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Continuous partial attention (CPA) is the process of paying simultaneous attention to a number of sources of incoming information, but at a superficial level. The term was coined by Linda Stone in 1998. Author Steven Berlin Johnson describes this as a kind of multitasking: "It usually involves skimming the surface of the incoming data, picking out the relevant details, and moving on to the next stream. You're paying attention, but only partially. That lets you cast a wider net, but it also runs the risk of keeping you from really studying the fish."
Stone has clarified that CPA is not the same as multi-tasking. Where multi-tasking is driven by a conscious desire to be productive and efficient, CPA is an automatic process, motivated only by "a desire to be a live node on the network". Compared to multi-tasking, full attention is not required by CPA (hence the "partial") and the process is ongoing rather than episodic (hence the "continuous").
- Attention economy
- Attention management
- Divided attention
- Human multitasking
- Information overload
- Stress management
- Time management
- Nate Torkington's blog coverage of Stone's talk at the 2006 O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference.
- Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Berlin Johnson, p.59
- Continuous Partial Attention — Not the Same as Multi-Tasking, July 24, 2008, Business Week
- Multitasking versus continuous partial attention Lifehacker, January 11, 2008
- Continuous Partial Attention. Linda Stone