The Age of Distraction?

Short attention spans.   Information onslaught.  We have much to deal with and we’re not necessarily wired for sorting through it. Anya Kamenetz over at Fast Company interviews Duke Professor Cathy Davis on the the role of technology in distraction. (Don’t click yet, there’s an experiment first.  Then, go read her whole article.)

The author mentions the video above, in which you’re asked to count the number of times the team in white passes the basketball.

Watch it now, I’ll wait.  (Remember, count how many passes the team in white makes.)

How many times did they pass it?











Now the number of passes isn’t the point as Kamenetz points out in her article.











Did you notice the gorilla who walked right through the middle of the picture while you were counting?

If you didn’t, go ahead and watch again.  I’ll wait.

It’s an illustration of how selective our attention can be, and how much we can miss–especially with the amount of information we have to wade through every day.

The subject of the article, Cathy Davidson is using the idea of changing technology to change the way we think about distractions.  She argues that we should embrace distractions as a way to disrupt work patterns created to meet the needs of the industrial revolution.  We shouldn’t expect everyone to do everything, but embrace roles that allow us to take back some of our attention from our technology.

Instead, start celebrating “collaboration by difference” — every team needs some people to count the passes and others to spot the gorilla.

I don’t disagree, but I think there might be something more fundamental here.  It’s not just that technology is changing and breaking down old work rules.  The rules of the Industrial Revolution were build for efficiency.  They were designed for manufacturing and how to get the most out of each cog in the system.

More and more technology is catering to us and our habits.  Our technology is becoming more human-centered.  That’s a good thing.

Davidson’s argument that you should have gorilla spotters and pass counters is correct, independent of technology.  Putting people in a position to do the things at which they excel always applies.  It might be easier to see now because we less buried in outdated, homogeneous technology.

Technology can give us the illusion that we can do it all.  But, should we?  If we stick to the things we can really excel and and selectively ignore either the gorillas or the ball-passers, we may find a place where we can be really excellent.

6 thoughts on “The Age of Distraction?

  1. Pingback: Managing Product Management Distractions… — On Product Management

  2. Pingback: Managing Product Management Distractions « Where the Product Management Tribe Gathers

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