The Attention-Span Myth

The Attention-Span Myth

Maybe my own brain is faltering in a Web wasteland, but I don’t get it. Whether the Web is making us smarter or dumber, isn’t there something just unconvincing about the idea that an occult “span” in the brain makes certain cultural objects more compelling than others? So a kid loves the drums but can hardly get through a chapter of “The Sun Also Rises”; and another aces algebra tests but can’t even understand how Call of Duty is played. The actions of these children may dismay or please adults, but anyone who has ever been bored by one practice and absorbed by another can explain the kids’ choices more persuasively than does the dominant model, which ignores the content of activities in favor of a wonky span thought vaguely to be in the brain.


On with my distractions.

Texting as sonar

Japanese Teenagers Teach Us Something About Being In Two Places At Once

Consider a fascinating study of the text messaging behavior of Tokyo teenagers that was conducted as part of a much larger investigation of “digital youth” by Mimi Ito, the late Peter Lyman and their colleagues. The kids text back and forth all day. What are they writing? What is so pressing that it can’t wait till they see each other?

Anthropologists looking at the matter were surprised to discover that the kids rarely send informative or detailed messages. As a general rule, they are not telling each other anything. Rather, they are just letting each other know that they are “there,” that they are online, in reach. Texting for the kids is a way of “pinging” each other. They bounce pings back and forth and so signal their presence for each other.

Perhaps it would be better to say that the kids are not so much signaling their presence as they are literally making themselves present to each other by establishing and then continuously verifying the existence of a communication channel. And there is need for this as well, it turns out.

I see this. Pinging or poking is useful and I’m finding myself doing it myself when I don’t want to call but want to let someone know where I am. Of course, the image of Japanese (or any) young people with their faces buried in their phones walking down the street or on the train is disturbing but in fact, I predict this trend will settle out as both the technology changes and we become more adept at integrating it into a more balanced social life (whatever that is).

Group Texting Grows Up

I have to say, my wife, who hates talking on the phone has been texting non-stop since getting my old iPhone. She even pulled me into it and I’ve been chatting for years. It is useful and no doubt less intrusive than a phone call at times.

OnPoint had a show on texting the other day. It’s worth listening to and commenting on: Texting Trends & Human Contact.

Tip: turn sound off on your phone, vibrate on, and then you can more easily ignore incoming stuff and deal with it in your own sweet time.