First there was multitasking, but now there is continuous partial attention, according to Linda Stone who coined the term and who spoke about it last week at GEL. Multitasking, e.g. eating lunch while driving a car, was motivated by the desire to be more efficient. Its more nuanced cousin, continuous partial attention, emerged in 1985 and is about not wanting to miss anything, to be "a live node on the network." The most common example is reading one's email (whether via a laptop or Blackberry) while otherwise attending a meeting, a practice she said at least one high profile technology CEO had banned at his staff meetings. (I checked later and it was a different one than I had worked for, so the ban may be spreading.)
Continuous Partial Attention is sometimes a good thing, as it allows us to continuously exchange information, some of which may be useful in our face-to-face activity, but Linda warns we may be taking it to excess, leaving us in a constant state of stress and not giving us the time we need to reflect. Fortunately, people continue to adapt and are learning to be more selective about how we allocate our attention so we can focus on what's important.
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Multitasking Continuous Partial Attention Focus on What Matters
Information Worker Knowledge Worker Wisdom Worker
Functionality & Features Ease of Use Quality of Life
Revised 20 May 2006 after Linda sent along some additional clarifying points.