Is the nature of our attention to signals changing?

OReillys Radar has a post about Linda Stones theory of the changes in the way we pay attention to external inputs (eg telephone calls, emails, meetings, networks, etc.) Highly relevant to our expectations of simulation, and its vocabulary.

Linda Stone distinguishes four 20-year cycles:
1945-65: organisation based: pay close attention to anything which serves the interests of the organisation, eg listen carefully to phone calls
1965-85: “me and self expression”: willing to fragment attention (ie listen in to two telephone calls at the same time) if it enhances our opportunity
1985-2005: “network centred”: “Trust network intelligence. Scan for opportunity. ….Continuous partial attention isnt motivated by productivity, its motivated by being connected.”.
2005 – ??: “now were overwhelmed, underfulfilled, seeking meaningful connections.” (Yes, Linda Stone used to work for Microsoft….)

She concludes: “The next aphrodisiac is committed full-attention focus….Trusted filters, trusted protectors…. removing distractions and managing boundaries, filtering signal from noise, enabling meaningful connections, that make us feel secure… ”

Sounds a little bit like Microsoft hyping its next product line to me, but see my earlier post quoting a Presence article about how our expectations of technology colour our attitudes towards a computer-presented simulation.

One of the problems of the Turing Test, for instance, is that it seems so staid now: the machine communicates only through a keyboard. In 1950 when Turings paper was published, this would have been exciting. But bear in mind that nobody has won the Loebner prize yet!

Thousands of pilots improved their flying skills on Links original electro-mechanical simulators, even though the simulators movements apparently felt unrealistic. (It pivoted around a point below the fuselage, rather than the true centre of gravity of the aircraft.) Trainee pilots might not accept that now: but (as I pointed out in a previous post) soldiers readily accept battle simulators that dont provide the smell of battle.

But Stones argument is really that weve gone too far: we can now bombard our brains with such complex signals that our greatest need is to be more selective again. Because we can provide so many information channels (telephone, voicemail, email – or audio, visual, physical motion, superimposed head-up visual screens, etc.) we now need to accept that our own capacity to handle this complexity is imposing a limit on what we can technically do.

Id add also that theres a limit in our ability to finance complexities – or, putting it another way. the extent to which we really want them. Thats why Concorde no longer flies, and men havent been to the moon for a long time. Its not that we cant, its just that we dont want to at the moment.

Also I think Stone is implying that our ability to send false signals is so great that the next step is to help us to tell the false signals from the real ones. Her example implies email spam filters.

But it could also imply what you might call “social simulations”. For instance, those call-centres in India where people are trained to speak as if they came from US towns – the right accent, informed about the weather and local sports results. Or TV news, which the sociologist Baudrillard sees as a highly imperfect simulation of underlying reality: note how this is currently being manipulated by the astroturf process

I wonder if Ms Stone, whose background is in Apple and Microsoft sales (sorry, marketing) and development from 1994 – 2002, has consulted the growing academic literature on the psychology of our interaction with computers, or indeed cognitive psychology generally?

To the extent that life is becoming more and more a human/machine interface, this is a critical field for all of us.

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