Monday, December 05, 2005

"Meet the life hackers"

Last week, I posted a note about the virtues of simplicity -- and how Google is one of the best examples of how "just enough is more." It's a mantra that will only gain strength as we continue to reclaim our most precious resource -- time.

Today, I've got a follow-up. In the most recent New York Times Magazine, Clive Thompson takes a look at why so many of us are being driven to distraction by interruptions. (The article, called "Meet the Life Hackers," might still be available on the Times site, but here's a link to Thompson's blog, with a complete version of the story.)

What makes his essay so interesting is research that shows that interruptions are not always the problem -- in fact, they are often the solution to problems that we are facing, and we need the information they are providing. But not always. And there's the rub. We get interrupted, which might be a good thing and it might be a bad thing. But until we stop what we're doing and check, we won't know. And by then, it's already too late.

Here are three excerpts to whet your appetite. But be warned ... this is a long article ... make sure you have the time to read it without interruptions! Ha-ha!

Excerpt #1

Information is no longer a scarce resource -- attention is ... 20 years ago, an office worker had only two types of communication technology: a phone, which required an instant answer, and postal mail, which took days. "Now we have dozens of possibilities between those poles," Rose says. How fast are you supposed to reply to an e-mail message? Or an instant message? Computer-based interruptions fall into a sort of Heisenbergian uncertainty trap: it is difficult to know whether an e-mail message is worth interrupting your work for unless you open and read it, at which point you have, of course, interrupted yourself. Our software tools were essentially designed to compete with one another for our attention, like needy toddlers.

And another...

Once their work becomes buried beneath a screenful of interruptions, office workers appear to literally forget what task they were originally pursuing. We do not like to think we are this flighty: we might
expect that if we are, say, busily filling out some forms and are suddenly distracted by a phone call, we would quickly return to finish the job. But we don't. ... The central danger of interruptions, Czerwinski realized, is not really the interruption at all. It is the havoc they wreak with our short-term memory:
"What the heck was I just doing?"

And finally...

But for many users, simplicity now trumps power ... we have shifted eras in computing. Now that multitasking is driving us crazy, we treasure technologies that protect us. We love Google not because it brings us the entire Web but because it filters it out, bringing us the one page we really need.
In our new age of overload, the winner is the technology that can hold the world at bay.

Thanks to David Allen for the pointer to this article.

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