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Switching cost and switch cost

Interesting essay from Gloria Mark on ‘our dwindling attention spans’. Two insights that stood out to me:

  1. While push notifications and alerts play a role in our shortened attention spans she says “it turns out that people are nearly as likely to switch their attention of their own volition. We are determined to be interrupted, if not by others, then by ourselves.”

  2. “The inability to pay sustained attention has repercussions. Studies consistently show that our blood pressure rises and our heart rate increases with fast attention shifts.”

The ill effects of constantly shifting our attention are known as a “switch cost”. Switch cost is characterized by the errors and delays that result from frequently shifting our attention.

There’s a great metaphor here. Companies go to great lengths to first create and draw attention to the high cost of switching from their product or service to another. This is known as the switching cost. It's cheaper for a company to maintain an existing customer rather than lose one and have to acquire a new customer or reacquire the lost customer. In the case of our personal attention, we’re the company, and maintaining our focus on a task rather than switching back and forth costs us less.

If we can only draw our personal attention to the high cost of switching.


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