular social media algorithms that feed us more of the kind of content we have already looked at or engaged with - has made our societies more divided and resulted in the belief systems of various tribes becoming increasingly entrenched. But why is it that we are so quick to accept the material we come across in our particular filter bubbles? A 1991 essay by Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, may offer some insights. In How mental systems believe, Gilbert argued that in order to comprehend an idea, our brains initially accept it as true, even if only momentarily. It therefore takes more effort to reject an idea than to accept it, because acceptance is something that we do automatically, whereas in order to disavow it we must go through a process of what Gilbert calls “unbelieving” or “unaccepting”.
- Worrying whether we can maintain a sense of self, the concern that many have is that mental autonomy is at risk. Through the most influential ideas that surround attention, philosopher Matthew B. Crawford argued that to understand the current crisis, another way of thinking about the language of autonomy is required.
- Attention is generally seen as an unproblematic guide to knowledge, but many theories prove that it can also actively mislead us. Philosopher Henry Taylor reflected on how revising our views on these areas could profoundly improve our thought processes.
- The internet promised two things: instant gratification and a hyper-simulating range of information and entertainment options. The trade-off? Potentially getting all of us diagnosed with ADHD, new research reported by Curio suggested.
- For New World, Same Humans, it’s attention that’s the defining constraint of the new knowledge age. If we are to solve the huge problems we face in the 21st-century, we need to direct vast amounts of attention towards them. Capitalism was great at allocation of capital: that’s how we got so rich. But it’s terrible at allocation of attention, and incentivises many of the world’s smartest people to spend their days devising new credit derivatives rather than solving climate change.
- What has today's world done to our attention spans - and our democracies? Writer and academic Julia Bell's book, Radical Attention, is an essay on the many hidden, and not-so-hidden, costs of today’s technological giants. In an age of infinite distraction, Bell makes a case for the importance of radical attention: a sharp, focused, and generous way of being in the world, which valorises nuanced, difficult thought.
- Many people struggled to find quality focus time, even after many months of getting to know life in a pandemic. Cognitive load theory may help explain what's going on, according to the BBC. When we are forced to contend with new demands, we must rely on our working memory - a cognitively demanding resource. We can't go into autopilot as much, sapping our ability to focus on other items. As pandemic circumstances constantly shifted, people had to continuously adapt. What was the best way to regain focus? The BBC research suggested plan as best as we can, take decent care of ourselves and eliminate distractions wherever possible.
- In today's world, distraction has become a way of life. For every bit of work we know we need to do, there's a seemingly endless range of device-enabled ways we can be led astray. Our tech may be an easy target, but it isn't the root cause of our dawdling, wrotes author and researcher Nir Eyal. Instead, it's the emotions — boredom, loneliness, anxiety, fear — we'd rather forget about that sends us down the path of distraction. To kick this habit, then, we need to first take a hard look at the feelings that lead us there in the first place, Eyal wrote in Psyche.
- Ids our attention is for sale? Is the technology we carry in our pockets distracting us from pursuing our life goals? Have we woken up to the scale of the attention-capturing and persuasive powers being held by a small number of big tech companies? In an RSA Short, James Williams warned of the dangers that digital distraction poses to us individually and collectively. If we’re serious about protecting human agency and democracy, he argues, it’s time we started defending our freedom of attention.
- Interruptions have always been a reality of work, noted the Harvard Business Review, as meetings, text or chat messages, emails, and conversations with coworkers endlessly fragment our time and thus our attention. As the Covid-19 global pandemic forced many to work from home, the concurrent management of work/non-work responsibilities added to this already fragmented time. In HBR's survey of 202 working professionals, conducted prior to Covid-19, 40% of the respondents reported experiencing more than 10 interruptions per day, with 15% reporting more than 20 interruptions a day. Research across several other surveys suggest that employees - from IT professionals to health care providers - are interrupted every six to 12 minutes.
- Information overload was a term coined in the mid-1960s by Bertram Gross, an American social scientist. In 1970 Alvin Toffler popularised the idea of information overload as part of a set of bleak predictions about eventual human dependence on technology. Information overload can occur in man or machine, wrote another set of academics in a 1977 study, “when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity”. Then came VHS, home computers, the internet, mobile phones, mobile-phones-with-the-internet – and waves of anxiety that we might be reaching the limits of our capacity. A study in 2011 found that on a typical day Americans were taking in five times as much information as they had done 25 years earlier – and this was before most people had bought smartphones. In 2019 a study by academics in Germany, Ireland and Denmark identified that humans’ attention span is shrinking, probably because of digital intrusion, and was manifesting itself both “online and offline”.
- Technology and devices aren't inherently distracting, according to some behavioural design experts. Distraction comes from internal triggers of discomfort. So, the answer to avoiding distraction may not be a total digital detox, but instead developing healthy ways of identifying and coping with these internal triggers through three main strategies: reimagining the trigger as a sensation of curiosity, reimagining the task itself, and avoiding self-limiting beliefs regarding one's temperament.
- The time people spend on apps, networks, social media and texts does not necessarily make them happier. It can erodes their sense of well-being, increases stress and anxiety, and engenders feelings of loneliness and self-doubt. Distraction provides an escape, especiallyfor those unhappy with their job or relationships. Digital distractions offer a welcome detour from responsibility, problems or difficult tasks. But there are ways to reclaim "ownership" of your mind. In Lifescale, Brian Solis encourages people to incorporate techniques into their daily routine to realign their energy and attention.
- Recent psychological research suggests that heightened social media usage is linked to deficits in concentration, empathy, and social skills, as well as increases in narcissism and life dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, more and more people search Google for advice about “how to be productive,” according to Google Trends.
- There are two powerful, similar, but in fact contradictory feelings: getting attention and paying attention. In the last decade or so, new technology has allowed more and more people to have the powerful feeling of getting attention. For any kind of creative expression that actually involves paying attention - writing, drawing, music - anything - channels of distribution have been democratised, and that's largely a good thing, but many have noticed that the more they go after the powerful feeling of getting attention, the unhappier they are.
- Many people report living through a "crisis of distraction": plans get sidetracked, friends are ignored, work never seems to get done. In Indistractable, behavioural designer Nir Eyal suggests what life could look like if we followed through on our intention. Eyal reveals the hidden psychology driving us to distraction, and tries to teach us how to make pacts with ourselves to keep our brains on track.
- An author argued that in a world with infinite information and opportunity, we don’t grow by knowing or doing more, we grow by the ability to correctly focus on less. We should therefore consider adopting an "attention diet" - similar to a nutritional diet - by cutting out whole categories of consumption for a period of time, Our bodies (or minds) could thereby adjust, becomes healthier, and then, ideally, after enough time you no longer crave the "old guilty pleasures".
- Such is the volume of information at our disposal today, a common analogy is that it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. A study suggested that this volume of information is having a profoundly negative impact on our attention span. The researchers wanted to try and find empirical evidence to support the claim that our desire to keep up to date on social media and with our 24/7 news is causing our attention spans to shrink. The researchers examined data from Twitter, Reddit, Wikipedia and Google Trends, together with that from scientific publications, movie ticket sales and 100 years worth of Google Books. The data suggests that we are giving every shorter bursts of attention to each cultural item. This shortening of attention is not driven by social media per se, but rather by the increased production (and consumption) of content. As such, we simply have our mental resources spread thinner and thinner.
- Researchers explored the 'accelerating dynamics of collective attention' on social networks. They established some empirical foundations, including that the accelerating ups and downs of popular content are driven by increasing production and consumption of content, resulting in a more rapid exhaustion of limited attention resources. In the interplay with competition for novelty, this causes growing turnover rates and individual topics receiving shorter intervals of collective attention.The acceleration is present even during Twitter’s relatively short life, where topics now appear to spike and disappear from collective attention faster each year, according to Exponential View.
- Refusing to create a profile on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. an American professor and author of Deep Work, claimed to be simply mirroring the brutal calculus of the technology revolution. If a tech tool seems more likely to distract him than to help him focus, he refuses to allow it into his life and argues that we should be much more selective about the technologies we adopt in our personal lives, believing that focus is the new IQ in the modern workplace.
- The ‘attention economy’ is a phrase that’s often used to make sense of what’s going on, argued Aeon: it puts our attention as a limited resource at the centre of the informational ecosystem, with our various alerts and notifications locked in a constant battle to capture it. That’s a helpful narrative in a world of information overload, and one in which our devices and apps are intentionally designed to get us hooked.Moreover, besides our own mental wellbeing, the attention economy offers a way of looking at some important social problems: from the worrying declines in measures of empathy through to the ‘weaponisation’ of social media. The problem, though, is that this narrative assumes a certain kind of attention. An economy, after all, deals with how to allocate resources efficiently in the service of specific objectives (such as maximising profit). Talk of the attention economy relies on the notion of attention-as-resource: our attention is to be applied in the service of some goal, which social media and other ills are bent on diverting us from. Our attention, when we fail to put it to use for our own objectives, becomes a tool to be used and exploited by others.
- Using any number of apps, one can set up a computer or laptop to chime hourly, noted Quartz. That gentle, pleasing sound can nudge one to take a second and ask oneself, ‘Am I doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing right now?’. The hourly chime hack is not new, but previously it’was recommended as a mindfulness tool that could help one remember to breathe or sit quietly for a few minutes.
- Contrary to received wisdom, there is no evidence human attentions spans are shrinking, found a recent BBC report.
- When the reading brain skims texts, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings or to perceive beauty. Yet, warns a dyslexia expert, reading enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalised knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading.
- Overflowing inboxes, endlessly topped up by incoming emails. Constant alerts, notifications and text messages on your smartphone and computer. Infinitely scrolling streams of social-media posts. Access to all the music ever recorded, whenever you want it. And a deluge of high-quality television, with new series released every day elsewhere. The bounty of the internet is a marvellous thing, but the ever-expanding array of material can leave you feeling overwhelmed, warned The Economist 1843, constantly interrupted, unable to concentrate or worried that you are missing out or falling behind. No wonder some people are quitting social media, observing “digital sabbaths” when they unplug from the internet for a day, or buying old-fashioned mobile phones in an effort to avoid being swamped.
- A leading investor argued that while it is fashionable nowadays to talk about personal attention as a commodity or even a currency, it is in fact neither. Attention can be bought and sold, to some extent, but it cannot be traded to third parties.
- As we seek to work, just a keystroke or two away we also have access to Google and YouTube, books and blogs, TV shows and movies, music and video games, email and texting, newspapers and magazines, and countless web sites and apps. We're free to indulge our every whim, no matter how trivial, and that's exactly what many of us now do, argued a leading academic.
- Indeed, a social critic Linda Stone coined the term continuous partial attention to describe the fractured way we now focus.