Saturday, May 28, 2011

Attention spans

I don't remember the last time I relaxed for hours with just a book. I'm not sure I even could anymore. I don't even finish films in one sitting these days.
It seems to be a general development for all ages, shortening of attention span.
How much of it is the Internet's "fault"? What other causes might there be?
Is it a problem? How so and how big?
What's your personal experience?

14 comments:

danaigh said...

Interest is the driving factor to me. Films are generally for a younger audience than my age (68) so I get bored with the angst of youth.

But when really focused on something I like, e.g. music, then time flys by.

Michael Burton said...

I didn't read your whole post, but I agree with your first point. My powers of concentration aren't nearly what they used to be.

I worked for about ten years in a computer job that required deep concentration, but where there were probably ten or fifteen different forms of frequent interruptions. The interruptions were a round-the-clock thing; I was often paged at 3AM or thereabouts to deal with problems.

I retired from that job more than seven years ago, but I feel that my powers of concentration have never recovered. I still have trouble sleeping through the night.

Perhaps part of the problem is just my own aging process, but I feel that years of "interrupt-driven" living did permanent damage to my mental capacity.

The Internet and electronic devices provide almost infinite distractions. If you carry your complete music collection on an iPod, it might be harder to listen to an entire album than when you carried a few cassette tapes. It's harder to get lost in David Copperfield if you're reading on your iPod and have dozens of other books as instantly available alternatives.

I think our brains evolved to devour information in a world of information scarcity. Nowadays we have a surplus of information, and many of us are choking on it.

Jeff R. said...

Can't answer now.
Got stuff to do...

Timo Lehtinen said...

I second danaigh's opinnion: if something is truly interesting, i.e. attention grabbing, how could one not experience it through?

It is well-nigh impossible to stop the playback of a recording of Sibelius'
Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82 once you have started it. Or, say, The Ninth Wave by Kate Bush.

On the other hand, these days I can not even watch through the trailers of most Hollywood films, let alone the films themselves. Or to listen to what the music industry calls "pop music".

I don't see this as Internet's fault, per se. But the instant availability of everything does call for a new skill: selective sifting.

The Ministry of Truth is in operation. If you read the news, watch big studio films, listen to contemporary pop music, watch porn, use WIMP software, pay in fiat money, and honor the rules of political correctness, you are no longer in control of your life. Others are putting limits to what you can think, do and feel. They have succeeded in passivating and numbing you with limiting beliefs and imaginary rules.

The solution is to find out, through conscious experimentation, which activities truly make you happy, with a lasting effect. And then start spending most of your days in those activities.

TC [Girl] said...

(shoot, MB! Your post is TOO LONG for me to get through, in one sitting! I'll have to come back, later, and...read it "in fits" as someone said, t'other day! ;-)

Philocalist said...

Attention spans? No problem whatsoever: put me on a riverbank and I can watch a float intently for hours on end, interrupted only by the occasional nuisance fishy ... or anything else nature passes my way! :-)

On a slightly more serious note, I personally think that part of the problem is simply 'information overload'; our brains struggle to assimilate and understand the vast amounts of information we have access to, and are perhaps constantly engaged 'elsewhere' still trying to subconciously catch up with something from earlier in the day, and subsequently not fully engaged with the current activity.
I find that I CAN still concentrate on one thing to the exclusion (and sometimes detriment!) of everything else, but the ability to multi-task seems to come much harder these days if it require brainpower, rather than simply doing a bunch of relatively mundane things simultaneously.
Strangly enough, when I AM totally concsiously focussed on ONE thing, I often find that my brain kicks out a solution to a problem or issue I might have been pondering for some time, almost as though it (my brain) had been given the 'space' to work properly, as I was apparently diverting my attention elsewhere.
Needless to say, I'm a BIG fan of the subconscious thought!

Sukiho said...

on the other hand, it may not be that there is surplus information, it maybe that so much of it is repetitive, we may be looking for new information and all there is are repeats with slight variations, the internet is great but has it spawned any new art, ideas, politics yet. most blogs for eg repeat ideas and news from other blogs which got them from other blogs, wheres the creativity? its a full time job to find it

Timo Lehtinen said...

it may not be that there is surplus information, it maybe that so much of it is repetitive, we may be looking for new information and all there is are repeats with slight variations,

Bingo!

Daniel said...

I don't have a problem concentrating. I also can't stand TV. Is there a connection?

eolake said...

TV is awful. In between searching for good comedies or documentaries to follow, I find snippets or ads for current programs, and... example: a music video, dead-clicheed, with some more or less hot new young singer. It ends, the host comes on, with the singer in the interview seat. He asks her if she has any interesting data or anecdotes from the recording of the album to share. She says: "It's called ... and it's on sale from ..."

The Dissonance said...

I can't even watch TV anymore. I record my fav shows so I can blow past the 20 minutes of ads for every 40 minutes of show. In what world is it okay to take a seven minute break from your viewing experience. No, really... I'm asking.

eolake said...

Totally agree. If modern cable modems didn't allow you to record shows, I wouldn't have a TV. Ad breaks are like having a salesman knock on your door every ten minutes.
That normal people accept them and many even like them says... I dunno, something!

Timo Lehtinen said...

Daniel Miessler writes:

I’m currently reading The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli. It’s brilliant. Every time I read a classic I get the feeling one hour of classic is worth about a year browsing for “good” content on the Internet. [...] How many times do I have to learn this before I dedicate myself fully to this task?

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, these days I can not even watch through the trailers of most Hollywood films, let alone the films themselves.

Pretentiousness might be the problem in your case. Just as being popular requires a lot of time and effort, being a pretentious twat is no doubt exhausting.

I can't even watch TV anymore. I record my fav shows so I can blow past the 20 minutes of ads for every 40 minutes of show.

I love it when people start out by saying they don't watch TV and then immediately follow it up by saying they watch TV. You're just skipping the commercials, which people have done since the invention of the first VCRs.

I’m currently reading The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli.

Here's the problem a lot of people have. Just because it's old, and published by Penguin Classics, doesn't mean it's good. The Prince is a terrible, pointless, book. One, few people will ever put what they learn from it into practice. Two, even if you put it into practice it wouldn't work. Even in Italian I bet the style is atrocious.