Sunday’s story in the New York Times Meet the Life Hackers talks about interruption in the workplace and how information technology tools are now fighting for our attention.
Information is no longer a scarce resource – attention is. David Rose, a Cambridge, Mass.-based expert on computer interfaces, likes to point out that 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.
It talks particularly of the issues surroundings notification systems and ambient displays, that I have planned to include in my design.
It features research from Victor M. Gonzalez and Gloria Mark who presented their work at ECSCW in Paris. Mary Czerwinski, a Microsoft researcher, also worked on the subject to help the NASA with managing interruptions on astronauts conducting experiment.
She also collaborated with the HIP group at Microsoft Research that presented on Thursday at Oregon State Univ for a colloquim I had to attend for my Human Computer Interaction class. While their presentation was aimed at helping programmers with learning how to deal with large amounts of code and come to speed quickly on office practice, it could as well been re-used in other environments like general information workers.