Best Wishes for a Longer Attention Span in 2009

So it’s a new year, and once again, the days grow longer, unlike our attention spans. I have one wish for everyone, everywhere in 2009: May your attention span grow. In fact, if it did, you might end up being smarter at the end of this year than you were at the end of the last one. Our short (and growing shorter) ability to focus our mind isn’t helping us one bit. Makes it easier for all the bad guys to take advantage of us and doesn’t help you find your keys either.

If it’s true that the average modern human attention span is 7 seconds (I’ve heard this is 6 seconds from Dr. Joesph Spinoza) than everything I want you to know has to fit in here like so:

One and two and three and four and five and six and seven.

If you say it fast, I guess you could count to fourteen, but some things require more than this amount of time to unfold or explain. Sure, films are 2 hours, but you’re in a big, darkened room with no distractions when you watch them (ideally). Our teeny attention span is probably why our politicans think they can say any old thing to us and we won’t care, certainly we won’t check the references.

They tell you in public speaking, that you have to get it all in within a ten-minute time frame, maybe twelve. I really thought that was an exaggeration, but then I saw it in actual life with my friends, and with clients. Anything can distract. Anything does. All the experts have said that our attention span has been decreasing steadily in our modern age. I experience this one-on-one, everyday. Does everyone have ADD?

Maybe this is happening because everything demands this attention…everything…so we might get so fed up with this demand that we throw our attention around indiscriminately, and don’t care what we’re giving it to. Do we really decide what’s important or does someone have to tell us what that is? I think the 6 second attention span means that we want our priorities pre-made so we don’t have to decide what they are. Then all we have to do is pop them in the microwave. We don’t digest much on this 6 second timer, but the information turnover is done and we eat. And with this kind of “convenience” (read laziness) how do we know if we’re getting good nutrition? And actually, we don’t want to care about nutrition anyway unless we get a life-threatening illness and the doctor says we must stop eating fast food. Remember what happened to our hero in “SuperSize Me”?

I’d like to think that we are naturally a group that can focus and learn easily; that humans are actually smarter than we have been told we are. I know this is hard to believe when you watch Cable TV late at night and there are contests where someone who can spit the most water out of their mouths will win the prize, but my attention span is longer than most so I’ll keep on looking for signs of consciousness. I hope your eyes aren’t getting glazed over as I think I’m well within the normal abbreviated allotment of your time here. Neil Postman, I love you.


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