24 Nov

Attention to Location

I find myself paying to attention to how people pay attention.  I’m starting to frame my design considerations around this problematic.  For instance, in our Community PlanIt game, one way of stating our goal is to make urban planning fun.  We are turning public participation into a game by inserting a basic mission structure onto a feedback mechanism.  That’s interesting and I hope quite useful.  But the other thing we’re doing is reorganizing how people pay attention to a locality.  How they, to use the neologism of my new book, inhabit net localities.  Net localities are spaces defined by their combinatorial make-up of digital networks and physical extension.  And they demand a unique form of attention – from one perspective, they demand a mental cycling between what is present and absent.  Any time a digital network is brought to bear on the specificity of a physical space, that space is altered by the attentional make-up of the people who inhabit it.

Community PlanIt seeks to change neighborhood engagement by changing the way people pay attention to neighborhood issues.  The mobile game platform is designed to be played casually, to integrate into everyday life, to become a presence, without dominating interaction.  Too often we think of attention as all or nothing.  The strategy of designing a game around local engagement is precisely to combat these totalizing assumptions of attention so that engagement is achievable and enjoyable.

I am still considering how best to study the game as a matter of attention.  What does it mean rhetorically when you replace terms like civic engagement with civic attention?  Does that help us get away from the sometimes stifling paradigms of democratic process and into something that might actually be tweaked with good design?  I hope so.

One thought on “Attention to Location

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