hyperattentive personal narrative

Posted: September 7, 2010 in writing
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An Introduction to Hyperattentive Personal Narrative

In 2008, Professor Kathrine Hayle, literary and scientific critic,  published an article, “Hyper and Deep Attention:  The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes.”

Kathrine defined the cognitive issue in this way: “Deep attention, the cognitive style traditionally associated with the humanities, is characterized by concentrating on a single object for long periods (say, a novel by Dickens), ignoring outside stimuli while so engaged, preferring a single information stream, and having a high tolerance for long focus times.” 

“Hyper attention, by contrast, is characterized by switching focus rapidly between different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom.”

Katherine goes on to explain: “So standard has deep attention become in educational settings that it is the de facto norm, with hyper attention regarded as defective behavior that scarcely qualifies as a cognitive mode at all.  This situation would not necessarily be a problem, were it not for the possibility that a generational shift from deep to hyper attention is taking place.”

Katherine goes on to argue that students are now tending toward hyper attention in an education system steeped in the rigors of deep attention.

It’s interesting, this assertion, and it should be explored more, but I’ll leave it to the experts to sort out. And yet, this stirs something in me.  I’m not content to leave it there. Why?  I’ve become hyperattentive.

I’ve done the deep focus thing; I have my degrees; I’ve read my long books, and I’ve written my long papers.  But increasingly I listen to loud music while writing short entries on my blog, checking my blogified facebook page, keeping an eye on any exciting developments in the baseball or football game, and throwing in an occasional bout of texting. I like it like this.  It’s rich, stimulating and interesting to me. The options for multiple information streams has tapped into something deep in me –  my passion to explore my own short, multiple, interwoven narratives.

It isn’t just a cognitive mode for me or a way of entertaining myself.  It is my experience of reality. It is what I experience everyday and what I have experienced throughout my life. Looking back, my realities, undisciplined by scientific categories, have come to me as multiple information streams. Reality, uncivilized by genres and conventional literary categories is a bunch of stories tangled up with other stories, my many stories flowing into the stream of other people’s many stories, mixing, compounding and complexifing into a many-stranded story.

And so I have become fascinated by what we might call hyperattentive personal narrative. It goes something like this. I tell or write a bit of my story which I remember from my life. And as I tell it,  the story suggests a category of life, as stories are want to do, a kind of mini-universal theme. It may be my desire to be physically touched, which so many others feel too.  It may my love of wheels, and the whole tribe of wheel lovers out rolling along with me.  It may my fascination with pets, and the domestification urge that has permeated civilization. I have found that, whatever I love or hate or even just see, that is always something stuttered and vocalized and lived out by someone elses elsewhere.

And then, within the smeared and edge-fuzzed category created by the story, other stories from my life come to mind, like spirits, conjured back to life. And as these awoken narratives come to me, and I tell them, skipping and hopping over to them, breathless from the last story, with little concern for transition, they link up, hook up, and make a chain. Very much transition isn’t needed. Transition is created by what the stories have in common,  the colored thread that runs the same in all of them.  And these threaded stories, yarned together on a short thread, become what we might call a hyper attentive personal narrative.

And it is my perception that readers are ensnared and knitted into this verbal head cap.

The parallel stories of hyperattentive nonfiction have the potential to seed more stories in the writer’s and the reader’s experience, thus universalizing some of the common, elemental experiences of life. In this way, as the readers read, they themselves become responsible for the success of the writing by bringing the set of all their own experiences that link with the experiences being read. And as they do, the overlapping narratives of the writer and reader interpret each other and change the color of the core narrative and enrich the readers understanding of what is going on in life.

This is the deal. This is why it works. In hyperattentive non-fiction, the writer jumps from one story to the next story and the next and the next with the reader panting behind, and then when the narrative is honest and alive and when the parallels have enough forward motion, suddenly the reader runs past the writer and sprints on alone, running with his or her own story, which is like the writer’s story but different too and then everything is pulled forward faster and faster until there is the wind in the hair and the pound of the heart and one is not sure whether one is reading or writing or now neither one but fascinatingly remembering and living their very own personal story again.

Fun! Sweaty. Fast. Good! Alive! Not boring! The way we think and live.     

Here on my blog, under the category “My Story,” you will find the fun I’ve had with this approach, my own very hyper attentive personal narratives.

I hope you enjoy these; they really are your stories too.

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