Overload, Shmoverload: Adapting to the Always-On World

Steve Boyd did a great presentation recently titled “Overload, Shmoverload” where he shares some thoughts about the new “Continuous Partial Attention” world we live in. I’m fascinated by time management, energy management, the attention economy, the costs and benefits of being always-on, and all the rest of it.

Quotes from Steve:

  • We are transitioning to a new ethos, in which remaining connected to those most important to us is more imporant (and more valuable, in the final analysis) than personal productivity. This seems counterintuitive, since people talk about time stress the way that people in the agricultural era talked about backache. But the productivity of the network — those that matter to you — is more important than the piecework in your lap.
  • We have to spand more time scanning the horizon — keeping up with all your friends’ status updates on Twitter, reviewing the newest posts on techmeme, etc. — than people used to, because the rate of change has increased. The hypothetical value of focusing on one thing and getting it done as quickly as possible has decreased.
  • In an era of flow you can ignore things that don’t look threatening or critical. Important stuff will be signalled in a bunch of ways: critical breaking news stories will show in Twitter tweets, RSS, emails, IM. But you can just ignore transient stuff. That’s why etiquette around IM has to be based on ‘it’s ok to ignore IMs’ because otherwise it becomes a chore demanding foreground attention.
  • Flow Strategies:
    1. Time is a shared space — your time is truly not your own
    2. Productivity is second to Connection: network productivity trumps personal productivity
    3. Everything important will find it’s way to you many, many times: don’t worry if you miss it
    4. Remain in the flow: be wrapped up in the thing that has captured your attention
  • How do jugglers juggle? They don’t focus on the balls, the movements, or timing. They unfocus: it is a field of all three dimensions and their attention is distributed. Good jugglers can also sing or tell jokes while juggling. Unfocus.
  • The New Balancing Act: “For the average person, linked in a dense, cascading social network of collaborators who depend on your timely response to critical events, it will prove increasingly difficult — if not impossible — to veer away from continuous partial attention. We will have to learn a new balancing act, and it will be strongly canted toward spending more cycles scanning the horizon and fewer looking down at the piecework in our laps”
2 comments on “Overload, Shmoverload: Adapting to the Always-On World
  • Ben, you mean Stowe Boyd.

    The point I liked best in Stowe’s scattershot message was this:

    “Don’t listen to industrial era or information era (the last stage of industrial-ism) nonsense about personal productivity. Don’t listen to the Man.”

    My non-linear approach to tasks is maddening to the efficiency ‘expert’ Man who might presume to watch me at work.

    Since I often work in a public venue, I’ve learned to deal with his evil eye by donning a headphone-set, even if the player isn’t on.

    I jettisoned the ‘Man’ in my life when I left home at 16 to live in a hippie commune, but I still randomly monitor his blather in the media-world to spy out any incipient assaults on my freedom.

    Stowe advises us to unfocus. I would say it depends on the context.

    I fervently disagree with his assertion that “The way we think of time colors everything…”, however.

    I believe time flows for everyone, dilating or contracting, but I don’t believe for a second that conceptualizing it changes how one experiences it.

  • When we read about old adages like “time and tide waits for no man” ( and by extension, “don’t let anything pass unnoticed” ) , it confirms our belief that CPA has been acknowledged from very early days. Yes, as a nomenclature it’s gaining currency now and people are beginning to adjust their lives around it – for good, of course.

    Is there a way out ? I don’t think – our lives have been permanently altered and CPA is well entrenched.

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