From TheFutureOf (16 Jul 08): Responses to Papadakis 7 Feb 08

by Joseph Carrabis on July 7th, 2009

Hello again,

Only the good Mr. Papadakis commented on 7 Feb 08, hence this comment will be a reply to his (TheFutureOf) comment to From TheFutureOf (22 Jan 08): Starting the discussion: Attention, Engagement, Authority, Influence, … (sorry, folks. I didn't have the opportunity to save all the comments people made before TheFutureOf went away).

It would be an interesting challenge to convince me that “…a click is indicative of engagement.” I accept that you beleive that to be true, however.

Umm…I wasn't offering an analogy when I wrote “Person A nods in agreement every time person B makes a point. That nod (for most people) is a non-conscious psychomotor activity that demonstrates person As attention is focused on what person B is saying, hence person A is engaged.” In fact, I started that paragraph with “An example of engagement would be two people talking together as follows:” hence I was offering a scientifically documentable example of engagement. I can offer a fairly complete bibliography and would suggest Neural mechanisms mediating optimism bias, Social Decision-Making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience, Bloom's work on early childhood word learning or just about anything on “attentional engagement”. If you look back on my original definitions for engagement and attention you'll see that I link attention and engagement pretty closely.

You write “…the act of reading involves not simply paying attention to what is being read but also a certain degree of consciousness.” I'm not able to agree with this. There are numerous examples of people (especially students) who are “reading” and not paying attention to what they're reading. For that matter, there are numerous examples of the same phenomenon involving executives (humor).

I wrote in an earlier comment that determining someone is engaged isn't much of a challenge, determining what is engaging them is more of a challenge. Therefore the example you posit is not necessarily a demonstration of engagement. For example, I currently have six browser windows open, am listening to the radio, reading your comment, have a number of science journals on my desk that I'm referencing to form my response to your comment, sipping some coffee, thinking about my upcoming vacation, determining which CDs to load into my mpg player, deciding if I need to purchase more cigars for my trip, thinking about a conference I'll be presenting at in Chicago in early Aug 08, waiting for my computer to finish some calculations so I can generate a report, thinking about calling a client to confirm a meeting, doing some back-and-forths in Gaelic, …

The question is, what events of all those listed above are engaging me? Where am I focusing my attention such that my attention level goes above the various threshold levels that determine things like basic organic functionality to non-concious to non-cognitive to conscious to higher conscious to focused cognitive activity?

Or perhaps I am unique in that I can click on a link without channeling any cognitive resources on it? I doubt I'm unique in that sense. There are lots of studies indicating this is fairly common.

You also write “…that click as a stronger indicator of engagement than a nod, because I believe that a click is a conscious act rather than simply non-conscious psychomotor activity.” My guess here is that I failed to explain these concepts clearly. Attentional engagement is non-conscious activity. If I've failed to convey this than my deep apologies.

Let us hypothesize that someone is intentionally typing something into a search engine, actively selecting some link from the results, clicking on that link and arrives at some landing page. If at this point their attention level increases such that their brain stops passing other information into awareness (especially survival-based information) then that individual is engaged with the inforamtion on that landing page. Are they aware they're engaged? No, they can't be. As soon as they're aware they're engaged then their attention isn't on the information on the page, it's on their engagement with the information on the page.

Another example might be someone reading a book and becoming so caught up with what they're reading that they ignore survival requirements such as eating. Anyone who's been so involved in a book that they forgot about dinner has experienced this. What's happening is engagement.

Also, it doesn't matter if someone is blindfolded or not. Again, it's not a matter of knowing someone is engaged, it's a matter of knowing what they're engaged with. Forgive me for quoting Reading Virtual Minds for an example. In Chapter 4, Anecdotes of Learning, page 2, “The Investors Heard the Music” I share an anecdote from early in NextStage's history.

Two investors called from the west coast wanting to know what made ET so special. I asked them to get on our site (very different from the one we have now) and navigate with me so I could describe what ET was doing (it was presenting information to them differently than it was to me because ET was sensing our different {C,B/e,M} matrices and presenting the same information in different best adoption and comprehension forms accordingly).

At one point ET started playing music on their computer but not mine. It did so because ET determined their attention was no longer focused on the website, that their attention was focused on some auditory stimulus therefore it was playing music that it determined would bring their attention back to the website.

In other words, ET recognized they were no longer engaged by the website, determined what it needed to do to get them re-engaged and was doing it.

The auditory stimulus was that they were paying attention to me talking to them on the phone. ET (at that time) didn't know what a phone was, only that they were engaged in some auditory phenomenon (listening to me) and not doing what ET wanted (them navigating and interacting with the site) hence it sent a compoundatory auditory stimulus designed to bring their focus of attention back to where ET wanted it (on the site).

I apologize for the long-winded explanation and I hope it demonstrates that it doesn't matter if someone's blindfolded or not. It matters knowing what's engaging them and, by extension, knowing how to get them engaged on what you want them engaged.

Again, I apologize if my earlier posts, comments and explanations were confusing on this matter.