James Fallows of The Atlantic talked to long time tech exec, Linda Stone about how in our connected world, you need to be aware of everything going on around you without actually focusing on anything in particular. Back in the 1980’s and ’90’s, when Stone was working on emerging technologies for Apple and Microsoft, she coined the term “Continuous Partial Attention” to describe the situation we’re in today.
LS: From the time we’re born, we’re learning and modeling a variety of attention and communication strategies. For example, one parent might put one toy after another in front of the baby until the baby stops crying. Another parent might work with the baby to demonstrate a new way to play with the same toy. These are very different strategies, and they set up a very different way of relating to the world for those children. Adults model attention and communication strategies, and children imitate. In some cases, through sports or crafts or performing arts, children are taught attention strategies. Some of the training might involve managing the breath and emotions—bringing one’s body and mind to the same place at the same time.
Self-directed play allows both children and adults to develop a powerful attention strategy, a strategy that I call “relaxed presence.”
You really should read the interview transcription to get the complete picture on how we’re coping with the barrage of demands for our attention.