Attention Please

Many scholars have wondered whether attention is internally controlled or externally driven. In other words, they tried to examine if we are the ones in control of our own attention or if it’s simply a tree leaf drawn helplessly by the wind of outside forces back and forth. Not surprisingly, researchers have agreed that there are two overlapping kinds of attention:

“one of controlled attention, which you use to push yourself to read another page of Faulkner, and one of stimulus-driven attention, which kicks in when someone shatters a glass behind you” (Glenn)[2].

When my cell phone rings while I am studying, it captures my stimulus driven attention and when I choose to ignore it and focus on my assignment, this is my controlled attention in play. When we’re online, usually the stimulus driven attention takes the wheel and the controlled attention watches helplessly from the passenger seat. According to Michael J. Kane, a psychology professor, the stronger the working memory is, the higher the ability to control our attention. And guess what? The higher the cognitive overload is, the weaker the working memory. It doesn’t take too long to conclude that the web is not exactly the most equipped environment for a mastered controlled attention.

“The net seizes our attention only to scatter it”[1]

claims Carr. The web is basically an arena of distractions fighting to win our attention. Our blinking eyes struggle to follow the screen flickering with ads, messages, alerts. And we’re faced with an unfair choice in front of that “incredibly seductive blur”. Everything seems new, attractive, interesting and alluring. We are stunned by the “rapid fire delivery of competing messages and stimuli” (Carr)[1].Every link screams click me click me. Every picture shouts zoom in, every video pleads play me play me. Our craving for more becomes weak before all the pleading and the shouting and we give in and drown in a sea of links, videos, images…

1. Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.
2. Glenn, David. "Divided Attention." The Chronicle of Higher Education. 28 Feb. 201. Web. 4 May 2011. <>.