take unnecessary risks, to becomeirritable, and to get distracted fromyour task by things that are moreengaging but less challenging, suchas video games, television programs,random images on the Internet,Facebook communications, or email.
Succumbing to such distractions issymptomatic of attention fatigue.
How can the worker restoretheir ability to concentrate onthe important task at hand? Thesolution seems to reside in givingthe difficult kind of concentration arest, and instead redirecting one’sconcentration to things that don’trequire as much effort—thingspeople find “naturally fascinating.”
Soft fascination is a particular kindof engagement that maintains ourability to concentrate, willingly, withlittle effort, and most effectively. Softfascination is good for recuperation,as it provides opportunities forreflection, is non-taxing, and dealsless with exaggeration and itsattendant disturbances.
The most obvious environmentthat provides soft fascination is theoutdoors, with plants, sweepingvistas, water, and wildlife—buteven just a vegetable garden or a rowof indoor plants might play a part.
Kaplan positions soft fascinationas a major factor that contributesto a restored ability to concentrate:“Nature is certainly well-endowedwith fascinating objects, as well asoffering many processes that peoplefind engrossing.” But Kaplan suggeststhat this restorative capability can beaccomplished by experiencing an oldenvironment in a new and differentway, or even looking physically in adifferent direction from time to time.
Being away involves a conceptualshift.
The restorative environmentneeds to provide a “whole otherworld.” Kaplan says, “It must provideenough to see, experience, and thinkabout so that it takes up a substantialportion of the available room in one’shead.” Places that evoke memories,stories, and histories, includingnatural environments, provide this.
So viewing images at random on the
Internet would probably not fit the
bill. There’s no structure, nothing to
be probed in depth. The environment
must also be responsive in ways
that mean something to me in my
particular situation. So I suppose
that a walk through a garden center
would do little to restore my attention
if I didn’t like buying plants. Kaplan
maintains that human beings have
an instinctual inclination toward
outdoor activities—as predators,
nomads, domesticators, observers,
and survivors. So most of us relate
positively to natural environments.
CULTURAL CONDITIONINGUlrich and his team introducedthe idea of cultural conditioning:“Contemporary Western culturestend to condition their inhabitants torevere nature and dislike cities.” Werevere the natural over the technical.
But an appeal to culture alerts us
to the power of language, not least
the establishment of oppositions such
as nature vs. city and the natural vs.
the artificial—and invites discussion
of the way conversations about
environment are set up and sustained
[ 13]. Those familiar with Jacques
Derrida’s philosophy might note that
every appeal we make to the existence
of nature in the raw is already imbued
with artifice—in other words,
technologies [ 14, 15]. Apart from the
language we use to describe nature,
we see landscapes through the lens
of so many paintings, photographs,
and works of literature, mediatized,
enhanced, promoted, and filtered.
Needless to say, when we are out and
about, we wear clothing and hiking
boots, and carry guidebooks in nylon
backpacks, along with our mobile
Indeed, mobile phones dooffer familiarity and provide theopportunity for sociability. They arepart of what it is to occupy a worldboth familiar and strange, that’ssociable, linguistically rich, andstacked with information, includinginformation that can enhance ourexperience of environment.
People who reflect on and researchnature and technology are also caughtup inevitably in particular culturalconditions that influence how they
SEP TEMBER–OC TOBER 2014 INTERACTIONS 27 INTERAC TIONS. ACM.ORGIMAGEBYTIPLYASHINAEVGENIYA