Born Of Attention

Born of Attention was a design exhibition at The London Design Festival that aimed to explore the reality of information overload, examining the concept of attention and its significance in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

As Michael Eysenck and Herbert Simon, amongst other theorists, have pointed out, attention is a constant negotiation between our current point of focus and other alternative stimuli. The negotiation is particularly intriguing because we are not often conscious of the processes of selectivity and capacity that govern it. 

As part of the exhibition, a multi-tasking virtual reality experience tested visitors’ abilities to process multiple streams of information simultaneously. This immersive experience aimed to shed light on the cognitive demands of modern technology and the impact it has on our attention span and ability to focus.

“In practical terms, we see our ‘mental models’ only when something refuses to conform to them. This is the business proposition of magicians and conjurers. They exploit our cognitive limits. They learn to train our selectivity and to work around our capacity. More deeply, mental models can be understood as reflecting our entire understanding of complex things, like our work, friendships and family. Our social relationships sometimes stumble or fail when a person does not conform to a mental model that is held about them (‘I did not expect him to behave like that’). The representation is not the same as the reality.”

In addition, the exhibition hosted a specially commissioned interactive film piece by performance artist, Jenny Lee. The piece explored the relationship between attention and perception, inviting the audience to question what it truly means to ‘pay attention’ in a world where distractions are ever-present. 

“It is not just in Psychology that we hear about the nature of Attention. In Art and Literature, major figures have long ruminated upon it, often invoking their struggles to build creative attention in the artistic process. Here is Henry David Thoreau warning of the perils of that interrupt system:  “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”

Born of Attention sought to challenge visitors’ perceptions of attention and its role in shaping our lives and relationships with technology, and to reflect on the demands of modern life and consider the importance of mindful attention in a world that is constantly vying for our attention.

Collaborators: Research: Rebecca Welsh. Graphics: Olivia Tirard. Animation: Sabina Dallu and Olly Starkey. Set installation: Glen Wearmouth. Contributing Writer: Professor Peter Kwalek. Programme Leader: Becky Lyon. Performance Art: Jenny Lee