Constant Partial Attention

How many tabs do you have open in your browser at any one time? It’s quite scary but by the end of the day with my computer processing slower than the bumper to bumper traffic outside on Oxford street, I could potentially have 20 or more tabs open. Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia entries, numerous blogs, Google mail, Google reader… the list is endless…

The way we interact with our computer has changed. Real time interaction has become more important than ever. Things can’t wait – you’re input into dialogue is required NOW. All of this is because information is updated at such speed now. I’ve always been a proponent of this seismic shift in the way that we disseminate and interrogate information. The more the better. Greed is good – as long as it is for information;  and knowledge is a currency that we trade in that makes us feel good about ourselves.

A friend of mine though recently bought the subject of ‘constant partial attention’ into conversation. It is a relatively new concept that I hadn’t really given much thought too before he explained it – I was probably too busy clicking and skimming . In short, the idea surrounds our situation whereby we are overwhelmed with data and cognitively suffering from multitasking. Constant partial attention looks at the information surplus that we now have and suggests that too much digital information use is in danger of dumbing us down.

As human beings, we have limited information processors and the problem with obtaining all our information online is the constant temptation— it is now incredibly easy to be led off down tangents whether it be from a word that has to be looked up or an inviting looking link. In short, our attention span is becoming ever smaller.

Constant partial attention

Constant partial attention


I recently started an after work course that is 3 hours after work twice a week. Now, these three hours are split in half with a five minute break. For the first few sessions, it was incredibly difficult to concentrate fully for the entire period of time…and this was only an hour and a half. It demonstrated that the way we interact with information has changed significantly as the internet has developed. Our attention spans are reducing as our exposure to information increases.

So what does this shift mean for marketers? Well, to remain relevant today brands need to realize they increasingly have to create valuable utilities that consumers ‘pull’. These need to seamlessly integrate into the hubs where consumers are investing their shrinking attention. Useability is set to become the new ‘awareness’…

And what does it mean for consumers? Start allocating some time firmly away from your browser and revel in the opportunity to work things out for yourselves…

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One thought on “Constant Partial Attention

  1. Mark Rimer says:

    I’ve been saying this for a long time. It worries me that our children are going to have access to a huge amount of knowledge without the wisdom to know what to do with it. Wisdom and its productive application are learnt through dedication requiring focused attention. Knowledge is learnt through typing a topic into Google.

    Sure there will be a way to tackle this phenomenon from a marketing standpoint… with Constant Partial Marketing techniques perhaps. However, from an education standpoint, in a world of increased clinical, as well as self-diagnosed, A.D.D. this issue needs to receive some more attention.

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