Friday, April 10, 2015

Attention Spans: On the Wane or Highly Taxed?

A sealed definition of attention span is the period of time in which someone is able to concentrate on a single object or thought.

Abracadabra! At your service, please! Push button, search, scroll, copy, cut, paste, delete, touch screen or hide. It is stimulating to know that we have become a society of multiple gadgets, loads of information and the required touchy-feely behavior. We can no longer say that we are living in the dark ages, at least where technology is concerned. We are wired and plugged to the point of a walking telephone circuit, computer room and help desk. The magic is real. At the touch of a button some people become stellar students and reporters, anytime and anywhere. With this in mind, instant coffee, soup and tea are no longer the crème in a world of instant ways and means.

As I admire the speed with which technology delivers information, should I jump hallelujah to the forward and upward move? Perhaps Pastors will keep their sermons and prayers swift, short and sweet. I recall my second class form at Nazareth Primary School, Jamaica, West Indies, where on a daily basis the class was given a passage to read and then rewrite it in précis form. Now that I have looked back, I am of the opinion that my fellow schoolmates and I were being prepared for the fast moving world of technology and information. I mentioned to a friend that I have developed a low tolerance for videos longer than five minutes, an obvious reaction of moving with the times. In responding, she told me that as an educator she tries not to be lengthy with her lectures because she finds that the students do not remain engaged for very long.

On the other hand, I find it amusing that at an event where there is music, the youngsters will be texting on their mobile phones, taking selfies, dancing, eating and talking at the same time. While I view the youngsters on their ability to handle the attributes of modern times, I worry that work styles and ways of thinking have been modified to our detriment when it comes to remaining focused and stress free. Or, does my advanced age make me inept in a world where multitasking and distraction have dominance.

Well, I came across a post on Facebook which read: With age, comes new skills. You can laugh, cough, sneeze, and pee at the same time. This could be seen as logic, humor or being insensitive. I opt for logic and humor and possible mantra. After all, it has been said that good wine improves with age. Most importantly, in the face of innovation, commotion and anxiety, it becomes necessary to scrutinize the status of attention spans. So, who will be brave enough to do it? Millennials are savvy people. I almost want to believe that they think the world belongs to them. They are always on the move and they know, see and hear everything. The big plus is that they are dependable. Accordingly, I solicited a few to give their opinions regarding the rank of attention spans. All participants’ real names have been replaced with pseudonyms and their written answers to the question I posed remain unedited.

Question: Do you believe that people’s attention spans are on the wane?

Carmen: I definitely think that attention spans are waning in this day and age. Outside of the virtual world, we are constantly being bombarded with competing tasks and messages, which make it almost impossible to focus on one thing. We are told that to be a savvy worker, a successful manager, an outstanding student or a good mother, we all must do one thing: Multitask. But multitasking in many ways tricks our brains into thinking that doing more, means doing better, which isn’t always the case.

Technology has also given us access to a world of information and with smart phones it is at our fingers tips at all times, and it doesn’t stop there. It’s not just us going into the phone for information, it’s the phone speaking to us! In a final moment of focus when I’m close to reaching that dreaded deadline, the phone start to blink as if it’s daring me not to look -- a Facebook notification (how many likes did my status get?), a text from Mom (is Dad okay? Maybe I should call), the reminder to pay that student loan (I should do that now so I don’t have to pay a late fee). With distractions like these invading our mental space every day, it is no surprise that our attention spans have waned substantially and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Jimmy: People’s attention is at an all-time low, unless you’re talking about attention to their iPhones, which they can’t seem to take their eyes off!

Humphrey: I am of the opinion that the collective attention span of society is waning, as are the abilities of individuals to focus and pay attention. Is the over-abundance of attention grabbing stimuli that’s doing it. For the first time in human history, we have complete, unobstructed access to all the information of the world sitting in little devices in our pocket. And whether we are looking down at our screens or looking up at something else, there is always something fighting for our attention. It takes extra work to block some of those attention grabbers out and focus.

Winston: From a work environment perspective, a person’s attention span can be hindered by the noise level around him/her. Specially at an office where it is considered “open space”, someone’s attention span can easily be distracted by fellow colleagues, loud printers, personal phone calls, or any other noise making activity. To combat the level of noise around your workspace, I suggest tuning out with your headset and listen to music or your favorite podcast. I’ve found this to be very useful in keeping you focused and doing your work.

Molly: I feel like people’s attention spans only seem to be shorter because we have more distractions.

Jack: Our attention span as a human race in today’s society is waning due to the furthering simplification of processes with the help of technology. i.e. calculator and internet.

Richard: I think attention spans are decreasing because everything is becoming instant gratification. People now have access to anything they want at any hour because of advances in technology and mass consumerism. Anything that takes time to enjoy or appreciate is no longer appealing to the younger generations.

Woooo hoooo! Aren’t the millennials cool? Did any of their answers resonate?

Tah-tah! Do not bite more than you can chew.

Grace Dunkley-Asphall, Copyright © 2015

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