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The Restorative Potential of Participatory Design in the Attention Economy

We live in an attention economy where human attention is harvested, commoditized, and traded as a scarce and valuable resource. Information and communication technologies (ICT) use an evolving branch of psychological research called behavior design to manipulate our attention and behavior. Consequences of this affect what we do with our time and also our capacity for reflection and self-awareness, which has lasting effects across our life and relationships. This dissertation looks to attention restoration theory (ART) and participatory design (PD) for help in addressing the harms created by the attention economy. ART is an empirically validated theory that addresses how attention can be depleted and also restored. PD gives us an experiential and democratic framing for helping people have a say in the technology that affects their lives. Using PD to co-design restorative environments may help us restore and protect our attention on both individual and collective levels. The work of this dissertation uses PD, visual elicitation, phenomenological interviews, and focus groups to explore (1) how the design process itself might be restorative, (2) how co-designers' behaviors with ICTs change in the process of designing for others, and (3) how institutions might play a systemic, scalable role in protecting our attention. Doing this will involve analyzing data collected in two undergraduate design classes that used PD to design restorative environments on the University of Washington’s campus, and translating that curriculum to a relevant and feasible offering for libraries for and with library practitioners.

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The Restorative Potential of Participatory Design in the Attention Economy

  3. 3. How can individuals protect and restore their attention when many of their interactions are mediated by technologies incentivized to exploit it? How can the design process itself be restorative? How can we engage and inspire library workers to see the restorative potential of libraries in an attention economy?
  4. 4. THE PLAN