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Digitisation and Attention

 Our desire for fast-moving, kaleidoscopic diversions didn’t originate with the invention of the World Wide Web…The distractions in our lives have been proliferating for a long time, but never has there been a medium that, like the Net, has been programmed to so widely scatter our attention and to do it so insistently.” Nicholas Carr

Does this ring bells for you – and for your clients?? Have you noticed the proliferation of mistakes in print/on screen and the increased mis-hearing in conversation?? Even on the BBC!! Mostly I am inclined to be generous when these glitches appear, because I think that many of us are victims of what is now known as ‘continuous partial attention’. That’s what results from our daily absorption in various media. Here’s Nicholas Carr again:

“The Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli—repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive—that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again.”

It seems that we are on speed because perception and decision-making are so often distorted and difficult. I spoke with a chap at our local garage the other day and his rapid-fire talk was not quite human. And of course, he had misheard much of what he had been asked about anyway. Increasingly, our clients are hurtling into sessions, distracted and finding it difficult to get grounded and to focus their minds. For those of us who work with people in potentially life altering conversations, profound and consistent attention is essential. Not only does it ensure that we hear accurately, but that we hear more than words – we hear the whole person, we pick up ‘notes’ from the system. On-going attention ensures that we offer a quality of presence that enhances our professional conversations.

“Pure presence is intimate engagement… and opens up spontaneous clearings in the experiential stream without any strategy or intention to create change”. John Welwood

So, as someone who is enchanted by technology as much anyone else, I am also challenged to consider how I am being altered by it and I am thinking about how my attention is affected by being one of the ‘hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest’.

How about you? And how about your clients? I think it is time that we asked for an audit of our clients’ digital lives and offered them the space to reflect on that. Many of them are unwittingly drowning in the ‘repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive’ information overload that is part and parcel of corporate and professional life today.

“Effective coaching holds a mirror up for clients, so they can see their own thinking process. As a coach, I am not listening for the content of what is being said as much as I am listening to the way they are thinking, including how their attention is focussed and how they define the key elements of the situation”. Tim Gallwey.

Edna Murdoch September 2016

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