Attending to the Digital

Audrey Watters, Hack Education, Oct 21, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Interesting article from Audrey Watters, as is so often the case, and I like the focus on the origins of the meaning of the word 'attention' and the oft-cited concern that the digital is creating an attention deficit. "You can see that the noun is accompanied by all sorts of verbs. We pay attention. We give attention. Attract attention. Draw attention. Call attention. Fix attention. At which noun-verb combination are we failing?" Fair enough. And the idea of the 'attention economy', with its values firmly planted in the capitalist ethos, is surely typical of western culture. But I was surprised to see her overlook the sense of 'attend' meaning 'to wait'. That's what the french verb attendre actually means. To wait, and to wait on, to attend. This sense changes the meaning of such phrases as "the tongues of dying men enforce attention like deep harmony." In the words of Arcade Fire: We used to wait. Not any more.

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