A recent news story reported how television commercials have gotten shorter and shorter to complement our waning attention spans. Whereas once upon a time many ads ran for a complete minute, fifteen-second spots are preferred nowadays because we the people cannot remain wholly engaged for a full sixty seconds.
The obvious downside of instantaneous communications and a mother lode of information at our fingertips is this corresponding, and apparently ever-widening, attention-deficit chasm. Harking back to my youth, I often wonder how we all survived without computers, the Internet, and only a dozen or so TV channels from which to choose. But we somehow managed and, I daresay, were hardly a less informed and less curious bunch. Running around all day long text messaging, Tweeting, and playing iPhone games hasn’t exactly made us a more literate and interesting lot—quite the contrary. Engaging in personal phone conversations everywhere from the supermarket checkout line to a crowded subway car to a claustrophobic ATM alcove have not ushered in a more cultured, conscientious, and sociable society, either.
Theoretically, with this surfeit of knowledge in the virtual ether, we should—by osmosis—be a more informed and inquisitive brood all across the spectrum. But it appears that not exactly everybody is sampling from the cornucopia of riches at their disposal. The bottom line is that if we cannot remain alive, alert, awake, and aware for a clock minute, or even half of one for that matter, sheer logic dictates that we’ll also read fewer books and newspapers (including online)—the very things that necessitate greater than one-minute attention spans, and that cannot be encapsulated in fewer than 144 characters. The insatiable thirst for less in-depth and multi-layered information is evidently where it's at. Granted, sometimes in life, less in better. However, all too often less comes up short because— as the old saying goes—“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” It's even worse, I fear, than none at all.