The Flight of the Attention Span

A friend of mine was lamenting on facebook that people’s attention spans are decreasing (scientifically proven with tests and stuff) and I have no reason to believe it’s not true.  My own attention span is shit but I can’t entirely blame the internet for that.

I have always been an impatient, short attention span person.  A book has to grab me in the first chapter or two or I’ll never finish it.  When I’m flipping through the channels on TV, a program has about 5 or 10 seconds to hook me in.  Even when I go to my poetry readings, which I love, if the poet doesn’t grab me within the first 30 seconds or so, I’m daydreaming through the rest of their set.

Anyway, in response to his worries, I wrote this little poem:

Our attention spans are fading as our fingertips get faster
we see a little bouncing dot and instantly we blast ‘er
mind or fingers, mind or fingers, which will be the master
our intracorporeal civil war is bound to be a disaster
(there’s so much information coming, our brains are out of kilter
to slow the surge of sludge we need to find a finer filter)

Admittedly, that’s trivializing what is a very serious matter.  People who can’t pay  attention to one thing for more than 10 seconds at a time are a threat to civilization because, both as consumers and as voters, they are so easily manipulated, and have so little idea what’s really going on in the world.

What’s the solution?  Read more, I suppose, but that’s an individual choice, and this problem is as world wide as the world wide web.

I see two ways it could break in the future.  Perhaps we will separate into two separate species, like the Morlocks and the Eloi.

Or, perhaps, our computer abilities will take the place of a healthy attention span.  You don’t need to really understand the American Revolution, or the life cycle of a bee, or the difference between a turtle and a tortoise: you just need to know how to look up the information quickly.

That’s kind of a depressing scenario, but it’s better than the one with the Morlocks and Elois.

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