A report by Microsoft apparently suggests that our human attention span, or level of concentration, has fallen below the level of a goldfish (Pike & Thirkettle 2015). Functioning as a slight blow to our self-respect, the reasoning behind this claim relays into our constant bombardment of distractions and our ever-increasing need to be able to absorb information and propel forward in everyday activities (Pike & Thirkettle 2015). As stated by John O’Connor (2013), mobile gadgets may contribute to the erosion of attention spans, which can even be seen in children from an early age. As children are dependent and often fixated with such devices, when they are forced to be present in the real world, it can suddenly seem “slow-paced and less interesting.”
However, it is crucial to not place blame on all technological devices as the cause for our goldfish similarity. Some studies have suggested that participation in online arenas, such as video gaming, has enabled attention spans to improve. As stated, habitual video gamers who are actively engaged online, demonstrated better attention spans than non-players (Pike & Thirkettle 2015). Hence this suggests that being a technologically dependent individual may not necessarily diminish mental aptness due to our constant evolvement and adaption to changing situations each day.
Interestingly however, there are many presumptions that surround how our attention span is affected by our devices and online media. A Pew Internet survey of roughly 2500 teachers found that 87% believed that new technologies have created an easily distracted and concentration-lacking generation. (Purcell et al. 2012, cited in Athreya & Mouza 2016, p. 98). Thus as suggested, we do in fact show aspects of a generation that becomes iconic for habitually checking phones, emails and social media accounts (Athreya & Mouza 2016, p. 98).
Even more so, it is amusing to consider the emphasis that we place on our instant gratification we receive from using the Internet and other features on our devices (Athreya & Mouza 2016, p. 98). As suggested, we need to instantaneously have Webpages load without delay, which obviously gives us the impression that our own patience is decaying. However, in terms of distractions, it is easy to see the continuous interruptions that arise from social media, phone applications and messaging tools. Acutely described by Plumridge (2013, cited in Athreya & Mouza 2016, p. 98), the Internet seems to have become one, big “interruption system” that hinders our ability to simply concentrate on a sole source of input. Therefore we may be hindering our ability to be attentive listeners by not offering ‘focused attention’ and instead using ‘divided attention’ that can evoke miscommunication (Athreya & Mouza 2016, p. 98).
Giving divided attention is a ritual that we do each and every single day whether we are at work, university or talking to a friend. Due to the environment that we live in, we are constantly faced with big or small distractions whether they be intended, (like advertisements) or not. However when considering our divided attention being caused by our engagement in social media platforms via electronic devices, we no doubt accept that this happens quite ubiquitously.
It’s a situation we know all too well – trying to have a conversation with someone who is too distracted with their phone. When having a conversation with my sister after her shift at work, she was quite engrossed with the inner happenings of her iPhone. After a probing question asking how her shift was at work, I queried whom she did work with. My question was met with no response as she quickly typed a reply to a message and her clueless eyes met mine with a blank expression. She quickly realized her wrongdoing by not giving her focused attention and immediately apologized with a little laugh.
Now it is not a seemingly harmful situation in any way, but when we actually think about it, how many of these same situations happen in a day? And what are the implications to both parties involved in the situation? If we look to Carr’s explanation (Carr 2010, cited in Athreya & Mouza 2016, p. 98), every time we have to alter our attention to another subject, like the Internet, the brain has to “re-orient itself” which adds additional burden to our mental resources. Therefore, forever alternating between tasks can certainly add to our cognitive load by challenging our thinking and ultimately increasing the likelihood of misinterpreting important information (Athreya & Mouza 2016, p. 98).
So to quite simply put it (due to our shortening attention span) – next time you are asked how your day was, make sure the phone remains in the pocket for mental-welfare purposes.
Athreya B, Mouza C, 2016, ‘Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation: The Development of Thinking and Learning in the Age of Information,’ Springer International Publishing, Switzerland, p. 98
Mills J, 2017, image, ‘Take this test to see if you need to worry about memory loss,’ Associated Newspaper Limited, viewed September 14th <http://metro.co.uk/2017/03/21/take-this-test-to-see-if-you-need-to-worry-about-memory-loss-6523432/>
O’Connor J, 2013, WUSF Public Media, ‘Why Mobile Devices Might Mean Shorter Attention Spans,’ viewed September 14th <https://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2013/07/09/why-mobile-devices-might-mean-shorter-attention-spans/>
Pike G, Thirkettle M, 2015, phys.org, ‘Is technology making your attention span shorter than a goldfish’s?’ viewed September 13th < https://phys.org/news/2015-05-technology-attention-span-shorter-goldfish.html>