Six Theses on Computational Attention

Thesis 1: Computational attention is a reconfiguration of human attention around a new historical constellation of intelligibility related to technically mediated signalling (e.g. individuated “touch-events”), for example, clicks, touch, taps, nudges, notifications, etc.

Thesis 2: Computational attention is reassembled through labour to make this new mediated attention possible through computational objects, devices, systems and ideologies. It is delegated to and prescribed from technical devices, funnelled and massaged through algorithmic interfaces.

Thesis 3: The subjectivity appropriate to a digital age is reconstructed in relation to this fundamental reconfiguration of human attention under conditions of computation, e.g. enframed and patterned. It is a positive subjectivity in terms of its capacity to generate positive signals of interaction and movement.

Apple implementation of "tapbacks" in Messages App on iOS 10

Thesis 4: New grammars of hyper-attention are developed, so to “pay attention” becomes to “tapback”, to provide a signal by a technical gesture transmitted through a technical medium (“likes”, “hearts”, emoticons”).[1] To attention is to click or touch, to anti-attention is to exit (from the app, the webpage, the social group, the country).

Thesis 5: As technical attentioning becomes more important, traditional signalling of attention becomes secondary to the collection of postdigital metrics of attention. For example, how attentive where they? What are they attending to? How can I signal my attention? What are they paying attention to?

Thesis 6: The mediation of attention becomes crucial in the governmentality of postdigital political economy. We must signal that we are “paying attention”, through computational devices we gesture our attentioning. Hence, we increasingly are encouraged to leave attentioning traces through digital interactions on interfaces.

These theses are drawn from a presentation given at the conference Attention humaine / Exo-attention computationnelle in Grenobles, October 2016, organised by Yves Citton.


[1] as an example of signalling attention, Apple uses what it calls tapbacks via its messages application. These trigger both visual and haptic feedback to demonstrate attention to the conversation. 


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