Monday, November 21, 2005

Profiling the Zone Of Attention

About this post

Type of technique: profiling (listing information)

The technique helps to find both the obvious and non-obvious features of a scenario.

Technique in a nutshell: choose an area in space and ask questions in the format: What's x? For x, choose an adjectival word or phrase. Example: 'What's dangerous?'

See also posts:

Zone of Attention
Profiling Subject

Profiling the Zone of Attention

(c) I devised this useful bag of tools to help profile Zones of Attention. If I project a Zone of Attention onto an observed scene or a scene I am visualising in my imagination then I can use the tools to to list information about the contents of the Zone of Attention.

The impossible ideal would be to list everything in the ZOA. This would include physical aspects ranging from every single atom up to the largest objects in the ZOA, and occurences ranging from switching the computer on up to spending hours frantically trying to correct a computer problem.

Obviously the ideal isn't reachable but I want to work with a mindset of working towards that ideal. I also want to ensure that I list both the obvious and the non-obvious. In fact, some things are so obvious that they are difficult to see!

The Tools

Area selection. Duration selection. Pinpoint selection. Size selection. Shape selection. Adjective selection. Colour selection. Volume selection. Action selection. Quantity selection.

Area selection

With area selection I set a question in the format:

What's X?

and I choose a number. For example, 3. Then I choose a measurement - say centimetres - to give:

What's 3 cm?

Then I consider the Zone of Attention (such as the one with the computer above) and pick out objects that are about 3 cm in size, length, diameter etc. Remembering that the Zone of Attention is three dimensional I can pick out any object in the ZOA - including objects that are unseen (inside the computer etc.) I can also allow a degree of guessing.

Possible objects selected for 'What's 3cm?': the logo on the top of the monitor, the return key, the thickness of the front section of the monitor, the length of one of the 'telescopic' sections of the printer tray etc.

This listing could go on indefinitely.

I can select other measurements - I can choose to set a number of different 'What's X?' questions before I start listing information:

What's 1 cm? What's 10 cm? What's 1 mm? etc.

I can range from the smallest measurement (perhaps even considering the atomic level) up to the largest measurement - which would be the diameter of the Zone of Attention itself.

Duration selection

Duration selection can be used to list activities or occurences in the Zone of Attention. As with area spotting it takes the form:

What's X?

and I select a number and any time duration:

What's 1 second?

I then list activities for this Zone of Attention that occur over one second: switching on the PC, taking a piece of paper off the printer tray, shutting down, sipping a coffee, pressing any computer key during typing, etc.

As with area spotting this listing can go on indefinitely. I can also select different durations for different results:

What's a millisecond? What's 10 seconds? What's 3 days? What's 10 years?

For 'What's 10 years' I could consider something like 'the useful lifetime of the computer' , for example.

Pinpoint selection

Pinpoint selection is the simplest method of all: I move the pinpoint (the X inside the ZOA) around the Zone of Attention and name the object that is at the location of the pinpoint.

For example: the computer, the keyboard, the desk, the CPU, the monitor glass, the computer stand etc.

Size selection

With size selection I set a question in the format:

What's the size of X?

For the X I can either select a random object from a page of Directed Association results or choose an object in the Zone Of Attention. These could lead to questions such as:

What's the size of an apple?
What's the size of the space bar?

Shape selection

With shape selection I set a question in the format:

What's the shape of X? (or what's approximately the shape of X?)

For the X I can either select a random object from a page of Directed Association results or choose an object in the Zone Of Attention. These could lead to questions such as:

Random object: What's the shape of an umbrella?
Using an object in the Zone of Attention: What's the shape of the space bar?

Adjective selection

With adjective selection the question is, again, in the format:

What's X?

but I select an adjective for the X myself. I do this by selecting an object/place etc. from the Directed Association results and then listing possible adjectives for that chosen object/place. So if I pick:

Alcatraz prison

then I can list adjectives such as: grey, imposing, closed, historic etc. I can also make up 'adjectives' such as 'featured in a feature film' etc.

I then choose one of the adjectives ('closed' for this example) and then set the question:

What's closed?

and consider what things in the Zone of Attention are closed. For example: the access panel on the computer that is screwed shut (as with the keyboard), the lid of the printer, the books on the shelf etc.

Adjectives I have found to be useful: colour selection and volume selection

I have found that specifying colours and volumes has proved useful when listing information. These are specified for the questions:

What's coloured X?
What's volume: X?

So, for example, resulting questions could be:

What's coloured blue?
What's volume: quiet?

(With the volume question I can range from a scale of 'silent' up to 'deafening'.)

Action selection

With action selection I use the question format:

What's X - ing?

and then list actions. For example: leaving, reading, cooling, amazing, assisting, towering, lowering etc. ad infinitum.

I then select an adjective from the list ( 'cooling') and form a question thus:

What's cooling?

and I can pick out things in the Zone of Attention that are cooling. Perhaps: The monitor (that is cooling as it has been switched off), a cup of coffee, the computer keys (as they haven't been touched by a finger for a while) etc.

I always try to force an answer even when the action is difficult to spot in the Zone of Attention. So if the question was:

What's leaving?

Then to force an answer I could consider that air molecules are 'leaving' this particular Zone of Attention, for example.

Quantity selection

With quantity selection the question takes the format:

There are X what?

I specify a number and then select the object(s) that exist in that quantity within the Zone of Attention.

So for the question:

There are 3 what?

I could choose: 3 pieces of electrical equipment, 3 sections of telescopic printer tray, 3 side of the computer monitor visible etc.

Cyclic profiling

I use this cyclic profiling approach. I select any feature of the Zone of Attention listed using one of the tools above. For example: the computer. Then - as with adjective selection - I simply make a list of adjectives about that object. So with computer I could create a list such as:

Computer = electrical, grey, heavy, technological, frustrating (!), essential, expensive.

I can then select one of these adjectives to form a question such as:

What's electrical?

Then scan the Zone of Attention to list electrical features/objects etc.

Eg: The keyboard, resistors, sockets, printer, cables, static, etc.

Then I repeat the cycle:

Static = annoying, by-product, electrical, shocking

Which results in the question:

What's annoying?

Possible answers: Spilling coffee, computer crash, cables, moving equipment, power failure, printer jam, etc.

Use of superlatives

To use the superlatives approach I simple take the descriptive form of the adjective and change it to a superlative by adding 'est' (even if this creates a word not listed in a dictionary).

For example:

What's loudest? What's annoyingest? What's hottest? What's obsoletest?

Because of the degree of fuzzyness I often have to consider how to interpret the superlative. So with a question like:

What's reddest?

I could take 'reddest' to mean: the object that contains the most red, the object that is most strikingly red, etc. Also if it is fairly obvious that there is nothing red in the Zone of Attention then I look for a degree of redness.

Resources and inspirations:


Attribute Listing


TA Today, A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis, Ian Stewart, Vann Joines. Chapter 19: Frame of Reference and Redefining

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