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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: Modern world, short attention spans?
I've seen a lot of articles over the last twelve months decrying what is allegedly the ruinous effect on our minds caused by so many new, competing sources of information. 

Ars Technica recently brought it up again, and as always the concept is fascinating.  Coined by Linda Stone in 1997, the term 'continuous partial attention' defines the way we no longer focus on one thing, but juggle many things without significant depth.  Each thing receives our attention either as a background process, or for brief moments as we flit back and forth.

I've noticed this in myself: I watch TV, read webpages, play casual games or construct mad devices, often several of these at the same time. 

What I think, though, is that this isn't a bad thing.  I can only speak for my own experience, but what I've found isn't a particularly insurmountable decrease in my ability to concentrate so much as an increased demand for quality content.  The reason I keep pausing the movie to check my mail is 'cause the movie isn't keeping me entirely entertained.  The reason I don't slog through two hundred pages of a book before getting to the good part is not because I'm distracted by the TV, it's because the book isn't keeping me interested.

We should not be upset that the old ways of slowly building a climax are being unappreciated, we should be looking for new ways to build content that is immediately engaging and holds the reader's interest.

Put another way, we used to be willing to read dull books and hope they'd get better.  We'd watch shitty movies 'cause there wasn't any other pressing use for our time.  Games that kinda sucked would get played 'cause we didn't have four hundred other choices a mouse-click away.

Now we have choices, and fuck you, you stodgy old men, we're gonna flit back and forth between your creation and these other shiny baubles until you get to the point.  Yeah, your job just got harder, but that's not because we're flighty little butterflies with no attention spans.  It's because you've got competition, and lots of it.

Gotta go now, the phone's ringing, I'm wining an internet argument, and this game of Tower Defense ain't playing itself.
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