I was supposed to speak this week at Supernova 2005 with my colleague, JSB, but a travel snafu left me stranded in London. By all accounts, JSB did a great job presenting even without my support - some blog coverage is available here and here.
One of my big regrets about missing Supernova 2005 was that I could not be there to hear Linda Stone in person - for my money, she is one of the most thoughtful people on the social implications of technology. She apparently gave a fascinating talk. Nathan Torkington over at O'Reilly Radar wrote up some great notes on her talk.
Linda coined the term "continuous partial attention" which she describes (in Nathan's notes) as follows:
With continuous partial attention we keep the top level item in focus and scan the periphery in case something more important emerges. Continuous partial attention is motivated by a desire not to miss opportunities.
In her talk, Linda described twenty year cycles in the tension between the collective and the individual:
- 1945-1965 - the organization/institution as the center of gravity
- 1965-1985 - me and self-expression
- 1985-2005 - the network as the center of gravity
So, where do we go from here? Again, from Nathan's notes, Linda suggests
So now we're overwhelmed, underfulfilled, seeking meaningful connections. . . . Now we long for a quality of life that comes in meaningful connections to friends, colleagues, family that we experience with full-focus attention on relationships, etc. The next aphrodisiac is committed full-attention focus. . . . experiencing this engaged attention is to feel alive.
Linda is on to something significant here. I posted before about the emergence of attention as the scarce economic resource, but Linda is highlighting the growing social value of attention.
Linda's comments remind me of a conversation I had ten years ago with a senior exec of a major telecommunications company. He proudly announced to me that his company had a twenty year plan: "In the first ten years, we will commercialize technology to help everyone connect anytime, anywhere. But the real money will be made in the next ten years. At that point, we will focus on providing technology to block access anytime, anywhere. Can you imagine how much people will pay for that capability?" Well, we're just now entering into that second ten years . . . In the age of crackberry addiction, we are starting to search for ways to regain control of our attention.
While we may not block all access, we will certainly filter access. As Nat's notes suggest, Linda sees the opportunity:
Trusted filters, trusted protectors, trusted concierge, human or technical, removing distractions and managing boundaries, filtering signal from noise, enabling meaningful connections, that make us feel secure, are the opportunity for the next generation. Opportunity will be the tools and technologies to take our power back.
Technology will certainly be important, but I remain convinced that technology alone will not maximize the return on our attention. We will need human intermediaries to harness the technology and adapt it to our changing needs. Some of you may remember the concept of the infomediary that Marc Singer and I wrote about in Net Worth. That concept is resurfacing in interesting ways these days.