Open Systems Association

Notes from THIS IS A DISTRACTION discussion event

// Wed Oct 29 2014

On Wednesday 8th October at a café in London, members of OSA convened ‘This is a Distraction’ - an open and informal discussion event. It initiated a new phase of collaborative research and engagement around distraction, technologies, attention and health. The event structured itself around four short talks given by those attending, with all joining in the discussion. Brief notes on each of the talks are below:

This is a distraction event

Ji presented research from her mind hacking project, which involved re-engineering the mind flex toy in novel ways. She explored the connection of consciousness with attention and value, how in late capitalism attention itself has become a form of currency in itself. The resulting calls for attention threaten to fragment the pysche – so how do we maintain a coherent self in a fragmented environment?

Joon spoke about self-driving vehicles, and how processes of automation lead to deskilling. He told the tale of the Air 449 flight from Rio to Paris, which mysteriously disappeared. A strange confluence of circumstance led to air pressure probes freezing over, with the result of shutting off the autopilot. The co-pilot had so little flight experience due to the reliance on automation that he made catastrophic errors. Automation thus reduces workload when stress and pressure is low, but greatly magnifies it in a critical situation.

Cliff relayed his experience investigating bat detection practices, in particular looking at heterodyne bat detectors. These allow us to literally tune into ultrasonic sound frequencies normally beyond human hearing, using the same technological basis as a radio receiver. He has been going on solitary bat walks, and has become interested in how the technique skews his attention and behaviour even in the absence of any bats. He read some reflections on these sometimes unnerving experiences.

Corin relayed his experiences in online journalism, and how these relate to questions what might be called the ethics of attention. He works for an organisation called Radar, which uses SMS to source stories from parts of the world often ignored in media both new and old. Driven by an ad-dependent economic model and quantitative viewing metrics, the present online media ecology relies on a series of techniques which could be viewed as forms of ‘stealing attention’ – from stories designed to create the ‘curiosity’ gap to the Daily Mail ‘sidebar of shame’. But how do we resist this logic and still ensure that the stories that matter are seen?