Michael Nielsen has suggested that the review sessions of a Spaced repetition memory system don’t just help you remember things: it orchestrates your repeated attention over time across hundreds of tiny tasks, too many to manage by hand. Systems like these are a form of programmable attention.
More generally, environments can be designed to modify their occupants attention by e.g. lowering executive overhead, mitigating unhelpful habits or biases, orchestrating the attention of multiple people in concert, distributing known-good attentional strategies, etc. You use simpler forms of programmable attention all the time: inboxes with snooze and alarm features; bots which remind you of things; Twitter is a kind of programmable attention. What is the core properties of such systems? What is their potential reach?
Such systems are often focused on productivity, but I believe they can be used to support creative work—reading, thinking, expressing, problem-solving.
For more, seen specifically through the lens of spaced repetition: Spaced repetition systems can be used to program attention
This term is evocative, but it has unfortunate connotations of roboticism and alienation. I think I’ll ultimately want to find another.
Maybe it’s better to focus on finding great terms for specific instantiations of programmable attention—e.g. “coordinated attention” for ideas around collective intelligence, etc.
The concept and term come from Michael Nielsen, in conversations from ~2018—I’ve forgotten the details, unfortunately.
Correspondence with Igor Dvorkin, 2020-05-12
Coaching is paying someone to program your attention