Through the years — the centuries, actually — society’s attention spans have been gradually deteriorating. From the advent of the telegraph and eventually the telephone, Americans have wanted their info, such as whether or not that dastardly Millard Fillmore was elected president, and they wanted it right now. Things only got worse when print was overtaken by the television, whose use has been co-opted by the computer and the Internet, both of which are now carried around in our pockets on smartphones. When does it end?
Not anytime soon.
With the recent release of the Apple Watch, it is said that American attention spans will decrease to eight seconds. According to Newsweek’s Kevin Maney, this is because “Interactions with the watch are expected to take no more than eight seconds — quick glances at calendar items or yes/no answers to texted questions.”
Our patience is running at an all-time low because technology has made it so we don’t have to wait for anything. We’ve managed to decrease the lag time of pulling a phone out of our pocket to check email by making it so all we have to do is look at our wrist. The Internet, the information we crave, now is physically attached to our bodies.
With only eight seconds of judgment — eight seconds of attention — how will we adapt?
• Start, or for some of us, continue, interacting with co-workers through a quick series of grunts and hand signals. Like primates in suits. Wasting time on elaborating, explaining and question answering is so 2014.
• Combine activities into one event. Activities such as having sex, watching television, drinking, eating, playing checkers, chorus practice. If we can’t focus on one thing, let’s just sort of pay attention to a number of things at the same time. I already do this.
• Every time you feel the soft vibration of the Apple Watch on your skin, notifying you of some incoming text or Facebook event invitation, scrunch up your face, stop doing whatever it is you’re doing and act really put out. You’re so busy! Can we continue this conversation later? Some local brewery that I’m friends with on Facebook wants to know if I’ll attend its Cards Against Humanity night and I must ponder my response. Join, no, maybe?! Ugh. My life is such a complicated web of tough decisions!
• Stop reading books. If you didn’t already do this with the rise of the smartphone, I don’t know what to tell you. The fast lane is where I reside. I only read the obituaries of my vanquished foes, and even those I only skim.
• Use this study as an excuse to dun my doctor for an Adderall prescription. I can’t focus, Doc!
• “8 Second Abs.” It’s like “8 Minute Abs,” but better.
• Finally accept that bull riding was and always has been America’s national pastime.
• Use the laws of nature to bend gravity and velocity, thus manipulating time and making it slow down. This should give us an extra few seconds to decide between Cheez-Its or a Twix bar at the vending machine, if I did my calculations correctly.
• Complain incessantly about young people and their warped sense of values. They don’t understand how it was, the value of a dollar, why we should’ve stopped Hitler at Munich, bran flakes, etc.
• More snap judgments. In Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal work “Blink,” he says that spontaneous decisions are often something or other. I’m not sure, because I made the quick call not to finish the Wikipedia page that describes the book.
• All emojis, all the time! You should already be doing this, but if not - ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
And finally, just be thankful that we live in a world where we have this technology. Be thankful we have options and information. Back in the 1700s, it took months to have a conversation with a sibling who lived in another state. By the time you found out that you had a nephew, that nephew was already dead from the yellow fever.
Nowadays, if it were even possible to contract yellow fever in this country, I’d simply stop looking at the person I was speaking with, glance down at my wrist and diagnose myself using WebMD.
What is it you were saying? S
Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @jackgoesforth.