CPA. It means continuous partial attention.
“To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter… We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING.”
The quote above is from Linda Stone who first coined the term CPA back in 1998.
So do you have CPA? I do. It’s a bit of an occupational hazard, but I’m trying not to have it, truth be told. CPA is not good for me. It’s not good for my brain. (More on that in a minute).
With my CPA, I don’t even think I’m trying to avoid missing stuff (FOMO), rather I think I’m just looking for something interesting a lot of the time. I don’t really care if stuff passes me by or if I’m not included in stuff, instead I’m looking for things that pique my interest and make me think/feel a little more. (I also want to share those things with others, so the connect and be connected markers of CPA are definitely a factor for me.)
Ever-present devices have many of us CPAing like crazy people, but the good news is that once we admit the problem we can do something about it. First steps, and all.
I first started thinking about making a change when I was in Bali for the creative retreats last year. We didn’t use technology during the day and it was pretty refreshing. (Granted this is generally not something we can achieve when we are working people). I really noticed that without my CPA behaviour (mindless scrolling, casual checking) I had a lot more time to think/feel a little more. So the very thing I’m CPAing for is best achieved without technology in my hand.
Granted, the thinks/feels WITHOUT a device are usually internal Pip-driven things, but I’m all for a bit of self-awareness. I think it’s a good thing to work on, especially from within.
The thinks/feels that I’m looking to spot WITH a device as my guide, are probably not as valuable, truth be told. I think they’re probably best summed up as consumables or fleeting bites and because they are not as connected to my own life or experiences, I don’t seem to retain them as easily. These little bits of noticed info drift into focus and quickly drift out again, replaced by something freshly spotted. I guess it’s kind of like digital snacking? Not really brain food, that’s for sure.
I think while continuous partial attention can help us to find snack-sized information and be up to the minute with notifications, its very nature means that our retention of whatever we’re noticing is pretty weak. Often, with CPA gleaned stuff the need to know/share is paramount which is a shame because the ability to retain and expand on the gems we find should be the things that matter most, don’t you think?
The vigilance that’s spoken of in Linda’s quote above is also pretty taxing. I imagine for people who are isolated or depressed that kind of vigilance, spotlighting the external could sometimes increase anxiety and heighten feelings of isolation, rather than nurturing. That’s just no good for anyone.
So what I’m proposing (to myself), due to my own CPA-ed state, are a some simple strategies to encourage less of this snacky-tech-focused attention disorder and more of the personal/internal thinks/feels. Here’s where I’m going to start:
+ Turn off notifications on my phone – I can check in at structured times, not whenever a notification pops up.
+ Stop using Twitter when I’m watching TV – it’s distracting and kinda mindless
+ Try not taking my phone everywhere with me – I don’t always need to be contactable
+ Watching movies in bed on a TV – not on my computer which is distraction filled
+ Keeping my laptop closed and stowed away when I’m hanging out/not working
+ Put down the device if I’m talking to a real life person – every time
+ Stop using social media direct messages – they are such an ever-present, popping up distraction – I actually did this already
+ Take fewer photos of things I am about to eat (!)
+ Moderate blog comments and social media less frequently (twice a day, ideally)
I’m reducing opportunities to be partially attentive and giving myself back that time for thoughts and ideas instead.
How about you? Do you have CPA? How bad is yours? And do you have any other strategies to avoid this time-wasting, information snacking?
How do you make sure what you’re consuming online is a) not taking over your whole life and b) nourishing and good for you?!