Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Do You Ken Me Now?

May I have your attention.

Seriously. Getting and keeping another person’s attention is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Statistics show average attention span today is only eight seconds, a decline from 12 seconds in 2000. Eight seconds for a human is actually less than the attention span of a goldfish (nine seconds).

Of course, a goldfish has much less to engage its attention than a human. Still…

Some authorities are more generous with the figures, contending average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to five. Minutes, not seconds. In either case, it’s not much as time goes.

Scientists have pointed the finger of blame at television and other technological distractions of our age. Look around you and note the focus of your peers on their smart phones and other devices providing a pathway to the Internet and all its distractions—aural, visual and tactile. Few of us are oblivious to these wonderful yet detrimental aspects of our society.

Fewer people are reading today and reading scores are on a steady decline. We’ve all heard too many of those who do read complaining of books being too long, too complicated or lacking in enough action. Where’s the challenge if everything is easy?

Some may want to pooh-pooh the idea, citing the awesome benefits offered by this access to so much information. The problem is, how much can an ordinary person digest without sacrificing concentration and the ability to absorb knowledge?

Our ancestors didn’t have the distractions of constantly ringing phones, blaring radios, TVs with streaming “news” everywhere you go, not to mention alarm clocks that wake one up with music, appliances and power tools adding to the din, and motor vehicles of all types rocketing around the neighborhood.

I’m not being a Luddite and advocating throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But wouldn’t it be nice every once in a while to shut off the technology and look—really look—at the person next to you and give him or her more than eight seconds of your time?

Seriously?


32 comments:

  1. I believe you are 100% correct. I have to actively schedule my quiet time for meditation, prayer, silence or whatever. You are right to include the last sentence about looking at the person next to you. Relationships are life's real treasures and looking and listening are the only way to encouraged them. Great post!

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  2. Personally, John, if I had my way, I'd throw all the cell phones in the ocean. Okay, maybe not the ocean because I wouldn't want to contaminate it! They say this is the Age of Increased Communication and I say, well, I won't use words like that on your blog. My opinion? People are communicating less effectively than ever. In my last job, I watched the "kids" in the break room. They were sitting at the same table but not talking to each other; they were using their cell phones to talk to other people and/or to text. It's so important these days to be "hooked up" all the time. Where's the time to read, relax and rejuvenate when you're constantly at the mercy of a ringing phone?

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    1. Right, Pat. My 11-year-old grandson just got a phone for his birthday. I asked who he planned on calling and he said he could now text his brother. And, of course, they're in the same house!

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  3. Is it possible to be too connected? I don't tweet - I think that's overdoing it - and have reduced my use of Facebook. Social media can definitely mire you down. But - I do like my cell phone and I text to several friends. It's handy. And at my age I need continual access to 911.

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    1. I don't have a problem with being connected, Dac. I do have a problem with not being in touch.

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  4. Fine post, John. We're living in an era dominated by multi-taskers, who in simpler, quieter times would have been labeled scatterbrains.

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    1. Scatterbrains. Yes. A fitting term, then and now. Thanks, John.

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  5. This is very interesting and is something that has drawn my attention recently, too. Sometimes I think we are getting way too techno-happy and need to start quieting our minds to some degree. I live in the Colorado mountains where it used to be super quiet 30 years ago, but such is not the case today.

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    1. I've enjoyed those Colorado mountains, Jackie. Sad to hear they've been invaded by unwelcome sounds.

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  6. Good post, definitely food for thought.

    Marilyn

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  7. Stepping away from technology is tough. But, when I get the chance to, I feel recharged and fresh. Interesting thoughts here.

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    1. Thanks, Chris. I'm reading Gray Ghost now.

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  8. I completely agree, but I don't know the answer. I'm as guilty as anyone of multi-tasking. I've always done it. I used to listed to music while doing homework. It made my mother crazy, but I always got top grades, so she didn't have much to say about it. I still sometimes edit with the TV on in the background, stopping occasionally when something of interest grabs me. Nevertheless, I have limited some of the attention wasters like tweeting too much. however, Facebook is an obsession, and I have to force myself to stop following it in order to get some actual work done.

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    1. Should be 'listen' not 'listed.' I never did learn to type!

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  9. We are a sound bite world. Anything we need to know is at our fingerprints with a 3 second Google search. Research papers that took me weeks to accomplish in college can be written by my kids, 12 and 14 years old, in 2 days because of this instant access to info.

    My husband calls me from the next room to ask me a question, my children text me from upstairs to see if dinner is ready or to ask permission to download a $.99 iTunes song.

    I have this love-hate relationship with technology. I hate that it somewhat limits my face time with the world, but it also makes life extremely convenient.

    It isn't much, but we've added a family hurricane night to our schedule, once a week sitting at the kitchen table, lights out, only candles or flashlights, and we play a board game. It isn't like giving up technology for a month, but it does allow us face to face time for a few hours once a week.

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    1. That sounds like a good idea, Holli. When my kids were young I used to insist on reading to them after dinner one night a week. They weren't always thrilled about it, but I think they've forgiven me now.

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  10. I hate to mention this because nobody else ever mentions it, but . . . I remember having to develop my powers of concentration. As a lonely only child in the 1960s (when playing meant "go outside" or do imaginary games with stuffed animals, Barbies, and the like, because there were no other children around), I used to wish for companionship. But because there wasn't any (the adults said, "We're busy! Go play!"), I would read, color, play boardgames that could work with you playing both sides, etc. I remember when I was around four or five that I got "bored" with things easily after a few minutes, but there was NOTHING else to do (I disliked television then as now, and the family at that time didn't use it except in the evenings), so I decided to MAKE myself do things just a little longer. My dad may have suggested this. (He was a college professor. "Suggested" may be too weak a term.) I was amazed to find that if I increased the time I spent doing whatever it was that I was about to go crazy doing, my attention span for that project--be it Spirograph, tinkertoys, coloring, whatever--would gradually increase and I could enjoy doing it longer. This was beneficial because there was no one to play with and nothing else to do other than make my own fun and structure my own time. Mind you, I could READ for hours on end, but my eyes got tired. Physically. They would water. Same for drawing and coloring (at which I had and have little talent). These other activities became things I could go into the "flow" state with by the time I entered school. There you have it--the beginnings of me as a misfit!

    But people today should develop their powers of concentration the way I did. It will reward them richly within a few weeks. No, REALLY. I promise.

    But "Short Attention Span Theater" was the most popular short subject back when I was in college. People bragged that it took a lot to entertain them. Why people would brag about being distractible and not giving deep thought or effort to anything, I don't know, but they still do!

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    1. Wasn't he clever? He got frustrated with me after I turned out not to be a chess prodigy--I learned to play, but it never interested me and I would just make whatever move occurred to me. It drove him crazy because he wanted to show me off to his professor friends. Fortunately, they heard me play piano and tell stories, so it wasn't a total embarrassment (GRIN). Seriously, though, I wish teachers or someone would suggest this to children, as it really helped me. If they don't KNOW that they can increase their attention spans and that it will help them, then . . . we are all sorta doomed.

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  11. You make some valid points, John. I notice my own attention span is lacking a lot more than it used to and I truly believe that technology is to blame. However, I can't deny the benefits either.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer. There has to be balance.

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  12. This is why we took our 4 kids camping every year, repeatedly. No tech-toys were allowed until they got to be teenagers, and even then they had to have earbuds so we didn't have to hear it. We'd camp on the "quiet" loops, so there'd be no one's music to annoy us. So even now, when they come home for a visit or from college, the first thing we all do is turn everything off and have a good long chat. We yak about anything and everything. The art of conversation is on life-support. We all need to do all we can to keep it alive!

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    1. So true, Fiona. People are forgetting how to talk to one another.

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  13. Okay, I stopped what I was doing and looked at he person next to me. It was very disturbing. Next time I'll try that at home, not out in public. Luckily they didn't see me, as they were texting at the time.

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    1. I thoroughly agree. When I 'read' the morning newspaper, I usually read the first paragraph and the last. That gives me all I want to know about the subject. I would rather speak with a person face to face or on the phone than send an e-mail or a text. I guess I'm old school. But don't take my land line away from me.

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  14. I will happily admit that I love my technology and social medias. As a stay at home mom, it's my only window to the outside world. I enjoy my computer, phone, Netflix and the PS3 as much as the next person.
    The difference is, I know how to shut them all off and go play a board game with the kids or sit down and read a very long book. I actually prefer real books to ebooks, something about the smell of the pages and the feel of it in your hand brings back fond memories of childhood when I read by myself on lonely days. I limit my children's time on any electronic device and literally push them outdoors to get fresh air and play.

    As far as attention spans go, I must agree with Shalanna that you have to teach yourself to sit and concentrate for that long. I have a problem with adult ADD that makes it very difficult to sit for long periods, even just to watch a movie. And I'm not a big believer in medication solving all your problems. So I train myself to sit for a certain period of time with each task. It is difficult for sure, but the end result is getting something done and moving on to something new as opposed to having fifty things half done.

    I don't blame the technology itself for our current attention span problems. We have to turn that finger around and blame ourselves for becoming so dependent on our little toys for any means of communication. How we deal with changing technologies varies by the individual but I agree that we need to take a step back sometimes and really look at how we communicate with the people in our lives. I know I'd be a lot happier if I actually saw my friends more instead of just following their Facebook feed. And isn't that the way it should be?

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  15. I'll make this short. Loved the article, but confess I only scanned it. Yesterday I gave up on a novel from the library because it had too many commas in it. My brain was screaming, "Stop! We have better things to do."

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  16. This is a great topic, John. I get weary of all the social media but feel locked into it because of my writing and teaching. I won't text -- I hate the r u ok? messages, maybe because I also teach grammar -- and I have to remind my adult writing students not to pick up their devices in my classrooms, as if they were teenagers or younger. Crazy. Thanks for addressing the subject.

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