RJ: And kind of continuing on that, as far as, you know, using principles learned from the study of cognitive science to design better applications for filtering information on the Web. Or, I’m thinking about what you were saying about advertisements and, you know, one of the big things with Google or other companies is that they can, ideally, match the advertisements to what the reader is interested in. You know, I’m reading an article about digital cameras, for instance, and then advertisements for that sort of thing pop up. Do you see this as potentially beneficial, or is this just kind of another way to sort of pull us off of news?

MP: Well, again, it could, you know, having ads that fit with the content of what you’re looking at, could be either way. But, you know, it’s going to be vastly annoying to think that the ads know exactly what I’m thinking about and they’re going to trying to be targeted this way. So, obviously it could be effective. I guess it could be useful in some way. It’s also going to probably be taking actions to try to prevent people from figuring out what we’re interested in.

RJ: I think that we’ve covered, actually, most of what I was looking for. I’m wondering, though, what …

MP: Well, I’m exhausted, I hope so.

RJ: One other thing I wanted to know, though, was what are the next steps for what people who study attention are going to be looking at, in terms of all that’s going on right now and what we’ve …

MP: Well, the agenda that I’ve talked about, that is the looking at neuro-networks and trying to get the physical base to understand how genes shape those networks, and how what, specifically, environmental influences do to change the efficiency of that network. That’s a big agenda which has just been, you know… I tried to give you some picture of our interests and what we’d like to be doing. But, we’ve just begun to understand even a little bit about this physical basis. And I think there will be vast consequences as we understand the physical basis of self-regulation. And this will have a lot to do with schooling, and with treatment of methodologies and, presumably, also ways in which media shaped information. There’s a tremendous amount – there’s some done, but mostly it’s undone.

This article is part of our online supplement to the November/December print issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. To read that issue’s cover story, entitled “Overload!: Journalism’s battle for relevance in an age of too much information”, click here.

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Russ Juskalian is a contributor to The Observatory and a freelance writer.