Multi-tasking. It is an incessant joy I experience on a daily basis, yet also proves to be the bane my of existence. Whilst for the most part I love to listen to Lorde, eat strawberries and write a message to
a friend friends on Facebook in the lounge room with the television showing a recap of The Block on mute, I can also understand why millennials like myself can be judged for having a significantly shorter attention span than everyone else. Us millennials cop a lot of slack for our feed-scrolling and info-sharing nature online, criticised for being ‘distracted’, ‘absent’ and ‘oblivious’ to the world around us. It certainly seems that way, as Microsoft has revealed in a study that the average human attention span is only eight seconds. But do I think this judgement is fair? Not necessarily.
Now I’m not saying that attention spans aren’t shorter. That I certainly agree with — goldfish have been found to be more alert than humans. However I do believe — contrary to popular opinion — that this is not just characteristically inherent to tech-savvy millennials. Microsoft’s findings reinforce this notion as they state “It’s not just ‘kids these days.’” So, what better way to prove my theory than to test it out on my mother?
It was Tuesday afternoon and Mum and I were sitting in the kitchen talking. Mum was in the process of unpacking her lunch-bag, making herself a coffee and sorting through the mail, all whilst scrolling through her unpopulated Facebook newsfeed on an iPad and supposedly listening to me. It is this kind of multi-tasking that Herbert Simon claims “creates a poverty of attention.” After a few more moments of talking without reply, I began to get frustrated. Was she really listening to me? Had she been paying attention? As a test, I asked her to repeat the last three sentences I had just said. What happened next was not surprising in the least.
My own mother, who loves to criticise me for my own lack of attention had just failed my
well-established quick-fix attention test. When I told her that our attention spans as a collective group had disintegrated by at least four seconds since the year 2000, my mother was as intrigued as I was. When I mentioned I was probably better off telling the goldfish the events of my day, she was somewhat apologetic.
Microsoft’s research report further reinforced my belief that millennials aren’t the only ones lacking attention. The following data revealed that while individuals aged between 18-34 do have the lowest sustained attention span, those aged 35 and above weren’t far behind.
So is it fair to claim that it is just millennials who are too ‘distracted’? From this research and a brief analysis of my own, I can conclude that I don’t think so. In a rapidly changing and evolving world increasingly populated by new technology and thus new forms of distraction Satya Nadella notes “the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.” Attention spans are consequently changing to keep up with the fast-paced society we live in, costing us more than we think.
- Bowles, K. & Turnbull, S.,, 2015, ‘Lecture 7: Paying Attention to Attention’, BCM240: Media Audience and Place, Lecture, 14 September 2015, University of Wollongong.
- Microsoft, 2015, ‘Attention Spans Research Report’, Consumer Insights Microsoft Canada,<https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/490916/mod_resource/content/1/microsoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf>
- Watson, L., 2015, ‘Humans Have Shorter Attention Span Than Goldfish, Thanks to Smartphones’, The Telegraph, May 15, Article, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11607315/Humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smartphones.html>