ENSO Seminar Series

The world at our fingertips: embodied cognition and the attention crisis

Jelle Bruineberg

Macquarie University
Dec. 3, 2020, 10 a.m. UTC // Dec. 3, 2020, 10 a.m. in UTC
In this talk, I will investigate the philosophical underpinnings on the debate on the “attention crisis”, the idea that the omnipresence of digital technologies impairs our ability to pay attention to those things that matter to us. Two narratives about attention are currently prominent in the literature. One follows Herbert Simon in thinking that attention and information are both commodities: until very recently humans have lived in times of information scarcity and abundance of attention. But with the rise of mass communication, information has become excessively available leading, in turn, to a scarcity of the attention of the recipients of information. A second narrative is concerned with using behaviorist principles to sculpt a user’s habits to make them ``hooked’’ to their technologies. They explicitly follow Skinner’s behaviourist conception of the mind, leaving no room for concepts like agency, freedom or empowerment. Consequently, the best users of technology can hope for is to be `nudged’ or `triggered’ in line with their interests (rather than, for example, Facebook’s).   

The main premise of the project is that embodied cognition and (post)-phenomenology can provide a better and more realistic understanding of attention and the challenges posed by digital technologies than those following Simon and Skinner. Key to the positive account I aim to develop is the idea that a skilled agent’s intentionality can be understood as coordinating with a field of relevant affordances. Affordances are the action possibilities provided by an agent’s niche. Based on this starting point, I will present three directions for further research: how to operationalize attention in everyday intentionality? How is everyday intentionality mediated by technological devices? What does this imply for the debate on the “attention crisis”?

Link to join/watch the seminar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrMTZENyEk0&feature=youtu.be