Linda Stone on Continuous Partial Attention
Linda Stone, who has spent more than two decades as a technology executive and consultant, coined the phrase “continuous partial attention” (CPA) to capture our way of “being” within a networked world of interconnected communities and constant background noise. The video above provides an overview of her basic argument.
I resonate with the concept of CPA. It strikes me as brilliantly obvious. It is not something that speaks only to life online but also to my general experience of life. I well remember, pre-Internet, doing my homework while listening to records while talking to my friend on the phone and hearing the TV in the other room. But I also remember countervailing moments of singular attention, something like what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. As I reflect on my time in school, both as a teacher and as a student, I believe that school often called for continuous partial attention and rarely allowed for flow.
As we in schools come to take advantage, in richer and richer ways, of the affordances of digital technologies, perhaps we need to balance our attention to tools and tasks with attention to the quality of life in classrooms and the opportunities there for flow.