The ADD Medium

In the last few months I’ve acknowledged something I should have suspected all my life.

I have ADD. ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, but I prefer to call it an Attention Depth Difference.

Since I “came out” about my ADD a few months ago, many of the people I like and trust have done the same. It’s the biggest “coming out” party since San Francisco in the ’70s.

To my surprise, many of the people who have confided in me are real luminaries. ADD, it seems, isn’t a handicap in this web business, but a positive boon.

For those of you going “Huh?” right now, let me explain a little about what ADD is. Think of it as a different way of wiring your brain, something inherited from parents and grandparents. Instead of having information stored in a card catalog, with each piece related in a linear way, ADD people have it strewn about the floor.

Here’s another way of looking at these two ways of thinking. A Henny Youngman monologue is linear. ADD is Robin Williams.

Symptoms may include distractibility, anger, daydreaming, risk-taking behavior, and impulsiveness. It’s often diagnosed in childhood now, and since the outward signs are very disruptive in little boys, their conditions are often caught early. It’s also routinely misdiagnosed as a handicap.

To parents, ADD is synonymous with the drug Ritalin, which calms ADD symptoms and lets kids stay in boring classrooms. Kids as young as two are now being given Ritalin, often after only a cursory examination.

Since ADD symptoms can mimic normal childhood behaviors (especially in pre-schoolers), many critics have begun questioning whether it exists at all. (One of the most prominent critics of ADD is columnist John Rosemond, whose web site was created and hosted by a company called Linear Publishing. If you know anything about ADD, that’s funny.)

This isn’t a medical or political column. The question is what does ADD mean for e-commerce? For one thing, the most obvious ADD symptoms I’ve ever seen were in Ted Nelson, whose books “Computer Lib” and “Dream Machines” predated Tim Berners-Lee’s WWW demo by decades.

When you watch anyone using the web, as Jakob Nielsen does in his usability studies, it may seem like everyone has ADD. The hand is on the mouse, the eyes are on the screen, and the impatience is palpable.

People with ADD have a big advantage on the web. We’re capable of great creative leaps – technical, artistic, and business leaps. We can hyper-focus on a project for hours and hours, if our passion is harnessed.

But don’t hire someone with ADD as your project manager – Nelson’s Project Xanadu was 20 years late. Structure, lists, organization and support are all necessary for your ADD employees.

But with the need for quick thinking, creativity, and imaginative leaps being what it is in the online world, this I know above all. The linear era is over – the age of ADD is here.

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