One of the interesting things I discovered when writing the contemplative computing book is that several of the most popular pieces of Zenware were created not by software developers or writers with a technical bent, but by advertising agencies.
When I interviewed them, they talked about how they needed this software in-house, and how advertising work is at once very deadline-driven (yet deadline-flexible, with clients suddenly demanding updates or getting space in the issue of Vogue that's going to close next week) yet requires lots of concentration to do well. So for them, having tools (mainly word processors) that help their creative people focus is pretty important.
There's perhaps another dimension to it as well, which was suggested to me by a recent discussion about mobile ads. No one seems to be making a lot of money off of ads delivered to mobile devices, despite lots of slightly breathless prognostication of how context-aware mobile advertising would become the Next Big Thing. But in a recent post, Alexis Madrigal asks, could it be "that advertising is simply inimical to the smartphone experience"?
In a great post at Monday Note, investor Jean-Louis Gassée explores this hypothetical and comes away convinced. The screens are too small and people are too distracted to pay any attention to the ads on their phones.
In that post, Gassée argues,
When we sit down in front of a laptop or desktop screen, our attention is (somewhat) focused and our time is (reasonably) committed. We know where we are and what we’re doing.
With smartphones, we’re on the move, we’re surrounded by people, activities, real-world attractions and diversions.
Seen this way, mobile ads make as much sense as putting ads on your mouse or touchpad: you're just never using the technology in a way that will cause you to pay attention to the advertisement.
More generally, though, this reveals something that my sources were trying to tell me, but I never quite understood until now. The bad version of advertising believes that the industry's mission is to capture your attention, with the purpose of either selling you something-- or reselling your attention to someone else, and thereby monetizing your act of concentration.
The good version, in contrast, sees advertising as something much more complex, and it recognizes that perpetually distracted people aren't going to remember ads. If your mind is like a sieve, if you don't remember what you saw two minutes ago, if you were so overloaded trying to do two other things at once you barely had time for your mind to register that ad over there in the corner, then advertising just isn't going to work. People need to be able to have attention in order for you to get their attention.