Continuous Partial Attention

One of my IT colleagues, who freely admits that he does not carry a Blackberry because of its addictive nature — even in the evenings when with family, brought to my attention a Newsweek article that recaps a presentation by Linda Stone, a former Apple and Microsoft executive, on the social implications of a syndrome she calls continuous partial attention. At a technology conference who’s theme was The Attention Economy, where speakers were reportedly competing with laptops and Blackberries for their audience’s attention, this speaker apparently struck a nerve.

The article says:

Stone first noticed the syndrome a decade ago when she was creating a product for Microsoft that let people interact in a “virtual world.” She found that her test users wanted to fade in and out while conducting other activities. This turns out to be the way most of us work—and live—today. With an open communications channel the e-mail keeps flowing, the instant messages keep interrupting and the Web feeds keep coming. CPA stems from our desire, Stone says, to be “a live node on the network.”

Which raises the question in my mind: Is this by choice? Are we doing this because we believe that we need to be connected? Or because there are expectations that we are connected and that we will respond every time we are ‘pinged’ by another email.

In any case, her research and findings give us food for thought.


  1. Because clients have raised the expectation level, and lawyers don’t want to be seen as less responsive than the competition.

  2. I don’t own a cell phone or similar device because if I can’t be reached, it’s because I don’t want to be.

    I firmly believe that being perpetually “on call” is not only detracting from the quality of life, but from the quality of work. When I’m at the office, I’m totally there – as passionate and engaged as anyone. BUT, when I’m NOT at the office, buzz off – leave me alone. With a few precious hours to myself, I’ll come back refreshed and ready to engage again.