Will you able to digest the fact that if you and a goldfish (yes, you read it right – a goldfish) are asked to focus on a particular task, the goldfish will win hands down and by 1 second? Yes, a goldfish’s attention span is 1 second more than the attention span of a human being which on date is 8 seconds. This number has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000. In short it implies if we started reading something or indulging in a conversation, after mere 8 seconds, we will start feeling bored and zone out ending up juggling between some other tasks.
With the advent of social media platforms, these “some other tasks” are more likely to be checking Facebook, uploading a random click on Instagram, watching video on YouTube. Ironically while there is an information overload because of the volume of content being generated on the internet, the very omnipresence of the content makes us less bothered about any of it. Same reason why the next gen really doesn’t find it interesting to learn things. They realise that everything is just a click away. No wonder 25% of the teens forget major details about their friends and relatives.
LinkedIn was launched in 2003. Facebook in 2004. YouTube launched in 2005. Twitter in 2006. And now we have Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr. You have way too many (more than needed) social media platforms. Though each one will give you a solid reason to justify their presence. And even I find it tough to defy any of them. The problem is not them but our constant desire to be present on them. It distracts us continuously. In the midst of a novel, and you wish to check one; in the midst of a party and you wish to upload the selfie; in the midst of an important conversation and you stop to check who responded what on your latest activity. Phew! The cycle continues. We forget to live any of the moments completely – just half there! Do you find yourself doing the same? Are you too losing the focus?
The bug doesn’t stop here. The smart phones, tablets and such tech devices have made it even simpler to access all these apps anytime of the day. Undoubtedly, the sleep disorders are on rise, relationships have gone for a toss and the cognitive skills of toddlers and new generation is weaker than the millennials. However I respect the older generation who were perfect in their world of physical presence where they would make friends on fields, or on a walk or by visiting relatives’ place. They defined connectivity to me in real sense. What we as a generation are indulging in is social gratification.
Unfortunately the oldies for the sake of bridging the gap between them and the GenX and GenY succumbed to the virtual world. As a result while students are in class, you find teachers too using mobiles, parents are indulged on their “smart devices” while children are seeking answers from them. And we again leave them at the hands of Google. And you thought YouTube loves uploading small video stories. Brands are fascinated by short films. Desi Kalakaar and Dheere Dheere were just raging up. Alas! Your shorter attention spans gave wings to such media.
All this exposure to multi-screen digitised world, information overloaded internet, and lost touch with face to face interaction with friends and family is making us all vulnerable. It’s going to impact the way our brains work. This further reduces the empathy levels and doesn’t help us any better. It eventually results in dumbing down of masses. Our need to have human moments has never been greater given the distractions we are fighting on a daily basis today. The shorter attention spans make us repulsive to any work we indulge in. The problem is not with the monotony but it is with the fact that we are making monotony too quick for an act. What we need is a mutual focus, the propensity to indulge completely in an activity. And all this while, you thought you were making your kids Smart!
(The writer is an IIM Shillong Alumnus)