People were already commenting on this problem in 1993. Image Source: Melsmagic.com.
Shortening attention spans. There's no doubt it's happening. But what will it do to us? Will we develop new neural pathways? Will it make us better at doing certain things, and helpless at others? There's plenty of speculation, but here's the (latest) lowdown:
- Wiki (from a BBC report here): "Most internet users spend less than one minute on the average website." Other comments here, here and here.
- Twitter's Public Timeline shows what everyone is doing on that site right now - watch their (and your) reality break apart into little virtual fragments.
- You can test how long your attention span is (at least how long it is when it comes to doing dumb internet quizzes) here.
- Advice on how to rebuild your attention span and regain the ability to focus: here.
- Skeptics claim that this is all bunk; short attention spans are a product of millions of years of evolution, as here.
It's creating an odd culture, in which there's no time left for anything - but we waste loads of time surfing the Web, being sucked onto social networking sites, or just clearing our inboxes. Many online activities give the illusion of performing essential tasks, when in fact very few people turn clearing their inboxes or surfing the internet into a high art or have anything to show for it at the end of the day. Procrastination deceives us into thinking we are doing something meaningful with our lives, while our real lives slip away. This is the strange flip side of an advancing Tech society. We have no time for things that used to matter, but that's only because all our time is spent on things that now matter to us in practice, but not in theory. Take gamers who are addicted to an MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Not all of them are addicted of course, and some turn gameplay into a successful, new-fangled profession. The game now has over 12 million subscribers, whose dedication to imaginary worlds is as serious, in some cases, as their daily lives.
With the pull of virtual worlds, the endless self-induced, compulsive distractions, it's now becoming harder and harder to concentrate for prolonged periods of time on former areas of human activity and contemplation. Nicholas Carr remarked on this in 2008: "I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon."
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