As I start to type this, Google offers about 1,540 results for the query “base unit of attention”.

I need your help. I have experienced a thing that I feel I have to talk about. I am compelled. But it is a thing I don’t believe we have a word for.

I am not alone, though. There are others out there and it seems like there is a growing awareness that this is a question to ask. Before I go on with this, I would like to point out a few examples of this thinking and offer a sort of “here’s where I’ve been” on the topic so far. A sort of bibliography in reverse, starting with the most recent:

I found What’s the base unit of Attention? when I plugged the above phrase into Google. It was shocking to see some of my exact thoughts of the last several months bounced back at me. For a little while I was wondering if I was going crazy. If I am, it is comforting to see that I am not going there alone.

Radiolab did an episode in November entitled What Does Technology Want? Always being a little behind on podcasts, I just got around to it this weekend. This was my introduction to the thinking of Kevin Kelly and his concept of a technium. (Even throwing that word to Google yields a distracting array of results.) I’ve got his book coming and look forward to tearing into it so that I might better participate in the conversation at large. I cannot imagine that he managed to write a full book on the idea without establishing some sort of language to discuss the this very slippery subject. Besides, this discussion yielded the question of an additional Kingdom, one to go along with plants and animals and so forth.

Some time back I watched The Botany of Desire. This is a pretty interesting piece based on a book of the same name by Michael Pollan. The idea presented here is observing the development of four plants that have been useful to humans. It asks you to think about life on a different time scale. When I saw this and brought some meme theory to bear on it I was rather thunderstruck.

Meme theory. We’ll get back to that.

Tim Rogers wrote a piece on Kotaku named “In Praise of Sticky Friction” that really made me sit up and take notice. In his meandering way, Tim explores a sense that one perceives in video games that does not often get discussed because many people overlook it. Not strictly related to the topic at hand, but a fascinating read about a digital sense.

Back to memetics. I first read about meme theory quite some time back. At first I was suspicious, as I found it interesting but also just a little bit fanciful. The more I turned it over and saw how ideas developed (especially after participating in the Random board at 4chan.org (NSFW, NSFA)) the more credence I had to give the concept. (I cannot say strongly enough that what goes on at Random (or /b/ as it is also known) can be by turns upsetting, disgusting, worrisome, and any other number of bad things. However, if you’ve ever laughed at a lol cat or gotten “Never Gonna Give You Up” stuck in your head  in the last few years, you have felt the touch of /b/ whether you knew it or not. What /b/ is now is not what /b/ was six months ago or two years ago or two weeks ago. It is vile and yet it can be a sort of petri dish of ideas. I would post a link, but I feel I can not stress enough how (revolting?) an experience /b/ can be for a person that is not prepared for the unfettered exchange of ideas.)

Way further back, as a teen I read about the concept of Flow in relation to quilters. Being addicted to Tetris at the time, I was very familiar with the experience and was rather surprised to hear that a person could achieve a similar state of mind while doing something so entirely different.

There are many more sources and links to give, but that should serve as a quick survey of where I have been with this. I am making my X here. This is the jumping off point. This is when I am going to stop bouncing ideas in my head and start hanging them for all to see. I am willing to take the risk of sounding like a crazy man, but I hope that with time I can start to get a feel for the language of what I am thinking about. If I end up being able to discuss it with just one other person I’ll have achieved a thing.

So I’m doing this. I am starting with a question that I do not expect to find an answer to for a little bit yet: What will we call the base unit of Attention?