Before you log onto Facebook or Twitter, scroll through your Instagram feed or open that Snapchat, try to harness all of your attention in reading this blog post. It seems simple enough, but in practice, such focus may be actually harder to achieve than you might think. Though the eroding affects on attention may be aroused by many factors, in today’s technological era, the use of social networks and mobile devices seems to take the bigger slice of the cake. A report conducted by Microsoft Canada depicts that the average human attention span has fallen drastically from 12 seconds in the year 2000, to 8 seconds only a mere three years later in 2013. The phrase “you have the memory of a goldfish” can now be seen as a compliment, as the simple creature has now a one second advantage over us.
How does social networking usage correlate with a tendency to multitask? The ways in which past research has been directed, a negative stigmatisation of social networking sites on our attention spans (especially those of younger generations) has been conveyed to audiences. Social media these days converge elements that occur simultaneously throughout their use; newsfeeds lives chats, personal pages, notifications, the list goes on! We now operate differently in a digital environment, stimulated by various components that follow through in how we now function in physical space. It is important to handle this topic with an open mind and consider the potential in the new way we consume media and focus on what’s around us.
The study, by technology giant Microsoft, did however find that the ability of humans to multitask has improved:
“While digital lifestyles decrease sustained attention overall, it’s only true in the long-term. Early adopters and heavy social media users front load their attention and have more intermittent bursts of high attention… They’re better at identifying what they want/don’t want to engage with and need less to process and commit things to memory.”
The term ‘media multitasking’ can be recognised, This is “a person’s consumption of more than one item or stream of content at the same time” (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner 2009, p. 3). Today, this concept is prevalent due to the advancements in technology giving us the ability to contribute to the public sphere with the touch of a button. We are now in a constant cycle of a ‘Presence Bleed’, which is defined by our occupation of multiple places at one, we are ever present in physical environments but our existence also bleeds in intangible ones. I decided to highlight the ways in which we participate in this, the notion of accessibility to numerous spaces and conducted a short experiment that included a subject. This task aimed to document the amount of times in which the participant engaged in two or more forms of media consumption or distraction, which would therefore alters the attentive interaction with the intended medium that I chose to showcase. I recorded this short video of the interaction between multiple technologies and my responder’s attention span (who had no knowledge of the experiment being conducted), I put on an 8 minute VICE documentary and these were the results.
[The party involved agreed and gave her consent to to be depicted on my blog site and apart of my research]
Throughout the short experiment the participant subjected herself to her mobile device numerous times, displaying an affected attention span and the ability of multitasking in the media space. Social networking and technology have a clear impact on how attentive we are in terms of consuming and using mediums, on one side it can be seen as detrimental to our minds and on the other side it encourages different modes of usage. These technological models raise and challenge many important questions about the age and generation one or many are brought up in, and will instigate ways to change or adapt to the relationship between humans and diverse forms of media.
- Ophir, E. Nass, C., & Wagner, A. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(37)