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Our Attention in the Digital Age: The Past, Present and Future

Gloria Mark

Professor Emerita, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine

ABSTRACT: We are experiencing a fundamental shift in how we think, work, focus, and find fulfillment in this digital age. Our personal technologies have been designed to extend our capabilities, yet in my research we found many people experience stress and multitask, leading to lower performance when using their devices. I argue that we need to reframe the singular goal of using our devices to maximize our productivity to instead achieve a broader goal of maintaining a healthy psychological balance. In this talk, I will first show how our attention spans on screens have measurably diminished over the last twenty years. The reasons for our shortening attention spans are far broader than just dealing with external distractions—I will discuss how reasons for it can be tied to the broader sociotechnical world we live in. I will also describe four popular myths about our attention and technology use and how research doesn’t support these. I will then outline a path forward with solutions at the individual and collective levels. I will show how people have individual rhythms of attention that they can leverage, and how we can learn to gain agency over our behaviors to achieve greater wellbeing when we use our devices.

BIO: Gloria Mark is Professor Emerita of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. She received her PhD from Columbia University in psychology. She has been a visiting senior researcher at Microsoft Research from 2012-2020. Her primary research interest is in understanding the impact of digital media on people’s lives. Her goal is to create a holistic picture of people’s multitasking, mood and behavior as they use digital media in real world environments, using sensors and other methods. She has also studied the future of work, and how teams adapt to remote work environments. She has published over 200 articles and has won multiple paper awards. She was inducted into the ACM SIGCHI Academy in 2017 and has been a Fulbright Scholar. Her work has been recognized outside of academia: she has been invited to present her work at SXSW and the Aspen Ideas Festival, and her work on multitasking has appeared in the popular media, e.g. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, the BBC, CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Hidden Brain. Her recent book covering twenty years of her research is Attention Span published by Harper Collins: Hanover Square Press. Gloria Mark

In person or on Zoom (Use Meeting ID: 959 1727 1554)