Managing Attention

Categories Focus, Technology

To be successful, one has to optimize the utilization of scarce resources.  Half a century ago, computers were slow.  Computer programs were typically run in batches and programmers were limited to a fix allotment of computing time.  Today, computing power is a commodity.  Almost everyone owns multiple “intelligent” devices which are essentially computers packaged into different form factors.  The byproduct of cheap computing power and ubiquitous communication is that people are flooded with emails, twitter feeds, instant news update, etc.  Importantly, many of these devices are personal and an entire industry (digital advertising) is built to buy, sell and grab this precious resource, attention (or engagement).  It is ironic that one can be communicating with another person miles away via a tablet or any smart device but ignoring individuals, family members or friends in many cases, in the vicinity.  Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates, eloquently pointed out the contradiction of connectedness and isolation in a commencement speech at Duke, her alma mater. It is well known that most people cannot do two things very well at the same time.  I have not checked the statistics but using a cellphone while driving may be as dangerous as drunk driving.  Ignoring, or not paying full attention to your friends or family, is dangerous in a different way.  It is well documented that human can detect almost instantly many hidden attributes of a conversation, including if another individual is fully engaged or not.  This is why face-to-face interactions are still useful in many settings, despite the advance of technology. Arianna Huffington, who sold the eponymous web site to AOL for $315 million, recently suggested we should not bring any smart devices into the bedroom.  I am an offender myself and need to change it.  I don’t think it is such a great idea that the last thing before bed and the first thing after waking up is my smartphone.  Information can wait.  Attention is the scarce resource and we need to protect it fiercely.

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