Continuous Partial Attention

Have you noticed that everyone around us seems to be paying partial attention, continuously?

We seem to be living in an age of interruption and hyperconnectivity where no one seems capable of giving their full attention to anything or anyone because of their FOMO (fear of missing out).

Linda Stone coined the term ‘continuous partial attention’ in order to describe a modern way of being whereby we are always scanning and on high alert because we don’t want to miss out on something.

Stone (2002) says,

We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behaviour that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis.

Engaging in continuous partial attention can serve us well in small doses but it isn’t good for us if we overdo it and so the outcomes aren’t pretty if we do:

  • Having a stressful lifestyle
  • Operating in crisis management mode
  • Hamper relationship-building personally and professionally
  • Compromising ability to reflect, make decisions or think creatively
  • Being overwhelmed
  • Being over-stimulated
  • Feeling unfulfilled
  • Feeling a sense of powerlessness

But hang on. Isn’t this state of being the same as multi-tasking?

Stone says no it isn’t because simple multi-tasking is driven by a different impulse, e.g. productivity and efficiency.

Continuous partial attention is more complex multi-tasking and driven and motivated by the need to be connected and alert to the best opportunities and requires a different kind of vigilance.

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