Linda Stone is talking about “continuous partial attention” a phrase she coined in 97 or 98. What is it? It is what I am doing right now, paying partial attention to Linda talking, partial to writing this blog entry, partial to those sitting around me rustling papers or not, I am also interspersing all this with thoughts of lunch, what session I will attend this afternoon, und so weiter …. We all do it.

It is not surprising. It is the way the brain has always worked (well at least for a while – remember all those cognitive science experiments in the 70s) – it is now just more explicit and we are getting better at it. Or at least some of us are; as much as I do it my daughter leaves me in the dust.

Apparently Linda has seen a backlash about the idea, but, as she said, “…continuous partial attention isn’t bad or good – it just is.”

Just as technologies are only tools that can be used for good or bad, our brain hardware can also be used for better or worse, to help or hinder. Our brain functions can be mis-used just like technology. As we get better with continuous partial attention, the result can be beneficial or rude. (e.g., easier to be rude and interrupt when you feel like it – it is not always OK) we have to learn the ethics as well as the efficiencies.

There are also some interesting challenges for product development. There are different tolerances for multi-processing, and these change even within one human unit, e.g., when you are tired vs. alert.