As we noted in previous weeks, one of the most important changes in human affairs has been the recent and ongoing transition from an industrial economy and culture to the so-called “information economy” and the realization of the “network society” dominated by digital media (what was once called the “new media”). Up until fairly recently scholars have mostly explored the impact of this transition and the effects of digital media on the cultural scale, or on the scale of human practices, but advancements in cognitive science and the emergence of neuroscience have enabled new forms of inquiry and an added layer of understanding pertaining to the human nervous system, especially the brain. One area of focus is on human attention.
The idea of an “attention economy” has both a technical and colloquial register. Technically, it refers to an approach to information that acknowledges human attention is a limited resource. More casually we might use it to understand cultural buzzwords like “mindshare,” or to discuss individual experiences of media objects that address and organize human attention in particular ways. The take-home point is that developing our technological imagination, that second-order literacy (as creators or consumers) we discussed on day one, requires that we consider not just how technologies change the environment (Kelly, Bush, Wiener, Stiegler, et al.) or “alter sense-ratios,” cultural logics and aesthetics (McLuhan, Johnson, Manovich, et al.) but ALSO how they alter our brains and organize human cognition.
Overchoice, Decision Fatigue
If your interest was peaked by the admittedly cursory account of these ideas, and you also have an interest in games, you might read this article I wrote a while ago on Gaming in the Era of Overchoice. The reason I brought it up in lecture was to connect hypermedia – communication media that include within their design links to other media objects or involve material interactions – to the emerging understanding of the effects of “overchoice.”
Hayles: Cognitive Styles, Balance
The contemporary media ecology -the ecosystem of media and devices we use to live our everyday lives- is increasingly influenced by the Internet (or, perhaps more generally, what Hayles identifies as “networked and programmable media”). As an environment it privileges a specific cognitive style: “hyper attention.” Complicating this fact is that we are living in a time where the major institutions and a large (though diminishing) population of people were formed under a very different environment. The cognitive style of “deep attention” is still needed (perhaps more than ever in positions of power in society), but it is increasingly harder to nurture and sustain in the contemporary media ecology. This presents challenges for both individuals and institutions…
Given all that framing, what’s your take on the Hayles? The Carr (if you read it)?