May 8, 2009
Does The Internet Affect Your Attention Span?
There is an article by John Keilman on the Chicago Tribune web site that poses the question whether technology has stunted our ability to consume long form literature. And it is written by someone who is proud to have consumed a lot of novels in the past, but can't seem to do it easily post Internet. The noted change affects the ability to focus for reading and media consumption. I have the same problem, but my need for distraction in reading long pieces came some 30 years ago when I was in law school. Reading several hundred pages of cases per week, most of them not particularly interesting, made it hard to crack something longer than an edited case from a casebook. Technology revamped communication and now we have the Internet which feeds us news, entertainment, and other short form media spaced out with ads an all, just like 22 minute episodes in neat television-sized half hours. I am eternally grateful to the creation of the DVD remote control which allows me to skip scenes in a movie. Watching The Longest Day which clocks in at 2 hours and 58 minutes becomes the longest 45 minutes. I don't think I've ever seen the second half of Cleopatra, or even most of the last Star Wars movie (the one where Annakin turns into Vader). On the other hand, I love the Robot Chicken parody of Star Wars because the sketches are funny and last between 30 seconds and 3 minutes at most.
People react differently, of course, to consuming shorter and smaller bits of knowledge. I can't generalize on how cognitive abilities change in response to the shrinking media form various articles suggest (See, for example, Is Google Making Us Stupid, from the Atlantic, online here). PowerPoint compartmentalizes thought, and now we become used to lectures as taught from detailed professional outlines. Language shrinks in email with BTW, LOL, and other anagrams. Cell phones make text messages short by necessity, and Twitter artificially limits everything to 140 characters. Is it any wonder, then, that patience isn't there for something that takes 500 plus pages to consume? Is this necessarily a bad thing or simply the way it is today?
I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who may want to comment on whether their experience with the Internet and media in general has changed their ability over time to handle longer narrative in various forms. And for the sake of my attention span, please make it short. [MG]
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"Language shrinks in email with BTW, LOL, and other anagrams."
Your vocabulary seems to have been affected, as well. These aren't examples of anagrams. They are not even acronymns, which appears to be what you are trying to say. They are initialisms.
Posted by: Kevin | May 11, 2009 6:25:43 AM
People resort to internet for quick information. Sites post information which can easily be understood by the users. Information usually comes in brief and summarized way. Frequent internet users could get to used to this format that they tend to avoid reading longer versions like books, newspapers, etc.
Posted by: Legal Aid | May 8, 2009 8:08:00 PM
The internet does not affect my attention span. (I can pay attention to and read on the internet all day). What has changed is my expectation of data presentation. If I see a 50 page case, I know that I can really on Westlaw or Lexis to brief that case for me. If I come across a 35 page bill being presented to the legislature, I look for the blog that explains it in a paragraph. And when briefing others on that lengthy case or bill. . . I'm asked for the "Tweet" version. Huh? 140 words or less is all that I expect people to pay attention to anymore. (Sorry I went over my allotted word count...but then you aren't reading this anymore anyway, are you).
Posted by: Mike | May 8, 2009 2:28:11 PM