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Aren’t we all suffering from Continuous Partial Attention?

‘A good trend forecaster doesn’t predict the car, he predicts the traffic jam’. I heard that quote when I was listening to an episode of Studio360 a while ago – and I remembered it during last Monday’s Microsoft #connectnow event in Amsterdam. The event was was not just about trends in technology, but also about how these trends affect us and what a tech company like Microsoft is going to do to make our lives easier. I particularly liked the presentation by trend interpreter Thimon de Jong. In fact, I liked it so much that yesterday I sat down and turned it into a 1,046 word blogpost – way too long and a surefire tl;dr. After all, aren’t we all suffering from Continuous Partial Attention? And so I sat down again this morning and decided to split an extremely long blogpost in three. Just for you!

Continuous Partial Attention in a presentation by Thimon de Jong /// photo by CheeseWorks

Photo by Geert de Jong / Cheeseworks

What happens when you ask a group of 18-25 year olds to go offline for twenty-four hours? No smart phones, no tablets, no nothing. Just thinking about it makes me nervous and apparently I’m not alone. Over ninety per cent of those questioned experienced physical stress from being offline. Also, CT scans revealed brain activity similar to that of a hard drug addict. ‘It was terrible,’ one respondent said. ‘It felt like I was naked,’ said another. And all I could think was, I hear you! Now, there also seemed to be a correlation between age and the severity of the addiction. In other words, the younger you are, the more addicted you get. Of course, this study forgot to mention a certain Mr. Patrick Kooiman who at the ripe old age of 44 might as well have his smartphone surgically attached to him. But that’s a different story.

Another study that is typical of the time we live in. Do you know that one in nine people actually check their phone when they get a message during sex with their partner. Why did these people feel compelled to stop making love right then and there? It wasn’t an uncontrollable urge to stay up with the latest news, they answered, but rather a feeling that they needed to be available to the five or six most important people in their social network. The same mechanism applies to social computer games like Wordfeud. Video games long remained a niche phenomenon for nerdy young men until you could actually play against people in your own social network. In fact, in games such as Wordfeud, female players are now a majority.

In our daily lives, we divide our attention between real life, a screen, a second screen and sometimes even a third screen – a phenomenon called Continuous Partial Attention. This phenomenon has far reaching consequences. Traditional TV stations, for instance, should ask themselves two questions. First, are people even watching their shows even when the TV is on? And second, what are these TV shows competing with? With so many screens, the competition isn’t limited to other TV channels, but also to that Instagram selfie with the pope.


Now, all this information and all the notifications that come with it will soon be joined  by The Internet of Things. Washing machines wil start sending us a message when they’re done, cars will warn us when the battery needs replacing – the list will go on and on. And this is bound to lead to information overload.

On top of all this, people are on somewhere between six to twelve different social media platforms. If we want to send someone a message – we have to choose the right platform. Will I send you a Facebook message, a tweet, Whatsapp message or perhaps even all three if I really want to make sure you get it? This is an untenable situation and it must lead to convergence – A single dashboard to handle all the messages and notifications. And this, of course, is where Microsoft comes in! After the presentation, I got to play around with the Microsoft Surface (yeah!) and the Nokia 1020 (YEAH – especially the yellow one!) and I loved the way the message interface looked. Very clean, easy and beautifully designed – a big improvement over all the apps I have to wade through in Android to see what everyone has been up to. So there – I’ve said it! I like Microsoft!

Stay tuned for part two of Thimon de Jong’s presentation!


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