A Rambling about our Shortening Attention Span
I used to (or continue to) wonder why my detailed movie analysis and informative essays are read by very few people, despite the positive comments I receive from those few who read. Is there any problem with the SEO, keywords, delay in page loads, etc? May be what I write is considered as a ‘niche’ topic (the hits are very few, considering the niche aspect). Or there is a very easy explanation: my writing sucks, which is a feeling I often have after reading back what I had written (by saying this, I don’t mean to offend my little circle of readers). So, I asked some good content writing friends – ‘barring SEO problems is there any other problems with my essays & analysis getting few hits? It just takes 3 to 5 minutes to read my article’. The few I asked were actually baffled. They asked me questions rather than providing answers. And, the gist of those questions went on like this: ‘3-5 minutes for reading an article? Which era are you living in? Nowadays keeping one’s attention on a particular post for 45-90 seconds is a herculean task’ they said. Then, few days back I came across a one-year old study conducted among Canadian smartphone, internet users, which showed that average human attention span have fallen from 12 to 8 seconds (Goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds). So, what does all this mean? It means that those who had clicked the link to read this article wouldn’t have reached this end of passage.
I would like to write how our brain, especially younger generation’s, had been rewired with the increase in usage of smartphones and also like to cite many International studies about brain activities, regarding attention span. But, I will save it for another time, since those topics would make me lose another portion of readers reading this. It would be hypocritical of me to claim that I never craved for instant gratification and attention from the internet. I too have been guilty of skipping an article within a minute, despite the abundance of great information it possesses. But, this easily distracted young generation with shortening attention spans poses some problems.
Internet is a blessing for all of us seeking information. It has undoubtedly changed our lives for the better. But, just because the benefits are huge, it doesn’t mean that we should ignore the negative aspects. Ours is a generation, which feels more comfortable in constantly checking mails, fb or some apps. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest breaks or chunks information to serve us (which really cuts off the necessity to seek for the information). ‘Why should my brain go the extra mile and click on some link to learn more details? In that time wouldn’t I receive more no. of valid information?’ goes the usual mode of questions. The smaller the information, bigger will be the consumption. Of course, it’s a hard task for many of us to spend time for learning new information, let alone read a detailed article. In fact the very design of modern electronic gadgets has changed so that the audiovisual contents gain more prominence. Yes, these small contents are changing our brain and content marketers are beating their head against the wall to keep everything short and simple. A typical smart-phone user is said to check his/her 150 times a day and at least one-third of that time is spent for social media updates and information. If one, writing an article is unable to tap into that person’s attention for 30 to 45 seconds the information will immediately fall into the limbo state.
Visitors are generally said to read one-quarter of words in a 600 word article. And, if the article is longer than 600 words, then chances of reading even one-quarter of words is minimal (by the way, this particular article has already crossed ‘600 words’). So, what all these things say is that not only our lifestyle is changing by staying ‘connected’; our brain’s mechanics are also changing. I wonder how the future generation will think deeply about certain concepts or ruminate upon the themes of a 1000+ page classic novel. Will the works of Leo Tolstoy, J.R.R. Tolkien or Andrei Tarkovsky, Bergman become obsolete museum pieces? It would be a dystopian society, but one should always withhold hope for future generation. And, it is human to think of the past & future generation as immature & helpless. Technology isn’t going to vanish for any time soon. So we just need to understand the vacuous nature of this ‘likes’ & ‘tweet’ satisfaction and further try to accustom others for gaining better attention span in this thriving digital world. I don’t want to use the words ‘manic-depressive’ or ‘obsessive-compulsive disorder’ nor i am qualified to provide right meaning for those words, but to put it simple, instant gratifications are just like that quick ‘sugar rush’. We need it now and then, but should be careful to not get addicted. For, long-term contentment and lengthened attention span, let’s keep our focusing abilities and concentration beyond our glitzy smart-phone screen (however awesome & informative it is).
Personally, I bask in the experience of reading a good paperback for a good hour. It is a fine antidote for all our facebook notification distractions. Technology giants like Microsoft have claimed that the younger generations’ ability to perform multitasks have greatly improved, despite the truth behind declining attention spans. When it comes to finding information and the ability to switch between tasks students are better than the adults. As I said, we can neither ignore the problem of shortening attention spans nor place the blame squarely on the shoulders of technology. Let’s first try to understand the limits of technology in learning or even for living.
Considering the number of fake quotes attributed to Albert Einstein in the internet, I really don’t know if Einstein said this following quote “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”. But, I truly hope that such a generation won’t come into existence in the near future. ‘To get one’s attention your content should get right to the point, or else your write-ups will become obsolete’, advised a social media friend. I haven’t mastered that skill and I generally prefer a meandering, but more meaningful one to a straight path. And, I thank everyone who had abundant attention span to finish this rambling article and hope that the ones who had skipped everything to read this last line will bookmark and really read it at some later time.