Is the length of our attention span decreasing (and is it significant)?

Is the length of our attention span decreasing (and is it significant)?

Do you ever notice a change in our ability to focus? The most popular app, TikTok, consists of endless short videos. Even newspaper articles are becoming briefer and include estimated reading times.

The average duration of a shot in a film is now less than five seconds.

Nowadays, it is common for young people to multitask while completing tasks. Counselor Lauren Barnett and her daughters, Zoe and Sasha, can attest to this.

“Reviving Focus: A Revolutionary Approach to Achieving Equilibrium, Joy, and Efficiency” (Published by Hanover Square Press). The author asserts that there is empirical proof that attention spans are diminishing.

Mark explained that their study on attention span duration began more than two decades ago. They would follow individuals while timing their attention using a stopwatch. Whenever there was a shift in attention, they would click the stopwatch to stop the time. In 2003, they discovered that the average attention span on any screen was approximately two and a half minutes before people would switch to something else. However, in the past five to six years, this average has decreased to only 47 seconds.

How can one accomplish tasks when they are expected to write a report and then switch to another app just 47 seconds later? “It is very challenging,” she stated.


Research has shown that the typical amount of time a person can focus on a computer screen has decreased by approximately 30% in the past twenty years. CBS News

According to Mark, having a shorter attention span has three negative consequences. The first is that it results in more mistakes when switching between tasks. The second is that it takes longer to complete a task because we have to refocus each time we shift our attention. The third and potentially most severe downside is an increase in stress. When individuals are juggling multiple tasks and constantly shifting their attention, their blood pressure tends to rise.

You do not need to be an educator to speculate the reason for our increased tendency to become easily distracted. It is undoubtedly due to technology such as phones, social media, and texting. Sasha Barnett can vouch for this.

When she was requested to check her iPhone’s Screen Time preferences and see the number of times she unlocked her phone the previous day, she was surprised to discover that she had done it 236 times. She exclaimed, “That’s quite a number!”

Is that the end of it? Have we turned into overstimulated zombies? According to James Cutting, a retired psychology professor from Cornell University, there is no reason to lose hope. He believes that our attention spans have not changed significantly and there is no evidence to support the idea that they have.

I would like to mention that TSA baggage scanners operate in two-hour intervals, which can be quite demanding for such a short period of time. On the other hand, we have all witnessed teenagers playing video games for hours on end. It amazes me how they can maintain such a high level of focus for extended periods.

However, what about the trend of movie shots becoming shorter? We have evolved significantly from the slow pacing of “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968 to the more fast-paced “Top Gun: Maverick” released last year.

However, Cutting argues that this phenomenon is not due to shorter attention spans, but rather our increased familiarity with the language of film compared to previous generations. He suggests that we have become more adept at processing visual information over time, making it logical for filmmakers to use shorter shots without needing to linger on any one particular element.

According to Cutting, while TikTok videos are brief, movies are becoming increasingly longer. He notes that there are now a significant number of films that exceed three hours in length. Additionally, there is a rise in the popularity of extended television series, some spanning up to eight or twelve episodes.

Hanover Square Press

According to Lauren Barnett, technology is an integral part of our lives and it is here to stay. It is ingrained in every aspect of our lives – from work to education to social interactions. The only way to escape its influence is to completely disconnect and isolate oneself from society for an extended period of time.

According to Professor Gloria Mark, she does not support discarding technology. Instead, she believes we should learn to coexist with it.

Therefore, she provided a few suggestions for maintaining concentration:

  • Initially, when you have the urge to switch tasks, examine the reason behind it. If it is simply due to being bored or avoiding work, make a compromise with yourself to continue working for another 20 minutes and then reward yourself.

  • Imagine yourself at the end of the day. What do you hope to achieve? What emotions do you want to experience? According to her, envisioning yourself relaxing on the couch and watching your favorite show can serve as strong motivation.

Pogue shared with the Barnetts that his grandfather passed away before reaching his 107th birthday. His grandfather had mentioned that his parents used to warn him about the potential negative effects of listening to the new radio. Similarly, Pogue’s generation was warned about watching too much TV, while the current generation is cautioned about spending too much time on social media. This pattern of older generations believing that technology is ruining the younger ones leads Pogue to question whether it is truly worse or just a different form of influence.

Barnett stated that the outcome depends on whether productivity or well-being is being taken into account. These are two distinct factors and while productivity may remain the same, there is no doubt that well-being is affected by increased productivity. This presents a dilemma.

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This story was written by Gabriel Falcon. The editors were Joseph Frandino and Chad Cardin.

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