Forget Attention Deficit Disorder, Has The Internet Created Attention Surplus Order?

from the doubtful dept

It's become fairly common accepted wisdom that we're living in a world where attention deficit disorder, short attention spans and quick hits rule the day -- often (they say) due to technology. There are those, of course, who claim this is a good thing; that it helps many people learn to break up activities into tiny discreet segments, allowing them to better multitask. However, there are also those who take the contrarian point of view. Digg points us to a blog post by Seamus McCauley, echoing some of Steven Johnson's reasoning in his book Everything Bad is Good for You that the internet has actually lengthened our attention span. McCauley's piece is actually in response to Tim O'Reilly discussing how there's now a premium on short-form content and Nick Carr whining about how this devalues the long form. McCauley's point, though, is that this doesn't seem to be true at all. Before the internet, he notes, TV series were all episodic. Each episode could mostly stand on its own, and if you missed an episode here or there, you'd be okay. However many of today's most popular TV series, from Lost to 24 have an involved story arc, where it's tougher to pick things up in the middle, or to miss an episode. However, it's thanks to the internet that people often don't have to miss an episode (though, to be fair, DVRs probably can take an even bigger chunk of the credit). People can pick up what they missed by a download using bittorrent, or by watching the clips on YouTube, or pick up story summaries from various blogs or discussion groups. The real issue isn't that the long form has been devalued (it hasn't), but that if you're going to use the long form, you need to have a good short form hook to get people interested, and then feel free to let all that short form media continually promote the long form.
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  1. identicon
    Muse, 25 Jan 2007 @ 3:56pm

    Looking at this ALL WRONG

    Folks, it's not that internet is making our attention spans go one way or the other as a whole: What's happening is that the internet allows people to assimulate information either in greater depth or in more brevity depending on their tendancies. Those who "glance" are able to do it faster and those who "immerse" are doing staying longer and absorbing more information (making the highlight-right-click "search" feature in firefox my FAVORITE feature!)

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