This attention with effort is known as _*voluntary attention_. It is the most exhausting act which any individual can perform. Strength of will consists in the power to resist distractions and to hold the mind down to even the most uninteresting occupations.
_Fortunately for human achievement, acts which in the beginning require voluntary effort may later result without effort_.
The schoolboy must struggle to keep his mind on such uninteresting things as the alphabet. Later he may become a literary man and find that nothing attracts his attention so quickly as printed symbols. In commercial arithmetic the boy labors to fix his attention on dollar signs and problems involving profit and loss. Launched in business,
however, these things may attract him more than a football game.
It is the outcome of previous application that we now attend without effort to many things in our civilization which differ from those of more primitive life. Such attention without effort is known as _*secondary passive attention_. Examples are furnished by the geologist's attention to the strata of the earth, the historian's to original manuscripts, the manufacturer's to by-products, the merchant's to distant customers, and the attention which we all give to printed symbols and scores of other things unnoticed by our distant ancestors. Here our attention is similar to passive attention, though the latter was the result of inheritance, while our secondary passive attention results from our individual efforts and is the product of our training.
Through passive attention my concentration upon a ``castle in Spain'' may be perfect until destroyed by a fly on my nose. Voluntary attention may make my concentration upon the duty at hand entirely satisfactory
till dissipated by some one entering my office. Secondary passive attention fixes my mind upon the adding of a column of figures, and it may be distracted by a commotion in my vicinity. Thus concentration produced by any form of attention is easily destroyed by a legion of possible disturbances. If I desire to increase my concentration to the maximum, I must remove every possible cause of distraction.
_Organized society has recognized the hindering effect of some distractions and has made halting attempts to abolish them_.
Thus locomotives are prohibited from sounding whistles within city limits, but power plants are permitted by noise and smoke to annoy every citizen in the vicinity. Street cars are forbidden to use flat wheels, but are still allowed to run on the surface or on a resounding structure and thus become a public nuisance. Steam calliopes, newsboys, street venders, and other unnecessary sources of noise are still tolerated.
In the design and construction of office
buildings, stores, and factories in noisy neighborhoods, too little consideration is given to existing means of excluding or deadening outside sounds, though the newer office buildings are examples of initiative in this direction; not only are they of sound-proof construction, but in many instances they have replaced the noisy pavements of the streets with blocks which reduce the clatter to a minimum. In both improvements they have been emulated by some of the great retail stores which have shut out external noises and reduced those within to a point where they no longer distract the attention of clerks or customers from the business of selling and buying. In many, however, clerks are still forced to call aloud for cash girls or department managers, and the handling of customers at elevators is attended by wholly unnecessary shouting and clash of equipment.
Of all distractions, sound is certainly the most common and the most insistent in its appeal.
The individual efforts towards reducing it quoted above were stimulated by the hope
of immediate and tangible profit--sound- proof offices commanding higher rents and quiet stores attracting more customers. In not a few cases, manufacturers have gone deeper, however, recognizing that anything which claims the attention of an employee from his work reduces his efficiency and cuts profits, even though he be a piece worker.