Attention Over Time: Slow Noticing

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“A ‘bit’ of information is definable as a difference which makes a difference. Such a difference, as it travels and undergoes successive transformations in a circuit, is an elementary idea.”

-Gregory  Bateson, Steps To An Ecology Of Mind (1972), p. 315

When I’m working on music I often wonder whether I could work faster, but I seem to be limited by the slow tempo of my noticing. The slowness means that there’s a limit to how much I can notice in the music today. I can’t speed my noticing up to locate everything in need of fixing right now, in one pass. Or in two passes. Or in twenty. Instead, slow noticing seems to require the luxury of dozens of revisits to the music. Each day I return and notice a not-so-minor-after-all detail that I can’t believe I didn’t hear yesterday when I was sure that I noticed everything in need of noticing.

Slow noticing encourages, and benefits from, patience. You have to assume that if you give yourself enough time—as much time as it takes—you’ll notice everything important in the music. (Actually you won’t, but it’s a useful fiction to keep you focused.) The point is that while you can’t speed up slow noticing’s tempo, you can trust that its pace is appropriate because slow noticing is a part of your bio-rhythm, the default rate at which you absorb information—what Gregory Bateson called a difference which makes a difference—filtering it through what you already know. Slow noticing’s lesson: the speed of your noticing details in the music reflects music’s power to shape your attention over time, keeping you coming back to it, again and again.

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