Shortening human attention
What really is attention and how can it be measured? This is one of the first things that came to my mind when choosing this topic. Do we have a predetermined level of sensitivity to distraction from the day we are born or is it a thing that we develop differently depending on the environment we live in? Essay writing requires a lot of attention and I have realized that while writing essays these past months. I am sensitive to distractions. If I hear some uneven background noises while writing an essay, I am most likely going to switch my attention to the noise instead of the essay. These things happen many times in our day-to-day life even if we don’t notice them immediately. This occurs mainly during tasks that require our full concentration. When driving a car or writing an essay I am more likely to be distracted than when listening to music. Is our sensitivity to distractions the price we pay for being the most “intelligent” species in the history of our planet?
Attention span in a change
The amount of time spent focused on a task before becoming distracted is referred to as attention span. Humans’ attention span is getting shorter and shorter all the time. Studies have shown that our attention span has decreased a significant amount in 15 years. Between the years 2000 and 2015, our attention span has decreased by nearly a quarter. In 2000 the attention span was 12 seconds and in 2015 8.25 seconds. A goldfish has a higher attention timespan (9 sec) than the average human in 2015 (8,25 sec). We can keep our attention to something a shorter time than a goldfish on average. A good moment to reflect I would say.
What causes poor attention span?
Our concentration span can be caused by multiple reasons. (School of Business, The Jorge Washington University, How to Increase Attention Span: Exercises, tips & resources, 2020) has written an article regarding some of the reasons why our attention span is lowering and what can we do to prevent shortening attention spans. When talking about attention deficits we tent to think about kids at first. In reality a lot of adults in working life suffer from attention deficits making their job complicated. These attention deficits can be caused by multiple reasons. Poor diet, lack of exercise and condition like depression or ADHD can be a cause for attention deficits. If one of these may be the case for your lack of attention there are many things you can do to boost your attention span (School of Business, The Jorge Washington University, 2020).
Social media has a considerable role on decreasing human attention. Short video format is getting very popular. People are transitioning from watching TV-series and movies to watching content on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat etc. TikTok is a great example of videos consumed in a mass that contain a lot of stimuli in a short period of time. TikTok provides its users an easy way of consuming short information packed videos that last usually less than a minute. The internet has had to transition to short video content based to the times we are currently living. Advertisers have to make shorter advertisements in order to maintaining people’s attention. I have noticed myself that when searching for a YouTube video I tend to choose the shortest one. Despite people’s attention spans shortening it is good to remember that it is possible to concentrate on long forms of media if the topic is interesting enough for you. (The State News, 2022)
I have started to use an application called (Blinkist) which consists in summarising the most important points of a book in approximately 10-15 minutes. You can either read the blinks or listen to them like an audiobook. This service is great for me as it gives me access to information from books without having to read the whole thing. I have never liked to read books because I get distracted continuously making my reading time completely useless. This is one clear example of shortening human attention that I have noticed in my day-to-day life.
Things to consider
Meditation’s ability to improve attention has long been proven by researchers. Even without a long-term commitment, meditation training improves executive attention, according to a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Short meditation sessions can improve attention spans in a measurable way. My experience with meditation is very narrow and I have not found it to be the best option for me. The few times that I have done meditation in my life I have felt it more time consuming than beneficial. This is maybe because I have had this predetermination of meditation and its true benefits. As many things in life meditation is a learning process. You are not going to find the benefits of it on the first time you try it out but maybe the 10th time you do it the benefits start to become visible. You must first discover what your body desires and then practice the sort of meditation that best suits you, as there are several. (The George Washington University, 2020)
Practicing “whole body listening” is something to take an eye based on the article (School of Business, The George Washington University, 2020) the next time you meet up with someone. The thing to do is making your body language still and controlled as this makes you more focused on listening. Make a conscious effort to listen without interrupting. Concentrate on what the other person is saying rather than on how you will respond. Other things you can do based on the article (School of Business, The Jorge Washington University, 2020) is taking 20-30 minutes a day for reading in the morning while you eat your breakfast or before going to bed. Muting the phone while reading is a good way to prevent any kind of distractions. Moderate exercise is also a good way to increase your attention span as it has been demonstrated that physical activity improves cognitive control. There are many more things we can all do to improve our concentration span. Taking mindful walks and having moments to concentrate only on your breathing. Having breaks and reducing distractions to focus on one task at a time are all good ways of maximizing your attention span.
Based on research and my own thoughts the society is getting more impatient than ever regarding content consumption. We are constantly in search of fast stimulations. There are many things that are being said to improve our attention span. Most people are not yet being alarmed by our shortening attention span, so it is not being talked about that much. I would nevertheless keep an eye on it for the years to come. Shortening human attention may be a generational phenomenon that is being only talked while referring to generation Z and Alpha or is it going to be also talked amongst future generations.
(Blue bite, 4 hacks to get your brand noticed, 2017) The Shortening
(School of Business, The Jorge Washington University, How to Increase Attention Span: Exercises, tips & resources, 2020)
(The Shortening span regression, Arvind Maharajan, 2020)
(The State News, Having the attention span of a goldfish may no longer be the joke you think it is, Mariam Hannah, 2022)
(Wyzowl, The human attention span, Adam Hayes, 2022)