In classrooms and homes all across the nation, teachers and parents are sometimes left wondering what happened to their children’s attention spans. We often hear older generations commenting disparagingly about the way younger people always seem to be hard to entertain. Some just call this phenomenon being “spoiled,” but is it just the children that are losing their patience?
One of the chief factors in the change of attention span and reading habits that we are seeing is being attributed to the internet. Specifically, the internet is being targeted because it encourages “skim reading” instead of the more old fashioned “in-depth” kind of study that our civilization is known for. According to this article, writer Nicholas Carr believes that Google, or rather the way we use Google, has altered our thinking habits. The author remarks that most of today’s internet usage habits promote disorganized and “scattered” thinking.
Though some may be skeptical of this, it is a very valid point. With every single keyword, Google brings up a massive amount of information. Our minds have learned to process this information and prioritize it by discounting what seems to be less important. This is where the skim reading comes in. For previous generations to face this kind of an information overload, they would have either had to have been in a library or listening to a lecturer on a university campus. However, now all we have to do is sit down at a computer and enter a term into a search box. This access to so much knowledge is very useful, but may become a detriment if not used properly.
Visual vs. Text
Another interesting aspect of our shrinking attention spans is the current trend toward visual “reading” instead of using the traditional text. According to this article, the BBC has said that the current nature of internet browsing has reduced our attention span capacity to about 9 seconds, roughly that of a goldfish. The fact that something as seemingly harmless as internet browsing could have such a big effect on the mind is somewhat surprising. However, the link has been researched and is well documented.
This article explains that this generation that has grown up with YouTube, Twitter, and other social networking tools has become used to being constantly connected. However, as the aforementioned article points out, the shortened attention span is not just a result of digital advances. The article states that the publisher of USA Today has trouble getting readers to comprehend anything that doesn’t include plenty of visual stimulus, where in years past, information in text form was a selling point and the main source of information for the reader.
According to the article by Josh Catone, there is also a physiological explanation for the shortened attention spans that we are seeing. Researchers have found that there is an area of the brain stem that is specifically meant to sort out which information is relevant and what the brain labels “junk mail,” so to speak. If the brain is constantly bombarded with new stimuli (which is often with the current setup of the internet), it will compensate by skimming through information much more than it did with printed material such as a book.
Many would agree that the ease of access to vast amounts of information the internet provides is a big step forward. The fault lies not with the internet, but in the way that the internet is being used much of the time. To balance out internet usage, it is important to read a book, take a walk, or do something else that allows the mind a rest from constant stimuli.