2010 Trends

Trend #8. Constant Partial Stupidity

People are now constantly distracted and find it difficult to stay focused on any one thing for more than a matter of minutes. This state of affairs is known as Constant Partial Attention (CPA), a term coined by an ex- Microsoft researcher by the name of Linda Stone.  But CPA is starting to spawn something else, which I think should be called Constant Partial Stupidity (CPS).

The idea here is that we are so busy monitoring the digital environment with digital devices that our attention is becoming fragmented. Furthermore, the explosion of digital information means that our memories are under attack because there is now just too much to remember. The result is a lack of quality thinking and an increase in avoidable mistakes.

For example, have you ever missed an appointment because you read an email too fast and didn’t see the footnote about the last minute change of venue? You probably used a mobile phone to find out where everyone was but you could have been in trouble if the battery was dead (you still haven’t backed-up your address list or printed out those photographs have you?).

Or how about your inability to remember multiple passwords, with the result that getting money out of an ATM at weekends has been turned into something resembling the national lottery? Or what about phone numbers? What is your home telephone number? Many people no longer have a clue and it’s not simply because they use a mobile telephone. This is the brave new world of too much information and not enough functioning memory.

Human attention is finite so inventing new distractions like twitter is all very well but there are consequences, such as our inability not to notice or remember simple bits of information. Doing things too fast (and having too much to do) can result in other silly things, such as sending out rushed emails (compose in haste, repent at leisure) or hitting ‘reply all’ when you really don’t want to.

In London a local council has experimented with cushioning on lampposts because pedestrians are walking into lampposts while they are texting. There are serious examples of semi-stupidity too. How about the truck driver that was looking at Google maps whilst driving on the M6 motorway — he ended up killing six people.

Links: Multi-tasking, single tasking, the attention economy, distraction, information explosion, memory, risk. Also links with the opposite trend  – i.e. never forgetting, digital immortality, spot knowledge and so on.

6 thoughts on “2010 Trends

  1. I think what you’re seeing is a transition to an era in which we find different information to be useful. Before telephones, we never had to memorize telephone numbers; as smartphones become ubiquitous, we may not have to memorize them again. The transition is rather bumpy: after all, that e-mail that didn’t get fully read should have automatically updated the location in the calendar in your smartphone and talked to the navigation system in your car to tell you where you’re supposed to go. The transition is going to take a while, though, and you’ll see plenty of continuous partial stupidity along the way.

  2. I would agree with this. It takes a while for people to adjust to any form of new technology. A bit like email. people NO LONGER USE CAPS IN EMAILS because we know know it’s like shouting. The attitudes and behaviors shift over time.

  3. Without echoing the words of Ms Huffington to loudly 🙂 I will say the combination of excessive multi -try-to tasking, mixed with diminished sleep due to our over-stressed brains, makes for exhausted multi-brain meltdowns.

  4. Our computer based environment is pushing us to become more like them we have to multi-task more and more. I do think we have in the past suffered from social conditioning that we do one thing at a time ( work 8 hrs -> travel home -> rest -> sleep -> travel -> work).

    There’s something about letting go to hold in in there somewhere but not sure what it is. Maybe we missed something important but previously we may never have known it was happening.

  5. This is a chilling prophecy which still gives me an uneasy feeling. People (including us) just won’t read stuff longer than 500 words, or even 140 characters? Or, are we reading as much as before but just getting faster at it, including the ability to filter out unnecessary information for us? The comic artist Lucy Knisley showed her intake on online reading and it shows some hope for budding writers. http://ow.ly/Uwyx We might become more picky, but we might keep reading. I hope so.

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