I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities. That’s why I spent the last three years as Google’s Design Ethicist caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked. When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want you to show you where it might do the opposite.
For all the benefits of the information technology and communications revolution, it has a well-known dark side: information overload and its close cousin, attention fragmentation.
These scourges hit CEOs and their colleagues in the C-suite particularly hard because senior executives so badly need uninterrupted time to synthesize information from many different sources, reflect on its implications for the organization, apply judgment, make trade-offs, and arrive at good decisions.
In “Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions,” an article for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), Joseph Ruff says that we are bombarded with so much data that we’re on information overload. Simply put, information overload is when our ability to process information has passed its limit, and further attempts to process information or make accurate decisions from the surplus of information leads to information overload.
Unnecessary interruptions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year according to research conducted Basex. Such interruptions come from many sources, including instant messaging, spam e-mail, telephone calls, and the Web.
“The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity” is the first in-depth look at a problem that results in 28 billion lost man-hours per annum in the United States. Technology promised to make workers more efficient, but it has the potential to cost companies billions unnecessarily. Basex surveyed over 1000 executives and knowledge workers to find out how interruptions impact their work and what they do to counter the impact of unnecessary interruptions. (more…)
People often say we’re multi-tasking ourselves to death. What is it we’re doing and why has this become a passionate conversation?
I call what we’re doing today continuous partial attention, or cpa, for short. In 1997, I created this meme to differentiate between simple and complex multi-tasking. The motivations and the effects of simple vs. complex multi-tasking appeared to be very different to me. I wanted a new name to describe what I was seeing in order to be very clear that when my mom was multi-tasking, she was doing something very different from what I found myself doing.
What I call continuous partial attention is referred to as complex multi-tasking in cognitive science. Most of us don’t walk around distinguishing between simple and complex multi-tasking when we talk about our day: “I multi-tasked all afternoon and I’m exhausted.” “Yes, I multi-task when I drive.” “A good chef has to multi-task.”
Were those examples of simple or complex multi-tasking? There’s no way to know.
Users’ attention span often can’t cover all of the information that modern display systems are capable of presenting. Designers can maximize the usability of the displayed information by directing the users’ attention to the highest priority data. This page discusses some of the relevant concepts involved in attention management.
I hope everyone agrees that attention is a scarce good. But I’m curious how people measure it. After all, if we’re going to talk about an economic good being scarce, we ought to quantify it!