A recent research report suggests that humans have a shorter attention span now than goldfish. As you might expect it is our smartphones to blame. All those endless notifications from social networks and email prevent us from ever focusing on a single task. The Canadian researchers suggest that most people can only focus on a single activity for 8 seconds.
8 seconds? That makes the old 5 minute Tom and Jerry cartoons I watched when I was a kid seem like Ben Hur epics.
Now it’s easy to blame the young, or the millennials as journalists like to say. It’s easy to say that I’m older and wiser, but I think that even those of us who are not completely obsessed by our smartphones have seen our attention span diminished.
I was thinking about this recently on my way into work and I started trying to list all the digital interactions I had with various technologies or apps whilst travelling on business. I came up with these, which could vary of course, but it’s typical of a normal morning:
My current visit to Lisbon and Athens over the last few weeks had the below touchpoints….
- I joined a webinar via my Samsung tablet in the airport lounge before boarding last evening
- I travelled back and forth to our city centre operation earlier today with Uber, ordering my rides with my smartphone app
- Used my Samsung phone to take pics of our client-branded workspace facilities
- Sat in a meeting with clients video-conferencing from several continents
- I’ve just walked out of the hotel and tracked my steps with a combo of Fitbit and Endomondo apps…..
- Arriving at a restaurant a mile away where I watched the Premier League football results come in on my Sky Sports app on my phone
- Back at the hotel I video called my wife using WhatsApp
- After which I sent a large QBR file to colleagues via Dropbox
- Just checked in for my flight back home tomorrow and had my boarding docs sent via Facebook Messenger
- Connected with an old client / acquaintance on LinkedIn
- Will probably watch some already downloaded Netflix content on my tablet
- Have my kindle at the ready with a new book just landed from a pre-order several months ago….
- I’ll be at the gym in the morning with the apps switched on again to track my exercise regime
- When I do eventually board my flight tomorrow evening it will be Spotify all the way to Amsterdam
- Potentially upon arrival into Newcastle I could activate my central heating (Hive) with my smartphone (Mrs O’H will be home so no need in this instance)
- And before the end of the week, we could feasibly finalise a new Contract and remotely sign the paperwork using DocuSign
So it’s illustrative, but fairly normal. I’m not one of the millennials that Wired magazine endlessly covers, but that’s quite a digital footprint – and this is before I get to the office and start on my email and other digital interactions.
Before I even start the day I’ve streamed music and video, used podcasts, made a digital payment, enjoyed a digital book, shared a photo in real-time, and been advised on the best route to drive by Google. I’m also a fan of Uber, but I rarely use them first thing in the morning.
I think that most of the digital tools I’m using are supportive technologies. The GPS system and all the various entertainment systems make it easier for me to access TV shows, movies, and music. I do use some social networks, but they rarely define my phone activity – I’m not endlessly picking up the phone each time a notification pings – so perhaps I am using a number of digital technologies without yet finding that my attention span is diminished. For now anyway.
But when I read these research reports I’m never quite sure if it’s academics craving attention or there really is a problem with the way we are all working and communicating today. I’d appreciate your thoughts – do you think we are still able to focus on anything at all?
Photo by Ryutaro Koma licensed under Creative Commons.