A New York Times article that discussed the Pew research findings, for example, lists some of the solutions being tried by those on the sharp end. Technology company Atos reportedly plans to phase out all forms of email between employees by the end of 2013, preferring to rely on more efficient and less demanding methods of communication. Similarly, German car company Daimler now offers the option of deleting employees’ email during their vacations to avoid the electronic logjam usually waiting for hapless workers upon their return.
These are small steps, but they tie in with another, central observation of Kahneman’s: that, faced by an attention-sapping situation and the escalating possibility of poor judgement, the best thing you can do is “recognize that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement.”
Lanier’s is a critique above what he has elsewhere called the “antihuman” perversity of many technologies: of how exploitative and reductive habits can ensnare us, via tasty digital carrots and daunting sticks. Endless sharing and clicks on "like" are, after all, far easier than taking the time to work out what we actually feel - let alone express it - while personal identity can become little more than a perpetual present of status updates, drop-down-menu preferences and instant interactions.
Against this, in Kahneman’s formulation, we must ask what kind of “reinforcements” we can best build into the organisations and routines within which we work – and which systems we have already built that do more than augment our capacities for prejudice and error.
It’s a tricky proposition. But it’s also one whose time has surely come. To borrow a final phrase from Kahneman, “cognition is embodied; you think with your body, not only with your brain.” For me, at least, the reception of phantom smartphone messages in my upper thigh feels like my body trying to tell me something. 2013 is a year for making the very best of my high-quality attention, and asking what it means to help others do the same. It’s time to stop twitching.