Recently I bought my first iPad and have been addicted to it. The paper-resolution screen, form factor, and apps like flipboard make it the ultimate content consumption device. Consequently, it has found much use and the situation got me to thinking about consumption, distraction and attention.
In response I created an app, Speck, that is the extreme opposite; a meditative experience that excavates your own thoughts and content. Each time you load it, a small hazy dot is drawn in the middle of the screen for you to stare at. Through the struggle of staring at the speck on the screen, a new awareness of your internal thoughts is generated. The longer you look, the more things you see as your mind grows weary and drifts, tired of focusing.
Although the project is critical of consumptive culture and technology and its simplicity may lead it to be seen as only a joke, there is also sincerity in its intent. It is a reference to an idea of William James, notable Victorian psychologist, in his Talks to Teachers series about attention.”Try to attend steadfastly to a dot on the paper or on the wall. You presently find that one or the other of two things has happened: either your field of vision has become blurred, so that you now see nothing distinct at all, or else you have involuntarily ceased to look at the dot in question…” [ p. 104 ]. He suggests that the only way to maintain focus is to study it intently, ask questions about it, and try to understand what it is.
But through this process, the mind takes various tangents and creates new stories and narratives which tend to break associative ruts. The tiny, hazy, abstract speck is surprisingly effective as it elicits various trains of thought which often collide with other things I’m thinking about and send them in a new direction.
After submitting the app for review to Apple to be placed in the store, the following response was received which says it all:
“Apps that are not very useful, … or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected…We found that the features and/or content of your app were not useful or entertaining enough, or your app did not appeal to a broad enough audience…”