If you are a digital content consumer like me, and you read the previous post on the blog, you may believe that our attention span is decreasing because of social media. However, some researchers believe that solutions can be provided and the decreased attention span may be just a myth.
According to Joyce Fetteroll, a psychologist at Carnage Mellon University, people are pathologizing a normal human response.
It’s like calling light dangerous because even after a brief exposure our dark vision needs 30 whole minutes to return to normal. She said.
We’re in an age of a massive amount of interesting stuff. Abandoning an article or show after a few minutes is called filtering. It’s useful because a dozen other options also clamor for our attention but with time for only one or two. If people’s attention spans were measured while browsing for books, it would be about 30 seconds per book. Which just highlights the problem with using a microscope to focus on a big picture: The conclusions are likely to be false.
A counter example of decreasing attention span — besides the fact that people actually end up reading books after browsing — is the rise of series bingewatching. Someone with a damaged attention span couldn’t watch an entire season of House of Cards in one go.
Older adults struggle in a rich sea of choices because it’s a big change for them. Young people like us growing up in a sea of interesting choices find it normal. We will naturally develop strategies. Our strategies won’t look like our parents’ strategies because adult strategies were developed for a less rich time. When they were in childhood, they sometimes flipped through a dozen channels to find something to watch. To our parents that was irritating because they grew up in an age when radio offered few choices. You tuned in when your program was on. To us, flipping through several hundred channels isn’t a useful strategy.
Humans are natural problem solvers. If society grows a new behavior, it’s because it meets a need that was going unmet, not because a change damaged people. The question to ask is, What was the need? not How can we fix people?
There will be solutions on how to work productively in a constant flow of communication. It may take some new clever filtering technologies. It may take us who grew up with continuous connection moving into the workforce. It may take technology developed by our generation, and we probably just need to wait patiently, and stop panicking.