Perhaps Shorter Attention Spans Aren't Necessarily a Bad Thing

What if our shorter attention spans aren't a growing weakness but rather an emblem of a more advanced, discerning brain?

What's the Latest?


You can't swing a dead cat around the social sciences community without hitting someone going on and on about the decline of society's collective attention span. Some estimates state that the average human attention span has dropped 33% since 2000. Technology and the internet is certainly the main factor, but what's really happening here is a universal culture shift to accommodate our ubiquitous new tech toys. As far as taking a stand on the issue is concerned, social critics almost categorically bemoan the attention span shift.

The Pacific Standard's Noah Davis holds a different opinion:

"The world is faster, faster, faster these days. That’s the current reality, and it’s not going anywhere. Leaving a page that isn’t loading isn’t a character fault; it’s smart. You can get the information you were after elsewhere, and you can get it faster. If we really valued what we were made to wait for, well, we would wait."

What's the Big Idea?

Davis is referring to this Guardian article explaining how nearly 1/3 of internet users will abandon a slow-loading website. His argument is that our shorter attention spans actually allow us to draw the most value out of life. Perhaps, as Davis might suggest, the longer attention spans of the past belonged to a culture more content with having its time wasted. The decision to exit out of a slow-loading website is merely the result of an internal cost/benefit analysis. This is not to say only media delivered quickly possesses value. Davis point out that 90-second commercial advertisements can be extremely successful as long as they are well-crafted. People, even those with short attention spans, are willing to wait for a strong payoff.

Read more at Pacific Standard

Photo credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Saying no is hard. These communication tips make it easy.

You can say 'no' to things, and you should. Do it like this.

Videos
  • Give yourself permission to say "no" to things. Saying yes to everything is a fast way to burn out.
  • Learn to say no in a way that keeps the door of opportunity open: No should never be a one-word answer. Say "No, but I could do this instead," or, "No, but let me connect you to someone who can help."
  • If you really want to say yes but can't manage another commitment, try qualifiers like "yes, if," or "yes, after."
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less