Continuous, Partial

These notes
from the recent
Supernova 2005
conference–themed "Attention"–call attention to the keynote address by
Linda Stone, which she leads by citing her own coinage of "continuous
partial attention" in 1997.  I’m hesitant to argue with the phrase out of
context, but I appreciate the position expressed at


this article
) that attention structures are partial, layered, shifting,
afflux. Broader questions–likely explained by Stone elsewhere–fold into this,
such as the degree to which technologies bring about changes in consciousness
(what we mean by attention?) or whether the attention-fragmenting domain
now filled up with the digital apparatus simply presents us with more
interferences and distractions (material and informational).  The notes
(which I’m taking as reasonably reliable) have these as Stone’s closing

The next aphrodisiac is committed full-attention focus. In this new area,
experiencing this engaged attention is to feel alive. Trusted filters, trusted
protectors, trusted concierge, human or technical, removing distractions and
managing boundaries, filtering signal from noise, enabling meaningful
connections, that make us feel secure, are the opportunity for the next
generation. Opportunity will be the tools and technologies to take our power

I don’t have any brilliant conclusions to report (might try, though, if I’d
have been there). The notes on the talk and the conference’s theme, I find
interesting.  The periodization of computing–twenty year cycles flipping
between individualist models and social models–leaves me with questions about
its predictive legitimacy–rings of a social turn, more recently to full
blown networkacy.  And this turn, Stone projects, is answered by what’s
coming next, a return of sorts to individualistic attention control–more fixed,
restrictively channeled attention structures.  Or at the very least, a
greater measure of agency in the network. Yeah maybe.


  1. Can’t say for sure, bc I’ve only just started it, but I wonder if Steve Johnson’s new book is going to be relevant to the question of attention, given that he’s arguing for the increased complexity of pop culture. There’s a spot early on where he distinguishes between multitasking and the complex attention required for immersion in video games, multi-thread television, etc.

    And he’s someone (thanks to the research behind Mind Wide Open) who’s not afraid to make some connections between cultural studies lite and neurology…

    No conclusions. Just a thought…

  2. I just saw Jeff’s entry on Johnson’s book, too. Look forward to getting my hands on a copy. As you know, I think it’s worthwhile to raise questions about what’s presumed about attention and consciousness when the subject of attention structures and technologies come up.

Comments are closed.