Continuous Partial Attention gets a lot of love (and hate) in relation to online multitasking. But I’m sitting at our reference desk for my weekly shift, and since it’s Crisis And Chaos time (end of semester blues all over the place), I can guarantee that this three hour shift will be filled with short frantic moments in which my help is desperately needed, interspersed with long stretches of pointing at the stapler and saying “there are more computers in the basement or over in the Levitt Center”.
For those long stretches, I brought some work with me. Weeding work, to be specific.
And so here I am, pointing at the stapler, checking MLA to see if book chapters are indexed, looking at our catalog to check for ToC notes, looking in Worldcat to see if anyone has put in those ToC notes, editing bib records, and filling out weeding slips, all while watching the students coming and going from the lobby and reference area, monitoring the printer, and watching the reference IM and email accounts.
I believe that’s not just multitasking — it’s CPA. I am, in fact, paying attention to all those things continuously, not just multitasking. It’s also just the reality of being a librarian, at least in my experience. I’ve also watched colleagues do exactly the same thing, at this same desk. And so… why are we so amazed by and interested in and critical of online CPA?
I realize that it may be that my disinterest in CPA as a discussion topic is because I’m good at it, and it’s not a struggle for me. But given the realities of who we are and the work we do, I can’t help feeling like we’re creating an issue that’s not an issue. Sadly, I’ve seen CPA be an issue that adds to the conflict between us as we move from the “old” offline way of living and working to the “new” more online way of working and living — CPA is the issue that leads to generational and work-style conflicts based around “you think we should do that because you don’t understand why I don’t like it.” Really, what I don’t understand is how online CPA is so very different than what we already do. It’s not content, or action — it’s format. We already employ CPA in our daily work, particularly at a service desk where we’re constantly taking the emotional temperature of the environment. So, as I see it, online CPA is just taking the skills we’ve built over the years as service professionals and employing them in a new place, using new tools.
Doesn’t our profession have enough conflicts in philosophy without creating new ones where they’re not necessary?