GOLDSTEIN: Is there a link between Attention Economy and attention deficit disorder? For me, it's personal. My mom was very distracted, and I learned from an early age that it’s okay to read at the table. It took a lot of work to get her attention. I’m a good entrepreneur, in part, because I’m good at getting attention. I wonder if I have an attention deficit disorder and a predisposition to multi-tasking because I was born with it; or if those qualities were developed by my circumstances.
GOLDHABER: What you’re talking about is becoming more the case with a lot of kids, and a lot of people in general. It’s hard to get attention. On the other hand, you’re exposed at a very early age to TV, in which people are getting intense amounts of attention. You’re paying a lot of attention, but you’re also aware that they have audiences who see the little children and see whoever. Your parents have more and more competition for their own attention, and on the other hand, the children get more and more examples of attention-getting when they’re sort of supposedly off on their own, but really watching TV or doing something like that. So, exactly the sort of training that you got I think is becoming more common, and I think it does lead to, you know, you go to school first of all, and there’s someone there who demands your attention, right? And at the same time you have been trained to try and seek your own attention, you know?
What is Attention Deficit Disorder? I don’t know. There’s obviously a biological difference because you’re acting different, and there’s always a biological difference when you’re acting different. But the fact of the matter is that underlying that is, you want attention and you’re not getting it. And so the deficit is partly the deficit that the teacher must need your attention, and you’re not paying it to him or her. And so, I do think that in a way it is a learned thing, very much, and that it’s a product of the culture, and it developed. We’re doing everything to keep on heightening these problems and to encourage people to compete very hard for attention, to really put more and more effort into figuring out ways of getting it, to be more and more out there and kind of…
GOLDSTEIN: How does that relate to mirror neurons?
GOLDHABER: Well, you know, one thought was after all the teacher’s doing things, the teacher’s active. You have to be able to focus on the teacher enough to figure out what those actions are and what they mean to some extent. And if you’re doing that, you will presumably be having the mirror neurons higher when you get what the teacher’s doing and in other words you understand the intentionality behind the teacher’s actions.
GOLDSTEIN: So, it’s only when I pay attention that I can learn because otherwise I’m not allowing the signal imprint on myself. So, arguably then the ADD gets in the way of learning because it doesn’t allow you to pay attention long enough for (what you’re paying attention to0 to inform you.
GOLDHABER: Right, and it’s meaningless noise in effect until you can focus on it enough to see that the teacher is another person and that person is somehow like you and that you could become like that person too. So it’s the kind of bonding that goes on when you pay attention that you’re turning your mind, you’re shaping your mind according to that other person. Perhaps one could say that the child who doesn’t have enough attention at an early age and, so he or she jumps around constantly, has partly taken the wrong lesson from everything that he or she has learned from early life which is “I don’t have time to focus on anyone. And I don’t even completely recognize that that other person’s a person like me. So I can’t focus on the other person because I’m totally occupied with trying to get attention for myself and I don’t see that coming from anyone directly.”
(thread 3 of conversation with between seth goldstein and michael goldhaber after oreilly's attention economy conference, in march of 2006 in oakland)