‘Being online is like being a part of the greatest cocktail party ever and it is going on all the time. If you email, text, tweet, Facebook, Instagram or just follow internet links you have access to an ever-changing universe of social touch-points. It’s like you’re circulating within an infinite throng, with instant access to people you’d almost never meet in real life.’ – David Brooks
In a recent study this year Microsoft conducted several experiments that focused on individuals attention spans compared to today’s technology. The study found that back in 2000 the attention span was 12 seconds and that in 2015 had dropped to below 8 seconds, leading the human race to have an attention span lower than that of a goldfish at 9 seconds.
The online world is a fascinating place in which we all get consumed in whether that be social media or just simple searching the web. We are so accustomed to that behaviour that we cannot take our mind off our devices or the screen for a single second because we are afraid to miss something. Yet this activity may be the cause of why our attention spans are decreasing. In the report they judged an office worker on how many times an hour he would go to search their email the result was 30 times.
Authors Martin Thirkettle and Graham Pike recognised this behaviour and explained that, ‘our minds are adaptive systems, constantly reorganising and refocusing our mental faculties to suit the environment.’ This is targeting the online world rather than the real world because we are so distracted by more and more information flowing into the internet every second that we begin to jump from one article to another without remembering the last. In the report they judged the amount between flickering back and forth through pages that being on a page for 10 minutes was at 4% while people favoured viewing a page for 4 seconds at 17%.
However David Brooks believes that this targets the amount of freedom that we have over the internet to become an advantage. He stated, ‘Since they feel more in control of the communication, they are more communicative, vulnerable and carefree. This mode of interaction nurtures mental agility.’
‘But contrary to popular opinion, it shows attention spans have actually improved. For example, habitual video gamers have demonstrated better attentional abilities than non-players – and non-players who started playing video-games began to show the same improvements. Our cognitive abilities are constantly changing and even naturally vary across the day.’ – Authors Martin Thirkettle and Graham Pike
Martin and Graham conducted an experiment to prove their theory. A project in which they conducted at the Open University was by collecting data on a daily cycle. They did this by developing an app when used across the day the individual would participate in research and chart these natural changes in your own performance. Resulting in proving to better plan your day and finally understand if you actually are a morning or evening person.
David Brooks added another improvement to people’s attention spans through Susan Greenfield (Neuroscientist) that stated in her book about ‘Mind Change’ stated that experts in online gaming have a greater capacity for short-term memory. Due to the ability to process multiple objects simultaneously, to switch flexibly between tasks and quickly process a large amount of information.
‘By observing what happens, by following the linear path of a story, we can convert information into knowledge in a way that emphasising fast response and constant stimulation cannot. As I see it, the key issue is narrative.’ – Susan Greenfield (About Playing Games/Attention Span)
However as Martin and Graham pointed it out, everyone has forgotten the main reason of the Microsoft Study. The Study was targeted on advertisers and not the general public as it calls upon the companies to use, “more creative, and increasingly immersive ways to market themselves”.
‘Similarly, public spaces are increasingly full of adverts that can play sound and video to further capture our attention.’ – Martin and Graham
I tried to implement all these key focuses on the individual I choose which is my Boyfriend Cory Lagan. The experiment I choose to place him in front of the television screen for 5 minutes. Due to my boyfriend being also a gamer himself I wanted to put his abilities to the test by playing on his phone at the same time.
The result was that we dropped the gaming idea because as my boyfriend said, ‘It would be best to play a game and multitask with devices rather than use it with the television because they outdo one another so I can only focus on one.’ Once the show finished I counted the ads while texting him to make a distraction, he remembered 8 ads out of 10 but when I asked him what some of them were about he could not remember many but two.