In a recent article Tom Friedman of the New York Times ponders whether we have evolved from the Iron Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Age of Interruption, in which the “malady of modernity” is that we are now all afflicted with chronic multi-tasking and chronic partial attention induced by cell phones, email, the internet, handhelds, and our other many devices.
He wonders whether the Age of Interruption will lead to a decline of civilization as our ideas and attention spans shrink like slugs sprinkled with salt, and civilization at large gets collectively diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Friedman then asks “Who can think or write or innovate under such conditions?”
In contrast, Friedman describes his local rain forest guide who:
“carried no devices and did not suffer from continuous partial attention. Just the opposite. He heard every chirp, whistle, howl or crackle in the rain forest and would stop us in our tracks immediately and identify what bird, insect or animal it was. He also had incredible vision and never missed a spider’s web, or a butterfly, or a toucan, or a column of marching termites. He was totally disconnected from the Web, but totally in touch with the incredible web of life around him.”
Do we collectively suffer from Chronic Partial Attention?
I found an interesting academic paper on designing user interfaces in the age of Interruption here.