thrashing and attention theft

I recently learned the term thrashing as used by computer scientists, as a thing experienced rather than a thing to be given.  Loosely, thrashing describes when a computer becomes debilitated by spending all of its time moving things in and out of memory, rather than doing any processing.

It would be interesting to understand the etymology of this particular use of thrashing and how those that chose, chose thrashing as opposed to other seemingly apposite words such as flailing.  But that investigation is for another day.

For me, this sense of thrashing is a useful term to describe situations far beyond what’s going on inside computers.  It’s also good for describing what sometimes happens inside our heads.  I find myself thrashing from time to time, moving from one project to another without making any real progress, responding to external demands on my time and attention.

And this is where I think thrashing and attention theft are connected.  Attention theft is I think sufficiently self explanatory a term that I won’t try and formulate a precise definition, but the modern world is as rife with attention theft as it is with thrashing scenarios.

One connection between these two notions is the time we lose to attention theft, keeping track of the world via Twitter for instance and constantly pinging to check whether new email has arrived, and how this time lost contributes to the creation of thrashing situations.

I am coming more and more to appreciate having some time to sit and think, to start working through the details of some of the pending projects, and make some progress.

The complicated question is, how.  How to carve out that time that no one else has access to.  How to carve out those spaces where no one else can find us.  This can be particular tricky for those in roles that require them to be available to others, to answer their questions and on occasion make the decision that needs to be made.

And somewhat self referentially, this leads to yet another project, which is the project of being more active in carving out this time for thought and reflection, and battling the forces of thrashing and attention theft.

~ by Jim Anderson on 1 September 2018.

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