Monday, January 28, 2013

Will your attention span allow you to finish reading this?

Since last class, I have really been thinking about how we are a visual based generation. Almost everything we do is through visuals, such as social media, television, everything on the internet, and even speeches/presentations. There always seem to be pictures or videos involved. One of the first programs I learned how to use was power point which incorporated text with pictures and videos. I was taught visuals were necessary in order to give an effective presentation, because you are incorporating more than one sense-auditory and visual senses. The more senses you could connect to your presentation, the better your audience would remember it. However, is your audience really remembering anything at all since it is all written down and spelled out for them perfectly? I somewhat feel that if the auditory sense was the only target, the audience would work harder to process what was being addressed. Since we have been so spoiled by unlimited graphics and visuals, our attention spans have suffered greatly. I also think our imaginations have suffered, because the pictures are already laid out for us.

According to Neil Postman, as technology increases, our attention span decreases. In chapter 4 of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman talks about how in 1858, Lincoln and Douglas had debates lasting up to 7 hours (45). Audiences would simply sit, listen, and encourage the speakers for hours on end. I can barely sit through a 75 minute lecture without wanting to get on my phone, tablet, or computer. Postman even addresses the question of, "Is there any audience of Americans today who could endure seven hours of talk?" (45). I am going to go ahead and say probably not.

This also raises the question of are we less capable of breaking down complicated sentences? Do we need visual aids in order to understand concepts effectively? And since so much emphasis was placed on speaking then with it being the primary discourse, are our political speakers less eloquent now? It seems majority of our political leaders read speeches that were written for them from a teleprompter and often get flustered during debates (possibly because they have to come up with their thoughts on their own). Does attention span reflect intelligence or rather our preferred form of discourse?


  1. It might be true that our society is leaning to feast with their eyes rather then their minds. I believe that with the abundant amount of visual advertisements we have been bombarded with time after time, it's hard for advertisers to even get our attention. I think somebody told me once if something doesn't capture our attention at first glance, we disregard it. So, if something is a block of text (as you've presented) would I want to look at that, or read the cartoon comic you've posted at the end first?

    PS: I love Calvin and Hobbes!

  2. Perhaps I'm just not noticing it, but I certainly don't think that I've ever had much of a problem with a short attention span, especially not due to "media saturation." If anyone really had trouble taking two minutes to read the text you posted above, I'd suggest that they probably need an adderall prescription. I don't think that bite-sized pieces of information are what cause the so called problem of attention deficiency. As long as I'm interested in something, it can hold my attention for hours. I think it's natural for people to not pay attention to something that doesn't interest them very much.

  3. I definitely agree that we as a culture are taught that to get an effective message across the use of visuals is necessary. The idea of reading a long, intricate document full of only text can be daunting now. People’s eyes are drawn to visuals, but that may mean they aren’t reading the nearby text, or even remembering the image.

    I think that with television and internet sources we often find it more difficult to focus because we want the quickness of getting information or entertainment from multiple sources all at once. Although, I don’t know if that is really such a bad thing. We are finding answers to our questions and actually reading a lot more than other generations who didn’t have all the technologies to distract and vie for our attention like we do.

    I think that it is difficult for people on television (whether politicians or reporters) to get their point across with wordy, eloquent prose. I don’t think it’s so much an issue of no one understanding, but more an issue of time constraint and wanting the audience to see something and easily remember what was said – no complications or misunderstandings.

    I think that the vast span of technological advances have not left us with a lack of intelligence, but rather a fast-paced, want the information quick type of society. Which brings us into an age that defines public discourse in a new way – debating, commenting, socializing and interacting online instead of face to face situations. Our attention spans may have us going from media to media, but we are still actively involved in public discourse.

  4. I also love Calvin and Hobbes! So of course I wanted to read the comic first! But I read the blog comment first. I think that as a culture we are drawn to visuals, images, and videos. I find that these days I do have trouble sitting down and reading long texts when in high school and middle school I had no problem doing it. The correlation I find between this: high school I didn't own a laptop. College, I love my laptop. So yes, I do think that as technology increases our attention span does decrease.

  5. I agree with John's comment above. While our visual-heavy world may certainly have some effects on us, I do not think they are as drastic as some would believe. As John stated, "As long as I'm interested in something, it can hold my attention for hours." I too am quicker to dismiss things I find uninteresting, whether the be visually based or otherwise. Still, I admittedly found myself drawn to that Calvin and Hobbes comic strip immediately, but I'm not sure if that's because I really like Calvin and Hobbes or because I'm a visual junky.

  6. We have evolved to be a visual species. From rodent-like Plesiadapiforms to our direct ancestors such as the Australopithecines and to us, through selective pressures over the millennia, our eyes have grown closer together and our eyesight has grown keener, allowing for rich stereoscopic vision. Originally, this was super useful for climbing through trees, selecting the ripest fruits, and catching tasty bugs to eat.

    Now we wish to stimulate one of our most advanced senses, and maybe it's a natural desire. Of course I'm not saying that visual stimulation doesn't come without a cost (16 and Pregnant and The Jersey Shore come to mind), but for many, visual cues can allow for better absorption of complicated information.

  7. I agree that if speeches were entirely without visual aids then the audience would have to work harder to process what was being addressed. It’s almost like visual aids have made us a little bit lazier when we are thinking about things, but I’m not sure that an audience would work harder without visual aids because they might just zone out altogether.

    As for if we are less capable of breaking down complex sentences now then people were a couple hundred years ago, I think the answer is yes. We don’t normally speak in complex sentences so we are less capable of understanding when it is spoken. We are, however, more used to breaking down complex sentences when they are written because people write differently than they speak and we are used to reading works from long ago that might have used more complex sentences. I also don’t think we need visual aids to understand concepts, but it definitely helps.

  8. 7 hours? forget it. I have television shows to watch that could better suit my time.
    Actually, my schedule for Tuesday and Thursday classes are from 9:30-4:45. No lunch break. Simple 15 minute breaks to get to class. However, by 2 o'clock, I don't hear the speaker talk. I phase out from sheer exhaustion of listening for so long. But I don't do this for enjoyment. I do this for school work.
    In Lincoln's day, that was a true way of entertainment. It was performed in such a way to indulge the audience with not only ideas but emotions. Today, we have television and internet to entertain us, so we better suit our time to that.

  9. I believe our attention span has decreased greatly. Back then- people didn't have the privileges we have today and in a way 7 hours of speeches/debates may be like 7 hours of media usage for us. I think it has led to the general public to become easily agitated and also to not rely on our own sense of imagination and intuition. I believe as time goes on something may happen to bring people to the conclusion that we can only rely on technology so much. But until then bring on the media...I guess.