A while back I posted about RSS Smarts in coping with information overload, an aspect of RSS productivity is making it more managable, from this we work out a way to consume information in the most productive way eg. read feeds in email and IM, on your mobile email, offline on the train, test folders in your RSS Reader, trends analysis, listen as audio, etc…also use a digital dashboard like a startpage.
From this approach we manage to pay attention to information in every way available, but again this can be a curse as all we have done is increase our capacity to consume.
But it does enable us to examine what we pay attention to the most, and what we can discard…but RSS productivity only goes so far, sooner or later you are subscribed to 400 feeds again…this is not a panacea, it’s just a pain killer and brings us back to the attention scarcity issue (if it really exists, some might think).
Another angle to attack attention and its delivery, is more about filtering and tuning the content from your sources, this is based on manual settings, explicit ratings and especially your past reading clicks…particls is the darling of this approach.
Let’s not forget that attention is only part of our available time, then we choose to action, to: note, bookmark, blog, micro-blog (presence), interact at networks, etc….all these actions basically present to the world what we pay attention to, not the sources of information, but our output via the filter that is us.
Often these actions are put together into one attention stream, sometimes called a lifestream.
But it doesn’t stop with your lifestream (your findings and published thoughts), you can stretch your attention findings further by having all your attention data in a file that you can plug-in to any service and be returned personalised recommendations, see APML.
Further to this our file could be our personal bot and be sent on daily runs to fetch us fresh news…I’m sure we could still read this news in an RSS Reader type client.
Plus others can search by trust, ie. searching over the attention filter of friends, eg. Lijit.
Let’s get back to the first part about making room for information and how to pay attention to it all.
Steve Rubel alludes to his interest in web 2.0 has grown as a topic and is starting to become too thick and fast to pay attention to everything, you just have to let go as you don’t have anymore capacity no matter how productive you are.
If we resist this, is this the first signs of obsession?
At times, I’m listening to podcasts and even reading feeds on my phone…am I becoming a slave to information, I don’t want to just consume, process and spit out stuff like a machine…part of this is refered to Continuous Partial Attention (CPA).
It is true that perhaps our attention has adapted to the influx of information by still paying attention to stuff but only partially, enabling us to juggle or moreso blend our attention across several fields…and also not paying attention to noise eg. skimming feeds, whilst blogging, and reading tweets, and reading emails…whilst music is on, and the TV is on, whilst patting your cat and eating.
Anyway, like anything in life extreme CPA is no good, you need balance, moderation, an equilibrium point…or at least a holiday every couple of months.
Contrary to this Stowe alludes to constant use of CPA as being natural and normal for modern homo sapiens compared to earlier generations…actually he brings it back full circle to native life where our attention was highly blended, more a matter of survival than information consumption.
I think Stowe’s point is about your CPA approach or style, even though you may be continuously switched on, connected, alerted, etc…this doesn’t have to mean you are stressed.
The stressed part is due to your approach; choose to reduce your incoming information, work out what real value every nugget of information really has (if it’s important it will show it’s face again and again)…lessen your consumption and rely on your network to alert you of stuff.
Always check if someone else is researching a topic or has their finger on the pulse, sometimes following one good blog enables you to drop 5 blogs and several search feeds…as someone else is already taking care of that.
The other part is your action on information, even though you are a switched on, a hooked up person technology and agenda wise, it doesn’t mean you have to reply or act on each piece of information, whatever is of value is only worth responding to, bookmarking, blogging, etc…
Rely on others in your circle to inform you or publish as a representative of your network…
Instead of doing all the work yourself, churning information like a machine, weave yourself a network of topic experts you can trust and rely on.
Or your approach may be less about finding and more about assembling a collective, grab a bunch of bloggers, each one to focus as a clearinghouse on a topic…this is the heart of it, as you just can’t be the clearinghouse of everything, you have to rely on your network to inform you…and you posts may be smaller because someone else says it so well, so you may just point a lot of the time.
Why do I need 28 feeds about web 2.0 start-ups in my RSS Reader, a handful of experts who I trust will do, this makes room for me to pay attention to other stuff, or just a way to lessen the load.
I think the issue is to learn to let go, scared you are missing out on stuff…I may try an exercise on deleting lots of feeds about the same topic (web 2.0) and see if I miss out on stuff that matters.
A process could be to put all these deleted feeds in another RSS Reader, and then in a months time, go through it all and see if I have missed out on anything of value…I’m sure I will, but there’s always an opportunity cost on doing something over something else.
This sort of exercise would depend on the topic, if the topic is “web 2.0 start-ups”, then I’m sure discarding will be a success, but if the topic is “km” then I’m sure I’ll miss out on unique posts that I haven’t been pointed to…thus, a few of the blogs you follow need to be pointer blogs or clearinghouse blogs
Chris Saad sums up Stowe’s perspective nicely, and believes that attention scarcity and flow are about the same thing, it just depends on how you connect with that information:
“His [Stowe’s] premise is that we are not necessarily information saturated - that our brains are evolving to a point where we can let the information flow over us and stay continuously partially attentive to many things at the same time. He claaims that this is a perfectly natural change in our concentration and mental abilities.”.
“Information (particularly news) should typically flow - not pool.
[…] Our work in the field of Attention is not about fighting off flow, it is about regulating the flow so that the stream is full of good content.”
Bringing it together…
It’s just how you attack it or use your attention, some don’t want to miss out on anything and regulating that flow may help, whereas some feel that being connected is enough and if the information is important it will re-surface.
I suppose I’m having difficulty with the two concepts, information comes from a fire hose, it’s flowing out by nature, it’s whether you want to pin that flow down and tick every box, or just let it flow over you.
Is CPA a symptomatic condition of dealing with it all, ie. intensify your attention in response to more information flow…again it depends on your CPA style or approach.
This is the FIFO (First In First Out) method, information coming down the line and being checked off, as mentioned earlier tuning this production line helps, but processing it is still the issue.
Stowe mentions you can go down this path to keep your status quo or you can decide to cut back, but moreso, instead of speed and keeping on top of it all he suggests another type of behaviour that he calls “flow”, where unconsciously you gravitate or pay attention to where your awareness takes you…don’t chase, it will come to you if it’s important.
Not sure about the term “flow”, as it’s always flowing, it just depends whether you pin it down or let it keep flowing, this term seems to imply once it flows past you have missed it…I think it refers to a zen or meditative state (not necessarily with your eyes closed, you can be meditative listening to music, or playing sport, it’s about being in the moment).
Perhaps flow is more an ocean of information rather than a river, whatever you need will surface as long as you are connected (ocean of friends)…there needs to be a more abstract, fluffy word like cloud or float or something…at least something that isn’t propelled to move in a linear direction.
I say ocean of friends, as Stowe mentions the buddylist (your social network) as the centre of your universe, the important stuff will become present.
Why waste your time and stress trying to pin down things, when later on we realise it didn’t matter, or the time taken to check it off wasn’t worth the value you get out of it…this is more of a machine based way of life, monitoring everything that comes our way in case it matters in the future, he says connectivity is more important than productivity, and time is a shared resource.
We may approach research work with this exhaustive, no stone left unturned practice, but research is intense and you don’t want an intense approach to daily news and communications, otherwise you become exhausted.
From his post:
“The answer is not becoming obsessed with attention as a limited resource to be husbanded, or thinking of our cognition as a laser beam to be pointed at only at what is important.
We need to unfocus, to rely more on the network or tribe to surface things of importance, and remain open to new opportunities: these are potentially more important than the work on the desk. Don’t sharpen the knife too much.”
First there was directories, then search, then RSS, now networks.
More on this from Stephanie’s post:
“How do we use time? a way of sharing something. Productivity is second to connectivity. steph-note: perfectly agreed. Important stuff will find its way to you many times. You can miss things (not that important to be a slave to every e-mail, every RSS feed), but your network won’t, and things will get back to you.
Flow is a state of mind. Flow is a verb.
Discussion: Stowe says we still need to focus (steph-note: phew!), but it’s a question of degree. It’s about how we do a lot of things which don’t necessarily require full focus. Change from “head down with occasional coffee breaks” to “long coffee break with a few focused interruptions”.”
More from Chris’s post:
“He [Stowe] claims that Information Overload and the economic metaphor for Attention does not fit. He means that we can not assign units of measurement to our Attention and allocate it as a finite resource because Attention can actually be tuned and improved with a physical changing and training of our neurons to perceive the world as a flow - letting the information flow over us […] he is right that part of the Attention Economy is about assigning value to attention and trying to allocate it most effectively.”
…2 aspects to the emerging Attention space that invoke economic theory:
Attention is a finite resource and can be dealt with in terms of economic units that can be consumed - therefore an abundance of Information creates a scarcity of Attention.
Attention data can be used to better target goods and services. The trading of this attention data, and the resulting efficient selection and presentation of advertising to drive sales is becoming an important economic driver.”
WebWorkerDaily also has reviewed this meme.
Like mentioned before, I don’t like following a del.icio.us tag, I’d rather follow del.icio.us people, I’d rather follow bloggers in my network, not that they are following tags, but someone is doing the hard work, and in the end we both find information that matters, only I didn’t do much to find it, whereas the person monitoring tags is consumed by this practice…if it matters people will talk about it again and again, that’s what’s good about sites like megite (especially when it’s based on your OPML and also throws in a few recommended links).
But then we can’t let this echo-chamber drown out the long tail…but at least you are in control of the echo-chamber as you are choosing the people you trust in your network, just having A-listers in your network puts you in a bubble, all our networks are a bubble to some extent, but it just depends on how colourful it is…whack in some variety into your network.
Another aspect is your intention, if you are researching or make a living about being a clearinghouse or breaking news on a topic, then you have to be productive in one area of information.
To ultimately rely on connectivity alone may be a nirvana.
If you are starting out, you are not connected, so you are naturally focused on productivity, once you become highly connected you can devote less of your time as you now rely on others you trust.
Now instead of slogging through the mud to find the gems, the gems are passed around your network, you find yourself no longer having to live in the mud…the good stuff surfaces, as your network is your filter.
I’m sure this is the case with highly connected blogging teams such as mashable, TechCrunch, Read/Write Web, GigOM, and MasterNewMedia, information comes to them, they no longer have to look for it.
To an extent you can say with an RSS Reader information comes to you, but where’s the filter, how can I use one of these things so I only see stuff I need to know…we have personalisation (particls, attensa), we have memetrackers (megite, techmeme), blog carnivals, etc…but even better is networks, that is people.
Your network know what you like, and you know what they like…there’s more chance of seeing the stuff you need to know without putting in the time digging for it yourself.
The contrary is that you only know stuff coming from your circle, there needs to be bridges to other clusters.
I’d say I’m spreading my attention thin, and lately am balancing it with a more of a flow approach, but it depends on my purpose or intention…I like to have an arsenal or web tools at my disposal. I like to be able to select a tool from my kit for any given situation, but then again I could just ask
Sometimes it becomes hard to cover many areas, I’ve seen the blogs I mentioned earlier do this until they had to hire a team of authors to help with the load.
This process of finding and trusting people takes to the connectivity network approach…
…I guess that’s what web 2.0 is about, every service has a feature called Add Friends.
[ADDED 18/06/07: Knowledge Economy (Drucker) vs. Web Economy (Zelenka):
“The knowledge worker (the executive in Drucker’s quote) goes after individual productivity; the web worker after group-based, collaborative, wisdom-of-crowds productivity. The knowledge worker cuts out unproductive uses of time; the web worker cuts out redundant information sources. The knowledge worker focuses on time efficiency; the web worker on attention expansion.”]