Goldfish attention span or selective attention span?

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Our dwindling attention spans have been widely reported on. The rise of smartphones, the internet, blah blah blah. I don’t need to unpack this topic. Chances are you’ve already heard it all. If you haven’t, by some good stroke of luck, you can find out more here.

This conversation about our shorting attention spans is valid, there’s certainly enough data to back up the argument. Recently, I heard Danielle Laporte (motivational speaker/philosopher/entrepreneur) say that the average visitor to her site stays for 2.5 minutes! Considering the density of her blog’s content, I was rather surprised by this stat.

BUT! If our attention spans are shrinking, how is it we can go on 8-hour-long Netflix binges? How can we possibly watch entire seasons of Downtown Abbey in just one day? I end most of my days by heading down to the beach. I stare out to that wet blue horizon for half an hour and decompress. No smartphone, no laptop, no book. Just the sea and me.

There’s been many a night, with dropping stinging eyes, that I have bypassed my strict 9pm bedtime because I must find out what happens to Charlie Bucktin (protagonist in Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. BUY IT.) Midnight, lights out. Mostly.

I admit though, many times I’ve sat down to watch a movie or an episode of whatever, and I’ve found myself picking up my iPhone to check my emails, Instagram or FaceBook feeds. Do you know why I did this? BECAUSE WHAT I WAS WATCHING WAS BORING!

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It didn’t suck me in. It didn’t DEMAND my unrequited attention because:

  1. The storyline was simple
  2. The storyline was predictable
  3. I didn’t feel for the characters (or sometimes even like them)
  4. The acting was wooden
  5. The dialogue wasn’t believable
  6. There was no intrigue
  7. It made me feel stupider for watching it.

I would argue that we don’t suffer from shorter goldfish-like attention spans, it’s just that we now have the privilege of choice. If our entertainment doesn’t capture us, pull us in and take us on an adventure into another’s life/time, then we get to choose to do something else. Like check FaceBook.

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I recall some argument that Shakespeare’s plays featured wordy, lengthy monologues because audiences of the time had longer attention spans. I would argue:

  1. People had fewer daily demands
  2. There were fewer options for entertainment
  3. And how do you even know if they were paying attention – bozo.

The fault is not our own. It is up to the artist to mould and craft something that we cannot ignore. A world with characters we want to know. We want to escape, hence the 8-hour Netflix binges.

So write fucking fresh material.

We need it.

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