I’ve noticed something about myself lately and to tell you the truth, it’s a little disconcerting. I think I’m losing my ability to concentrate, to focus. My attention span is diminishing.
Long have we mocked the humble goldfish for its memory and attention span shortcomings, but seems we are well and truly catching up to our golden friends.
The only consolation for me is that it would appear I am not Robinson Crusoe when it comes to this matter. Could it be that diminished capacity to concentrate is a worldwide phenomenon? A 2015 study (with over 2000 participants) by Microsoft Corp in Canada indicated that our average attention span had dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. 8 seconds! Remember our ill-fated friends, the goldfish? Well they have an attention span of 9 seconds. They’ve got us trumped on the attention stakes!
It’s little wonder, with the amount of stimulation we are presented with in this day and age, at every waking moment, that some of us may have difficulty focusing for any length of time. I am guilty of multi-screening on a regular basis. And also of reaching for my phone at the drop of a hat; waiting for a coffee order for example. God forbid I spend three minutes of my precious time doing…. nothing!
But it’s not just screens. This stimulus is everywhere! Billboards, radios, bumper stickers, catalogues, movies, Netflix (what sort of commoner WAITS for a tv show to air, once a week? Ain’t nobody got time for that!)… the list is endless.
I should make it clear at this point that I have zero scientific evidence to prove that this en masse decline in attention is actually happening. I’ve not read any scholarly research papers nor have I conducted any studies of my own. My writing about this is based purely on my own experience and reflections (with the exception of finding the reference to the Microsoft Corp study). But if there is any truth in the matter, then I am asking myself two questions:
1. What are the implications for me, living my life, now in 2018?
2. How can I reduce the ‘noise’ and find more time for quiet mindfulness in my day?
My reality is that, as a major part of my work, I am creating content that contributes to the distraction or “noise” of our world. I am constantly trying to make content that is more and more attention grabbing, that might be glimpsed as people scroll through their social media feeds at a rate of knots. The irony is, that this very blog contributes to that noise.
I am permanently within reach of my phone. If I forget it, I feel as though I have had a limb removed.
I am very much a part of my own problem.
But what about for other professionals? Teachers with students in their classes who are used to being constantly ‘entertained’, transport drivers who spend hours on end on our roads, doctors and police who have to make life or death decisions, sometimes on the spur of the moment. Our ability to focus and react is a crucial part of our every day lives.
And of course there is the impact on relationships and our own well-being, but that’s a blog for someone with a whole lot more qualifications than I will ever have!
As for turning off the noise, reducing the distractions, shutting down the stimulation… I am going to try to practice more mindfulness. Meditation and art practice are a good place to start (for those of you who’ve never tried it, give colouring-in a go). There are so many little things we can do that might help us find some still. Go for a walk (leave the phone at home), turn off the TV, become more aware of your screen time, have a snooze, treat yourself to some pampering.
Of course, this could all just be some crazy imagining in my own crazy head. But I don’t think so. Have you noticed a decline in attention span? In yourself or in others around you? What do you do to shut out the noise? I think it’s time we did something about it, before we all become a population of human goldfish.