“What happens when you enter a remote environment? The brain’s first priority when entering any new environment is to establish safety. This evolved as a necessity for survival and remains a part of the human brain’s makeup even in the modern day. Without a sense of safety, fully engaging your attention with the task at hand in the remote environment becomes challenging,” write Diane Lennard, PhD, and Amy Mednick, MD in their new book – Humanizing the Remote Experience through Leadership and Coaching: Strategies for Better Virtual Connections.
They continue, “…Focused attention is possible only once a feeling of safety and comfort has been established. When you are not feeling safe and comfortable, your brain will devote a disproportionate amount of attention to that thing you’re worried about or afraid of. This can produce anxiety and a hyper-awareness of noises or movements in the environment, also known as hypervigilance. This is the experience for Shay, who feels more alone and prone to hypervigilance in the remote environment, despite seeing other people on her screen. Hypervigilance interferes with the normal process of attention, which goes on to cause other problems in Shay’s productivity and wellness throughout her workday.” By making the analogies and examples personalized, a great example being the aforementioned ‘Shay’, Lennard and Mednick breathe life into what otherwise could come across as dry, statistical data.
There’s never a sense of narrative slackness which is often pervasive in this kind of nonfiction. It makes the more pondering ruminations Lennard and Mednick go down that much richer, because it adds rather than subtracts from the more clinical aspects of the book’s topicality. “Your brain selectively chooses what information is relevant in your inner and outer world. William James defined attention as ‘the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.’ Although there are multitudes of things happening both in your internal thoughts and in the outside world, there are a finite number of things that you can attend to at any one time,” they write. “What you choose to attend to creates your experience at any given moment.
You use your five senses to build a meaningful experience of the outside world based on what captures your attention. When confined to a digital window, the sensory information available for actively constructing the picture of your own experience is limited. It is unlike walking through a three-dimensional world filled with rich sensory stimuli that makes it relatively effortless to build a picture of the outside world. In the two-dimensional space of a computer, your five senses receive less visual and auditory information. It is less clear what to pay attention to. Your senses can become confused and your comfort in the environment will be affected. The confusion originates in the part of the human brain that controls attention, the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is the seat of attention, as well as many other conscious actions grouped together under the umbrella term ‘executive functions.’”