Attention Residue: The great challenge in the modern IT Era

Attention Residue: The great challenge in the modern IT Era

-Zericho R Marak

In 1955, Nancy Moore and Robert Weiss from the University of Michigan conducted a study on “Function and the meaning of work and the job” in the US to see whether people expect more from work than mere economic rewards. They asked a question, “If by some chance you inherited enough money to live comfortably without working, do you think that you would work anyway or not?”. 80% percent of the respondents said that they would keep working. Further, they asked, “Why do you feel that you would work (not
work)?”. They divided the answers into:

Positive reasons: to keep occupied, keeps individually healthy, good for person, enjoy the kind of work, justifies my existence, to be associated with people, and gives a feeling of respect.

Negative reasons: Without work, they would feel lost and crazy, feel useless, feel bored, not know what to do with idle time, habit, and to keep out of trouble.

In 2010, Brent Rosso et al. did a review of literature on the meaning of work. One of the questions they asked was, “How does work become meaningful?”. They found that work becomes meaningful because it offers:

Authenticity: Authenticity can be defined as a sense of coherence or alignment between one’s behavior and perceptions of the ‘‘true” self

 Self-efficacy: Individuals’ beliefs that they have the power and ability to produce an intended effect or to make a difference

Self-esteem: An individual’s assessment or evaluation of his or her self-worth

Purpose: It is defined as a sense of directedness and intentionality in life. Scholars and philosophers have long maintained that the pursuit of purpose provides meaning in life

Belongingness: Work offers a sense of belongingness. It provides the opportunity to have interpersonal relationships with other humans.

Transcendence: It will refer to connecting or reaching to a higher power or greater being than oneself. In Christianity, Work/Vocation is treated as a Call by God. Through our work, we can connect and worship God.

The glamour of Multi-tasking: However, in the modern world, we have somewhat glamourized ‘multi-tasking.’ We feel proud when we can perform multi-tasking. We kept saying, “Girls are better in multi-tasking” (Perhaps). But is it beneficial? Research has shown the contrary effects of multi-tasking. In 2005 BBC conducted a study and found that workers distracted by emails and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers. Russel Poldrak, a professor of psychology at the University of California, found that multi-tasking, ‘adversely affects how we learn”.

In the present era, our work is greatly interrupted by internet, emails, social media, among others.

What is Attention Residue?

Now let me come to the concept of ‘Attention Residue.’ When we move from one task to the other, we are not able to give our full attention to the current task as some of our focus remains on the previous task. This is called ‘Attention Residue’. Attention residue is found to be non-beneficial for productive and quality work.

When we perform many tasks, we can suffer from attention residue, and as a result our work will suffer. This creates shallowness in our work. Cal Newport, a Ph.D. from MIT and Associate Professor at Georgetown University, wrote a book called ‘Deep Work.’ Here deep work refers to working for long hours with sheer focus and concentration. Deep work requires deep thought and deep concentration shutting all the distractions. However, he said that Deep work is becoming a dying art in this modern world where our work is constantly getting disrupted by the internet, social media, and emails.


In conclusion, multi-tasking and getting distracted by many activities creates attention residue. When you have attention residue, you will not be able to produce productive and quality work. Focus on the depth and quality of work rather than performing several shallow works.

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