attention span part 1: it ain’t shorter

attention span creating-great-experience

 

“… transumers are hyper-consumers driven by experiences. the fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences as possible.”

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 trendwatching.com

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So.

 

young people communicating technologyThis is about young people. And how there is a hurricane of older people opinions swirling around an odd <absurd> belief that the young are distracted from Life <or at least living it the way we want them to live it> because they are living a Life of distraction because of too much stimuli.

In addition this is about how so many people are expressing concern over ‘an increase in decreased attention span’ <how is that for a contradiction … or is that a paradox?>.

 

This also how older people pull this out of their personal bitch bag ad nausea when bitching about today’s youth.

 

 

But … in the end … this is really about everyone’s attention span and how everyone talks about ‘short attention spans’ these days.

 

 

Here is my contrarian point of view <albeit supported by some research>.

 

All this crap about short attention spans and grabbing people’s attention in soundbites is … well … crap. Yeah. It is bullshit.

 

 

Our attention spans are no shorter, nor any longer, then they were before … and I mean that in terms of this generation as well as all generations prior.

 

I feel pretty confident saying this for a couple of reasons:

 

–          there is no scientific evidence that the human brain is now being rewired for only short bursts of stimuli <although I have written about how the notification a cell phone actually gives you a shot of an adrenaline like hormone in response which can be addictive … but that is different than short attention span>

 

 

–          I believe people confuse the issue. Attention spans are always really about ‘the experience.’ Or satisfaction of experience <regardless of whether it is 5 seconds or 5 hours>.

 

 

Regardless.

 

Ok.

 

Let me go back to point one <before I receive a slew of emails>.

 

Yes.

Attention spans have decreased <everyone’s … not just kids>.

 

From 12 seconds to 9 seconds.

 

AttentionSpan Infographic

Yikes.

 

That is what I would call … well … a crisis: http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/

<side note: and this is where media fucks us all as they create headlines like ‘attention spans decrease!’ to imply a crisis or massive shift … when we are speaking of 3 seconds>

 

Anyway.

I do go a little nuts when I read things like this … ‘according to data from Assisted Living Today, social media has shortened our attention span from 12 minutes, 20 years ago, to 5 seconds long in the present day and age. ‘

 

And they are nuts.

 

 

Well.

It is assisted living.

 

Or when I read things like this:

 

 

With the constant barrage of text messages, status alerts, news updates and video montages, it’s no wonder why the attention spans of those connected are waning.  Our minds are constantly being interrupted while we multitask at work, at home or even in the car.  In fact, I bet you have a hard time remembering the last time you were sitting idle and didn’t reach for your smart phone to check email, scores, or browse the latest tweets made by your favorite celeb just to fill the void.

And why wouldn’t you?

 

 

Look.

 

Some people suggest that the internet is designed to distract.

 

It is not.

 

 

It is designed to engage and inform <whether it be useless or useful engagement and informing>.

 

 

There is certainly not enough hours in the day to keep up with all the new content but that simply means we are learning a new way to filter what is important and what isn’t.

 

 

By the way.

 

That isn’t a lack of attention span.

 

In fact it is an enhanced focus.

focus

In fact the young have an innate ability to focus faster than old folk.

 

But <once again>.

 

That is not shorter attention span … that is improved focus ability.

 

That said.

 

 

It seems to me … we should care less if our attention span is decreasing or increasing.

 

It seems to me … we should be caring what people are DOING within the attention they are giving.

 

And it seems to me … I could create a fantastic argument that as attention spans may decrease <or is it that information provided is in a decreased size format?> we older folk suck at being able to ‘do’ within the more confined attention space and that the young excel at managing thought activity within a shorter span of time.

 

 

It also drives me a little nuts when I read things like sensational book titles suggesting ‘shallow thinking’ like “The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember” by this guy Nicholas Carr who suggests that certain brain cells are neglected if we don’t use focused thinking. He also suggests a ‘use it or lose it’ thought with regard to these brain cells in that ultimately those pathways will fall apart.

 

 

Holy shit.

This guy is even more nuts.

 

 

Well.

 

He is correct in that the internet is changing how we think and remember. But that isn’t bad. It is just different.

 

And once again … this is NOT shorter attention span <I would even argue it isn’t even ‘shallower’ > but rather a more efficient attention span.

 

 

A hyperized attention.

 

An ability to quickly focus and derive joy of the experience <no matter how long that experience is>.

 

 

frozen moment in timeMe?

 

I call this ‘focus to joy’ aspect … the ‘relax space’ … or the time your brain rests for a bit amongst all the other stimuli and experiences some pleasure. By the way … it is irrelevant if this ‘space’ is seconds or minutes or hours … it is more about the pleasure derived <in other words … I think it is silly if not absurd to suggest ‘more relax time’ means ‘more pleasure’ for everyone … everyone has their own ‘pleasure-meter’ to be met>.

 

That said.

 

People make a lot of noise about short attention spans and about the ‘flurry of choices in a fragmented world’ where people <and apparently their brains> are just skipping over the surface with wanton disregard for repercussions and learning.

 

Well.

 

That is another thought that seems kind of silly to me.

 

Why?

 

 

C’mon.

 

We all still enjoy experiences. We still enjoy being stimulated <in any way you want to define it>.

 

Some in short doses.

 

Some in longer doses.

 

We invest time when interested. We invest time when we believe the experience will have value.

But, once again, that isn’t about short attention spans … it is about experiencing experiences.

 

It’s about processing information.

 

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“Children from like 8 and even up to the college age – Spider-Man appeals to a fairly broad demographic but, like I said, a mean age probably of 12 is a good mark – they process information so quickly and it’s not because of attention deficit or short attention span.”

Thomas Haden Church

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And we ‘right size’ our attention depending on what it is we have to do … and what we actually want to experience. This one researcher calls it ‘different attention strategies for different contexts’:

 

 

 

Linda Stone worked on emerging technologies at Apple and then Microsoft Research in the 1980s and ’90s. Fifteen years ago, she coined the term continuous partial attention to describe the modern predicament of being constantly attuned to everything without fully concentrating on anything. We need different attention strategies in different contexts. The way you use your attention when you’re writing a story may vary from the way you use your attention when you’re driving a car, serving a meal to dinner guests, making love, or riding a bicycle. The important thing for us as humans is to have the capacity to tap the attention strategy that will best serve us in any given moment.

 

 

 

As humans, that includes kids, we right size our attention based on context …Time business concept. in other words … we right size based on perceived importance and perceived experience.

 

 

And, once again, there is no scientific proof that attention span has decreased beyond the few seconds increments noted above.

 

 

Temple University Neurorecognition is the only place I believe who is conducting a research study on the theory that attention span has been decreasing.

 

–          In recent years, the media has been pushing the idea that the attention span of students has been declining generation by generation. The media blames television programs and fast-action video games for this decline.

Does the decline exist and is this what people really think?

If so, what are the actual reasons for decline?

What can be done to remedy the situation?

The attention study will look at perceptions of attention, attention spans in students, and possible reasons for changes in attention capacity to explore this “hot” area.

 

 

The answer?

They have no correlated data to date.

 

 

Next.

 

The only semi-credible person who has logically addressed the speculation of a shorter attention span crisis, Marilee Sprenger, loses credibility because she often refers to the myth of right brain/left brain <because remember … we actually use our whole brain>.

 

She often discusses some of her logic of ‘brain based teaching’ and ‘dealing with what is obvious as shorter attention spans in today’s children’ <her words>.

 

Hold on.

It is not so obvious.

 

This is subjectively making a perception a reality without objective truth <research>. In other words … this is anecdotal … or worse? … making shit up.

 

 

 

I say that and think I would like to note that children have always had short attention spans <so content or technology is not creating short attention spans>.

 

ragged claws brainsIt is their brain and the way it is built.

We had the same brain when we were growing up.

And we, most of us, had attention span of gnats.

 

 

With that in mind … if we are truly honest … content providers have simply begun developing systems and experiential modes of communication that are better received by a young brain.

 

As for the digital world and technology … is there too much information or too many distractions?

Gosh. I don’t think so.

 

It is what it is. And frankly it offers the opportunity – if the opportunity is maximized – to better educate and inculcate knowledge <and learning> than ever before.

 

 

In fact … to be a real contrarian … I wouldn’t take cell phones out of the classroom. I would learn to teach with them present. Isn’t that real world? Isn’t that an opportunity to teach focus within a sometimes sensory overload world?

 

 

Anyway.

 

Information/content is being developed in a better fashion to be absorbed by the young brain. Just as in the past … education’s challenge remains getting a kid to slow down long enough to think and absorb.

But attention span in young will always be gnatlike.

And attention span will always be driven by experience.

 

 

Therefore.

 

Are we confusing attention span with gratification?

Because instant gratification is not solely a youth characteristic.

Everyone today seems a little less tenacious with regard to seeking out truth or maybe it is that we are all a little less patient with an ‘experience’ right in front of us.

 

 

Anyway.

Age aside.

 

 

Attention span is driven by a brain fueled by the need to encounter something new and different. Novelty is, and always has been, important to us.

This is one reason why the technological revolution continues to engage the young and many of us.

 

 

I sat down to write this to partially defend our youth and partially to address the myth of shorter attention spans as a crisis.

In the end <part 1>?

 

Boy.

 

If you want this generation to get steamed go on any young person web portal and post your question and concerns on any ‘short attention span’ issues.

You will have more young people coming out of the woodwork than you will know what to do with.

 

We are losing sight of the issue.

Once again.

 

 

We should care less if attention span is decreasing or increasing for that matter.

We should be caring what people are DOING within the attention they are giving.

 

I could create a fantastic argument that as attention spans may decrease we older folk suck at being able to ‘do’ within the more confined attention space and that the young excel at managing thought activity within a shorter span of time.

 

 

In the end <part 2>?

 

We are all Transumers <see attention span part 2>.

We all seek enjoyment in transient experiences.

 

 

Kids and adults.attention span lecture color

 

We are a new breed of people hungry for constant visual and auditory gratification.

We seem to be unable to remain motionless for longer than 60 seconds and we are ‘constantly moving happiness searching machines.’

 

Is that short attention span?

 

Seems more like short satisfaction span.

 

And that doesn’t seem to be the sole purview of young people.

 

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Written by Bruce