Attention and Identity

A few days ago, I posted a short piece on the attention economy. In a sense it was a bit of a cheat. What I had actually written was much, much longer. I cut it short because the trains of thought it prompted created a whole set of new starting points, but didn’t make for a very coherent piece. When I then collided with the concept of Low Latent Inhibition the thought processes exploded.
One of the places this took me to was back to the idea of Purposive Drift and how what I seem to be saying there could be reduced to two grammatically inelegant aphorisms that seem to apply as much to organisations as they do to individuals like you and me:
“You are what you pay attention to”
“If you want to change who you are; change what you pay attention to”

Low Latent Inhibition

Every so often one comes across a concept that seems to set off an explosion of ideas. Visiting Grant McCracken‘s blog the other day provided one of them. The concept is Low Latent Inhibition. I’ll go on to McCracken’s take on the concept a bit later, but first we’ll get to the crunch.
McCracken links to an article in The Harvard Review by Craig Lambert, who describes the concept in the following way:
“In a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, lecturer on psychology Shelley Carson, Ph.D. ’01, Harvard graduate student Daniel Higgins, and Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto (formerly assistant professor of psychology at Harvard) focus on “latent inhibition,” a cognitive mechanism discovered as a result of experiments with animals in the late 1950s. Latent inhibition is the capacity of an animal to unconsciously screen out stimuli perceived as irrelevant to its needs.
Psychologists have generally linked a low level of latent inhibition to psychotic conditions like schizophrenia; the lack of filtering can even flood the mind with random inputs. But the eminent psychologist Hans Eysenck also speculated that low latent inhibition might be one of the cognitive deficits that creative and psychotic people share. Although too much material entering the “cognitive working area” might disorient psychotics, Carson wondered whether “highly creative people could use those many bits and pieces in the cognitive workspace and combine them in novel, original ways.”

Continue reading Low Latent Inhibition

Attending to attention

The other day my attention was grabbed by a very short entry in Bruce Sterling‘s blog. Essentially it consisted of a title The Inherent Nature of a Capitalist “Attention Economy”” and a link “Michael Goldhaber, economic prophet” plus one of Sterlings photos
Now I don’t know about you, but the term, “Attention Economy” seems very last century to me and the name “Michael Goldhaber” didn’t register. So why did I click on the link?
I think, in this case, it was a combination of things. First, I rate Bruce Sterling, so a recommendation from him carries some weight. Second, the link was to First Monday, which, while quite often a bit worthy and dull, sometimes contains some articles that require serious attention.
This essay proved to be one of them.
Goldhaber is a very lively and persuasive writer, but I am not convinced by his argument that the “attention economy” is replacing the money economy. What he has persuaded me is that “attention” is an increasingly important part of the money economy. And, that getting and giving attention is a phenomenon we should take very seriously.

Design and the future of work

A while back I spotted that Fast Company’s latest issue was centred on design. I didn’t talk about it here then, because most of the issue is still not on-line. But since it will be up soon I couldn’t resist quoting from the editorial, which is on-line:
“An essential part of this revolution is the idea of design as a metaphor for the future of work. We don’t need to understand designers better, writes Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, in a recent essay. We need to be designers ourselves. We “need to think and work like designers, have attitudes like designers, and learn to evaluate each other as designers do,” says Martin. “Most companies’ managers will tell you that they have spent the bulk of their time over the past decade on improvement. Now it’s no longer enough to get better, you have to ‘get different.’ “
If you want the link to Roger Martin’s essay you can find it here.

Monsieur Bricolage

In one of the very few hostile reviews of Understanding Hypermedia, the reviewer took particular exception to my use of the word bricolage. This he explained to his readers meant do it yourself in French. Not long afterwards, I went on holiday to France and it seems almost everywhere we went was met by signs at the side of the road advertising “Mr. Bricolage”. Ever since then I have been tempted to create a new identity for myself as Monsieur Bricolage.

Continue reading Monsieur Bricolage

Why Do Dancers Smoke?

According to Lalith Munasinghe and Nachum Sicherman smokers earn less than non-smokers. Their starting wage is lower and wage growth flatter. In an intriguingly titled paper, “Why Do Dancers Smoke? Smoking, Time Preference, and Wage Dynamics”, they use smoking as a proxy for people’s attitude towards time. Smokers are more orientated towards the present and immediate gratification. Non-smokers seem to live Max Weber‘s Protestant Ethic, deferring gratification for future benefit.

Continue reading Why Do Dancers Smoke?

Web Thinking

A piece in the New Yorker got me thinking about Jane Jacobs again. (I’ve written about her here before in relation to the concept of Purposive Drift) So exploring the web I found this link, which took me to this interview from about two years ago, where she puts forward this cheerful thought:
“…we are living, I am convinced, in one of the most intellectually exciting times the human race has ever gone through. We are emerging from this linear cause-and-effect way of seeing the world into a way that has really been led by the ecologists, into a Web world, beginning to understand relationships in quite a different way. And it is affecting everything. And no end of people have grasped this and are seeing the world differently and analyzing things differently and seeing possibilities differently–basically in a very hopeful way. And I think this is awfully exciting. People who are younger than I am, you are lucky. You can play a part in what I think can be an extremely hopeful stage.”

To go faster, slow down

If you enter the phrase, “To go faster, slow down” into Google, you won’t find the name “John Brunner” in your returns. The closest you will get is,“To go faster, slow down. Everybody who knows about orbital mechanics understands that.? attributed to Scott Cherf of Cisco.
This is kind of sad since that bit of advice, I culled from Brunner’s “Shockwave Rider”, is one that really works if you can do it.
All though Brunner’s best books were written some thirty years or so ago, they largely seem as relevant today as when they were first published. Thankfully, after a long period of neglect, the good ones, “Shockwave Rider”, “The Jagged Orbit”, “Stand on Zanzibar” and “The Sheep Look Up”, seem to be going through something of a revival.

The Safety of the Street

I’ve been telling my son, Ben, whose just turned eighteen, that if he wants economic security the best way to do it is to build up a portfolio of tradable skills. By tradable skills I mean a set of skills that are clearly identifiable by people who will pay for them. (I should add this is something I have manifestly failed to do myself. Most frequently asked question, “What exactly is it that you do?) I’ve also pointed out that he already has some such skills, but I’m not sure he really believes me.
Thankfully, I can now point him to an entry in Douglas Rushkoff’s blog, which he is likely to take seriously since he devoured Rushkoff’s “Children of Chaos” at a relatively early age.
This extract, gives a taster, but read the whole thing, it could, as they say in the ads, change your life:
“What I’ve come to realize is that the street is the safest place to be. There’s no fear, here, because you’re already here. (It’s where you are, anyway, even if some company has given you cubicle space – but that’s a bit existential for spring.) Your employment is as diversified as your ability to multitask. And the more different kinds of work you take on, the more media in which you can play. It’s not a jack-of-all-trades problem, at all, since the more different arenas in which you work, the more clear it gets what you bring to each one of them.”

Mostly luck

As regular readers will know I like John Brockman‘s the Edge . Invariably, I find something that gets me thinking. On my visit this morning, I found this little gem in an interview with Nassim Taleb, a thought that deserves some deep reflection:
“There is a silly book called A Millionaire Next Door, and one of the authors wrote an even sillier book called The Millionaire’s Mind. They interviewed a bunch of millionaires to figure out how these people got rich. Visibly they came up with bunch of traits. You need a little bit of intelligence, a lot of hard work, and a lot of risk-taking. And they derived that, hey, taking risk is good for you if you want to become a millionaire. What these people forgot to do is to go take a look at the less visible cemetery ? in other words, bankrupt people, failures, people who went out of business ? and look at their traits. They would have discovered that some of the same traits are shared by these people, like hard work and risk taking. This tells me that the unique trait that the millionaires had in common was mostly luck.”