Thursday, August 20, 2009

The internet's effect on attention spans

There are many arguments about how destructive and corrosive the internet can be. Many people complain about the porn, cyber-bullying, the scams, the viruses and spyware among other things. But to blame the net itself for these things is wrong, I think; a case of shooting the messenger. Sure, the internet makes their transmission so much easier and quicker. But they are separate phenomena.

There is one big negative that I think we can attribute to the workings of the net, however. That's the shortening of attention spans.

I can only speak for myself, but I don't think I'm alone. In the days before the web I could concentrate for a lot longer. I read books and articles one at a time. Now, on the net, I read something for a couple of minutes, then search for something else. I click on a link but quickly get bored with that and do some more searching. If I don't find what I'm looking for, I go back to what I started reading.

It's crazy! Everything is broken up. And it has affected my behavior offline as well. When I read the paper, for instance, I read half an article, then start another, then another. Then I go back to finish the first, second and third! Reading them all the way through one at a time doesn't feel quite right.

I also find it when I'm shopping. I tend to buy stuff in little bursts, rather than getting everything I need in one trip. Maybe this is just a result of my advancing age (I'm 45). But I don't think so. I believe it's got a lot to do with the web.

Has anyone else had this experience?

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