Concision and attention.

I read with continuous partial attention and I don’t care that I am frequently interrupting my own reading. I despise the discourse that says we are all shallow, that we are all flighty, distracted, not paying attention. I am paying attention, but I am paying attention to everything, and even if my knowledge is fragmented and hard to synthesise it is wider, and it plays in a vaster sphere, than any knowledge that has gone before.

It’s an interesting idea, that we’re paying attention, but just to more things. It makes for a great defense of those things that are “interdisciplinary” or those that interrupt the work/life divide that many people wish they could maintain. Most importantly, it provides librarians with a solid argument for their wide-ranging activities, and also comforts those of us who are looking beyond our discipline for answers to our problems, whatever they might be.  James Bridle wrote this post on the future of publishing, and how we need to stop kidding ourselves about things we claim to love. I’ve posted about slow media before, I too need to confess that slow, focused attention is no longer part of my reading, and largely, not really a part of my professional work either. Having bounced around the industry quite a bit, I’ve made a living by not getting too attached to any idealized version of my career, outside of what I am capable of, or capable of learning. That’s a helpful thing when it comes to dealing with reference and instruction, to not limit the scope of importance by what we presume about the people we are helping. They are more widely varied than the labels we give them, and their attention is a larger part of the equation than we sometimes consider.

Marketers are more like circus ringmasters than ever before. Far better, it seems, to concentrate on the few (fleas) willing to slow down, the few willing to stop acting that way and actually pay attention and stick around. -Seth Godin

Godin’s point here is a good one, finding those who are willing to invest time is a good strategy, but in the face of a bum-rush of information, we can’t afford to be so picky. It’s our job to serve everyone who wants something, no matter how focused they are or how deep the need, so we should try and meet them at their level. Shortness, a possible result catering to too-divided attention spans, has a positive spin: concision.

And short isn’t necessarily a shortcut. When you have only a sentence or two, there’s nowhere to hide. I’m not suggesting that colleges eliminate long writing projects from English courses, but maybe we should save them for the second semester. Rewarding concision first will encourage students to be economical and innovative with language. Who knows, we might even start to leave behind text messages and comment threads that our civilization can be proud of. -Andy Selsberg, Teaching to the Text Message, NYT.

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