Continuous partial attention

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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.[1] 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."[2] The term has evolved by the move from the Age of Information to the Age of Interruption, characterized by an overabundance of information. People a constantly interrupted by emails, spam, instant messages and cellphones, making attention a scarce resource in this era [3]

Stone has clarified that CPA is not the same as multi-tasking.[4][5] 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".[6] 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"). Another distinction results from the fact that CPA has evolved from and is dependent on computers and especially the internet, which acts as a platform for a variety of distractions. Further, it creates a compulsion to connect, meaning that CPA is motivated not by productivity but by connectivity. [7]

Engaging in CPA usually leads to a higher level of stress in the brain, prohibiting reflection, contemplation and thoughtful decisions [8].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nate Torkington's blog coverage of Stone's talk at the 2006 O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference.
  2. ^ Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Berlin Johnson, p.59
  3. ^ Friedman, T (2006). "The age of interruption". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Continuous Partial Attention — Not the Same as Multi-Tasking, July 24, 2008, Business Week
  5. ^ Multitasking versus continuous partial attention Lifehacker, January 11, 2008
  6. ^ Continuous Partial Attention. Linda Stone
  7. ^ Ellen, Rose (2010). "Continuous Partial Attention: Reconsidering the Role of Online Learning in the Age of Interruption". Educational Technology. 50 (4): 41–46. 
  8. ^ Small, G.; Vorgan, G. (2008). "Meet your iBrain". Scientific American Mind. 19 (5): 43–49.