Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Attention deficits

Charlie Stross (whose Accelerando I have been meaning to review here) comments on the attention economy. I read the first sentence:
Irritable? Easily distracted? Have difficulty focussing on written text for long enough to read more than a sentence? Welcome to the club.
and then found my attention wandering over to another one of my 10 or so open web browsers. Argh! I've found a practical solution to this: make the font bigger, which is trivial to do in Firefox (hold down control and use the mousewheel, if you don't know). At my age, eyestrain is an issue and bigger and bolder can help hold my attention. It's a bit pathetic, but these small tricks of self-management are becoming more and more important as the biological information processing slides into obsolesence.

Charlie's post is mostly fretting about spam and advertising, which are only a small part of the problem for me. I have a pretty good spam filter by using Gmail, and I can usually manage to ignore ads. My problem is that there are too many things that I want to pay attention to: I have about 200 feeds in my RSS reader, a full-time job, a part-time research contract, numerous small projects, and then there is a family in there somewhere that I like to spend at least a little time with. People are inventing new technologies and new scientific discoveries all the time, writing good books and making good movies. As the amount of available interesting good stuff grows and my brainbandwidth remains finite (with a slow steady decrease in power), I just grow more and more uninformed as time goes on.

The ultimate solution to this is cognitive enhancment via technology and intimate interfaces between mind and the technosphere (which is the point of my coinage googlectual, and one of the themes of the first part of Accelerando, as it happens). In fact, that book clearly suffers from attention problems itself, there are way too many ideas packed into it.

But the cognitive enhancing glasses can't happen too soon for me.

PS: Heres my Amazon wishlist where I track all the books I would like to read if I had sufficient time and bandwidth. This one seems especially relevant somehow. I haven't read it, but I do have the T-shirt.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Heya! I agree - there's too much I want to keep track of and not enough time. A friend and I are trying to solve this by creating a 'heads-up-display' gadget that attempts to figure out what's important to you and alert you via various ways. I thought I might post it here cause it seems like we have the same problem!

If your interested our site for the app is at!