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Stay Focused, If You Can!

Studies suggest that attention spans are dwindling thanks to our ‘always-on’ world

Would you cope if you couldn’t update the world on what you ate for breakfast, blurt out your thoughts in 140 characters, or laugh out loud at a funny feline? If not, then just try your best to get to the end of the page. After all, the ‘net generation’ that we belong to are suffering from reduced attention spans thanks to our love for this ‘always-on’ world.

On one hand, the internet is one of the most liberating pieces of technology ever created, giving access to free and unlimited information, and on the other hand it provides quick, cheap laughs that serve no real purpose other than to appease our perceived boredom. It seems the internet has become irreversibly entwined in our lives, and the instant access to anything we desire has come to define this generation. Some say that the teens and twenty-somethings of today will become adults with enhanced cognitive ability. Others, however, say that the internet, and the instant gratification it offers, is damaging our ability to focus and think deeply.

Experts in media psychology, concerned with how people perceive, respond to and interpret our media-focused world, have come to the conclusion that the internet, including social media, is hindering our ability to function and learn in the ‘real world’. That is, the world in which we look up from our phones and interact with people, places and situations that don’t have in-your-face, attention-grabbing one-liners.

These studies didn’t conclude that we don’t want to learn. The truth is on the contrary. Incentive to create solutions and answers for ourselves, however, is understandably small when we are a mere Google-search away from the entirety of human knowledge. Instant access is only part of the problem though – endless tweets and status updates reinforce the notion that information should be received in succinct titbits that are rapidly digestible.

Why does all of this matter? If the internet is here to stay, then surely there is no harm in taking the back seat and letting it do all the hard work. Unfortunately, The Pew Internet Study noted that a generation of shallow-thinkers will suffer from a lack of patience and have an expectation of instant gratification, which may eventually lead to a world where innovation struggles to maintain pace. For the demise of our society to be the result of our click-addiction would be a terrible shame.

Can we do anything to avoid this? The popular ‘social media detox’, which reportedly improves productivity, may work for some, but could be a false economy. A detox in this day and age serves to settle and reset our conscience, only for us to return to the activity once the detox is complete. Whether we make any effort or not to reduce our internet use, worryingly, experts predict that the internet is set to become more deeply embedded in our everyday lives. Can we ever claw back our attention spans? Why don’t we just put our phones down and find out.

Image: Davey Brett

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