Attention Conservation Notice

A brief meta note on notices which help conserve attention.

The Attention Conservation Notice is a brief statement explaining why you should not read a given article. Its purpose is to help the reader conserve their daily attention resources for more useful things, like attending their loved ones or learning new recipes.


From my cursory search it seems that the Attention Conservation Notice was first proposed by Bruce Sterling in one of the opening emails of the Viridian design movement mailing list around the year 2000:

[The Attention Conservation Notice] has never been done before in print-based publishing, but in the text-glutted electronic context, we feel this practice makes a lot of sense. By saving your attention, we are offering you a considerable value-added service, which makes our Viridian list considerably "cheaper" in attention-terms than the other, more primitive lists you may be reading. They cynically imagine that you are reading everything they spew; we, however, know much better, and we are on your side. Besides, this is honest practice in list moderation. No piece of text (especially free text) can be perfect. Since the list editor has already taken the trouble to figure out what's wrong with it, you might as well know, too.

We will follow the useful design edict to "Look at the Underside First." We'll start each Note by explaining the areas in which its design and intention fails, rather than act as attention-hucksters, trumpeting the work's supposed benefits and demanding that you concentrate.

The notice may be a bit of an early internet relic, but it feels more valuable now than ever. This whole notion of paying attention to others' attention carries a certain quaint pro-social quality to it that I hope to see more of around the web.

I myself stumbled upon the Attention Conservation Notice via Cosma Shalizi's wonderfully messy website.