HUMN 2007: Developing The Helping Relationship

Write a 2-page paper defining helping skills and explaining their importance in human services. Specifically:

  • Describe the human services professional practitioner’s roles in the helping process.
  • Explain how helping skills contribute to the effectiveness of those roles.
  • Based on the Selective Attention Test in the Pre-Discussion Activities, you know about viewing the “whole picture” in order to notice things that may be hidden or obscured. Why is this especially important in human services? Provide a human services–specific example where a practitioner does or does not see the whole picture. Explain the potential impact on the service user in the example

International Journal of Trend in Research and Development, Volume 5(3), ISSN: 2394-9333

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Myth and Mystery of Shrinking Attention Span

Dr. K. R. Subramanian

Professor of Management & Senior Consultant – Operations, Credait.com

Abstract: Everything is fast today, whether it be the food that

you consume, the travel modes, entertainment and in general

all walks of life. Never before in the history of humans have

we seen such a hurry to get going. This is the consequence of

the ‗mobile culture‘ that is progressively afflicting our society.

Some people call it digital distraction, but others describe it as

the way things are done today. One of the deepest concerns

expressed by many scientists and researchers is the attention

span that is shrinking, people are jumping from one message to

another or speaking to three people at the same time and

sometimes they call themselves as multitasking wise kids of

the modern age. Well, it is easy to understand that the speed of

communication, travel and methods of transfer of speech and

data have improved with innovative Technology, but the

question is, are we allowing enough time at the receiving or

sending end to complete or comprehend a message. But some

other researchers are calling the whole thing a bluff. Hence the

selection of the present topic to find out the reality of the

situation.

Keywords: The hurry to get things done, mobile culture, digital

devices and multitasking, innovative technologies, a bane of

the ‘always on’ society. Some myths about…

I. INTRODUCTION

In the always-connected world of social media, smart phones

and hyperlinks in the middle of everything you read, you can

feel how difficult it is to stay focused. And there are statistics

too. Some say that the average attention span is down from 12

seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds now. That is less

than the nine-second attention span of your average gold fish.

These statistics have been seen in Time magazine,

the Telegraph, the Guardian, USA Today, the New York

Times or the National Post. You might have heard a Harvard

academic citing them on US radio. Or perhaps you read the

management book – Brief. But if you pay a little more attention

to where the statistics come from, the picture is much murkier.

Many people who dedicate their working lives to studying

human attention have no idea where the numbers come from.

In fact, they think the idea that attention spans are getting

shorter is not correct.

Figure 1: A study of attention span of drivers who do multi-

tasking all the time.

A study of attention in drivers and witnesses to crime says the

idea of an “average attention span” is very much meaningless.

“It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply

to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.” But

the idea that there’s a typical length of time for which people

can pay attention to even that one task has limited value.

There’s something else fishy about those attention span

statistics too. It turns out that there is no evidence that goldfish

– or fish in general – have particularly short attention spans or

memories, despite what popular culture suggests.

There are many effects from smart phones and the like on the

human body which are never mentioned. Information

technology (IT) is much more powerful in unrecognized ways

than is generally acknowledged. Because these various IT

devices are often very close to a person‘s body, and so they

can and do have profound effects on the human bioelectric

field. The key factor in this ever-intensifying dynamic between

human and technology is the length of time of daily

interaction. In other words, picking up a cell phone to make a

couple of calls a day is one thing; being tied to your smart

phone 24 hour a day, 7 days a week is something altogether

different. Herein lies, one of the key causes of the shrinking

attention span. Additionally it has been found that constant

exposure to cell phones near our heads may be dangerous.

Attention span is connected directly to the presence of mind

necessary to sincerely engage in person-to-person interaction.

How often do the younger generations give up the focus of

personal interaction for the sake of not missing the internet

events of the day? Things are now moving so quickly that

many within the younger generations do not want to miss out

on anything. Consequently, their attention spans are being

shortened to accommodate that next ―BIG‖ event which can

only be experienced on the internet or by way of the smart

phone.

Figure 2: Einstein – was he right?

There is a growing body of thinking that our ability to absorb

new technologies is not as fast as the growth of thesehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlinkhttp://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smart/https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/17/hillary-clinton-policy-donald-trump-attention-spanhttp://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2017/01/13/nba-shortening-games-millennial-attention-spans/96535434/https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/opinion/the-eight-second-attention-span.html?_r=3https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/opinion/the-eight-second-attention-span.html?_r=3https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/opinion/the-eight-second-attention-span.html?_r=3http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadians-now-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-portable-devices-microsoft-studyhttp://www.marketplace.org/2014/02/11/business/goldfish-have-longer-attention-spans-americans-and-publishing-industry-knows-ithttp://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118704967.htmlhttps://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/xmt/papers/bioelectricity.pdfhttps://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/xmt/papers/bioelectricity.pdfhttp://naturalsociety.com/8-ways-reduce-radiation-cell-phone-use/

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technologies. Probably this is what Einstein and other people

had forecast!

II. OBJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY

Data Processing and transfer has become very fast, thanks to

the development of digital and other mobile technologies. But

the moot question is whether our abilities to absorb them fully

have gone up simultaneously. Human interactions take a little

time to absorb what is said. Hence Communications can be

effective only if we allow adequate time for the information to

be absorbed; if there is a constant and uninterrupted

communication, it may be difficult or our faculties to

concentrate sufficiently to absorb what is said. In the current

business environment, more and more data needs to be

transferred continuously and so the attention span is reduced

and this is very critical and important. In the current

environment of business, multi-tasking is the norm and it

needs to be seen how this is achieved. With these thoughts in

mind the following objectives have been identified for the

purpose of the current research paper.

1. Environmental changes calling for faster work. 2. How digital technologies have been adopted to meet

these challenges.

3. Will this work and what are the psychological constraints?

4. Importance of attention span and research conclusions on the same.

5. Conclusions and recommendations.

The Objectives selected above have been considered after a lot

of discussion among friends and likeminded researchers

interested in the topic of attention span. Since a lot of

published research is available on the topic, it was decided to

make a comprehensive search of literature and collect Data.

The collected information and data were classified to draw

conclusions from the same. During the process of research it

was found that adequate data from previous research in related

topics was available. Then the work o the researcher was

reduced to compiling, editing and classifying data to meet the

research objectives. This has been done satisfactorily and the

conclusions have been made on the basis of the same. This can

be seen towards the end of the paper.

III. REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Our attention spans have not just come down as a whole —

we‘re having trouble focusing in general on what is in front of

us. Forty-four percent of one of the study participants said they

have to concentrate really hard to stay focused on tasks, and 37

percent said they‘re not able to make the best use of their time,

which forces them to work late or on weekends. The study also

looked at how we use smart phones and found that 77 percent

of 18 to 24-year-olds reaches for their phone when they are

bored, 52 percent check their phone every 30 minutes or less,

and 79 percent use their phone while they are watching TV.‖ If

these numbers aren‘t alarming, it is what the future holds for

those who come after these groups which may prove to be

more negative in societal ramifications.

Living in society has never been so complex and challenging

on many levels as before. Something as simple as driving in

city traffic has now become a major chore; not because there

are more cars and trucks on the roads; rather, because of what

people are doing in their vehicles when they should only be

driving (multi-tasking with mobile phones!). What‘s the real

point here? Safety! In America, in many places it is becoming

more and more dangerous to drive down the street when the

other driver is still putting on her makeup while drinking her

coffee and pecking out a text message that was unnecessary in

the first place. In the man‘s case, he‘s tying his tie or cutting

his mustache. In any case, the attention is not being placed on

that which requires it the most. Particularly when individuals

sleep with their smart phones, is this societal challenge

becoming a potentially serious problem. Answering calls and

text messages throughout the night only further disrupts

necessary sleep. Making this a habit will ultimately cause sleep

deprivation which will inevitably translate to accidents and

poor work performance.

The incidence of both ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have been

rising rapidly over the past couple of decades, just as Autism

and Asperger‘s syndromes have seen a marked increase over

the same time period. There are several cofactors for this, of

which information technology is a primary one. With each

passing year, changes in society have been placing greater

demands on the teenagers and young children to perform as

adults. This pressure to keep up with everyone else is placing

inordinate pressures on young people, some of whom are

simply unable to cope. Lack of Effective stress management

has always been a major contributor to the ability or inability

to focus. This in turn affects our attention span. Unavoidably,

attention spans will continue to shorten as long as information

technology is allowed to intrude on our lives 24/7.

Figure 3: Attention deficiency effects in Canada and the USA.http://2machines.com/181304/http://2machines.com/181304/http://2machines.com/181304/

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Handheld devices have become ruggedized for use in mobile

management. In 2009 developments in the mobile systems

enabled managing parts and scanning barcode systems. Hand

held devices were enabled for use in video conferencing, on-

screen drawing capabilities and conferencing on real time

independent of location. Smart phones, handheld PDAs, Ultra-

mobile PCs, Tablet PCs made it possible to watch TV through

internet by IPTV on some mobile devices. Progressively these

were made available on cellular phones. Strictly speaking,

many so-called mobile devices are not mobile; it is the mobile

human host carrying non-mobile smart phone devices.

All current computer device technologies are indeed limited by

the speed of electron motion. This limitation is rather

fundamental, because the fastest possible speed for

information transmission is of course the speed of light, and

the speed of an electron is already a substantial fraction of this.

Where we hope for future improvements is not so much in the

speed of computer devices as in the speed of computation.

namely, an algorithm. A very efficient algorithm can perform a

computation much more quickly than can an inefficient

algorithm, even if there is no change in the computer

hardware. So further improvement in algorithms offers a

possible route to continuing to make computers faster by

taking into account some of the quantum-mechanical

properties of future computer devices, we can devise new

kinds of algorithms that are much, much more efficient for

certain computations.

The computer can be made faster by the simple expedient of

decreasing its size. Better techniques for miniaturization have

been for many years, and still are, the most important approach

to speeding up computers. So to make computers faster, their

components must become smaller. At current rates of

miniaturization, the behavior of computer components will hit

the atomic scale in a few decades. Another thing being looked

at is software that will better utilize the capabilities of present

machines. A surprising statistic is that some 90 percent of the

time, the newest desktop computers run in virtual 86 mode–

that is, they are made to run as if they were ancient 8086,

eight-bit machines–despite all their fancy high-speed, 32-bit

buses and super color graphics capability. This limitation

occurs because most of the commercial software is still written

for the 8086 architecture. Windows NT, Windows 95 and the

like are the few attempts at utilizing PCs as 32-bit, high-

performance machines.

Fiber-optics and light systems would make computers more

immune to noise, but light travels at exactly the same speed as

electromagnetic pulses on a wire. Optical computing could, in

principle, result in much higher computer speeds. Much

progress has been achieved, and optical signal processors have

been successfully used for applications such as synthetic

aperture radars, optical pattern recognition, optical image

processing, fingerprint enhancement and optical spectrum

analyzers. Many problems in developing appropriate materials

and devices must be overcome before digital optical computers

will be in widespread commercial use. In the near term, at

least, optical computers will most likely be hybrid

optical/electronic systems that use electronic circuits to

preprocess input data for computation and to post process

output data for error correction before outputting the results.

The promise of all-optical computing remains highly

attractive, however, and the goal of developing optical

computers continues to be a worthy one.

A myth that has captured the imagination of the managerial

class is that our attention spans are shrinking in this digital era.

Last year, the BBC carried a story, ―Busting the attention span

myth‖, which showed that the oft-quoted statistic of the

average attention span being down from 12 seconds in 2000 to

eight seconds now is not based on any real research. This

particular number was from a 2015 report by the Consumer

Insights team of Microsoft Canada, which surveyed 2,000

Canadians and also studied the brain activity of 112 people as

they carried out various tasks, the report said. The intriguing

part is that the figure itself was not from Microsoft‘s research;

it was a citation from another source called ‗Statistic Brain‘.

The BBC reporter contacted two of the sources cited by

Statistic Brain — the National Centre for Biotechnology

Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and the

Associated Press — and neither could find any research that

backed up the numbers. Statistic Brain chose not to speak to

the BBC reporter, and other specialists who spoke to the

reporter had no idea where the numbers came from either.

However, the mythical statistic gained traction.

The focus in this digital age has moved from in-depth

reporting to real-time tweeting and single-line news scrolls on

television screens. Exhaustive reports have given way to

information tit bits that are often without a proper context. The

emergence of click bait journalism, which is far removed from

the purpose of journalism, is one of the biggest disservices of

the digital age. Debate has given way to personal slander and

interrogation to bubble filters, inquisitiveness has been

replaced by echo chambers, and dialogue has got trapped in

algorithmic silos.

Figure 4: Long-form reports thrive in a time of click bait

journalism

During this phase of searches for digital revenues and a

reductionist approach to journalism, it is heartening to see The

Hindu (a popular daily newspaper in English, in India)

providing an answer to the media‘s existential question: how

can we stay relevant in this digital avalanche of information? It

did not opt for click bait journalism, but opened up its pages

more for long-form journalism. Today, it can be said with

utmost certainty that The Hindu is the only paper in India

which has about 20 pages dedicated to rigorous, long-form

journalism a week.

It is all the rage to say that the modern attention span is

decreasing because of the online world. It is simply a way of

blaming the audience for your failure to communicate. The

latest reason for rolling out the shorter attention span excuse

for poor communication has been based on an unreferenced

non-peer reviewed marketing report (PDF) by Microsoft that

didn‘t even manage to clearly define what attention span was,

although it did categorize three types. While the report made

some good, self evident, marketing points, it talks more about

how attention shifts more quickly between technologies, not

that attention span per se is declining. In fact, the effort tohttp://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwjC29njxo3NAhUmLKYKHd22A18QFggcMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fadvertising.microsoft.com%2Fen%2FWWDocs%2FUser%2Fdisplay%2Fcl%2Fresearchreport%2F31966%2Fen%2Fmicrosoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf&usg=AFQjCNH9ESnw0PZxSj4N2L4ARL3Vme7sqQ&sig2=0TfzIelfh9wTMM1VbGQskghttps://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwjC29njxo3NAhUmLKYKHd22A18QFggcMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fadvertising.microsoft.com%2Fen%2FWWDocs%2FUser%2Fdisplay%2Fcl%2Fresearchreport%2F31966%2Fen%2Fmicrosoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf&usg=AFQjCNH9ESnw0PZxSj4N2L4ARL3Vme7sqQ&sig2=0TfzIelfh9wTMM1VbGQskg

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multitask seems to be the real problem here. And no matter

what we may like to believe about ourselves, science

says nobody can multitask effectively.

The whole mess about attention span in this report came from

a factoid in a balloon diagram (below) that was then used as a

headline and lead sentence by multiple news outlets. The

balloon diagram stated that human attention span was less than

a goldfish – down from 12 sec in 2000 to 8 sec in 2013. Its

reference was – The non-peer reviewed, relatively

unscientific Statistic Brain.

ATTENTION SPAN

Figure 5: The much publicized gold fish Story (illustrated)

It also claimed a goldfish‘s attention span was 9 sec. That last

fact should have been an alarm bell to a half decent reporter.

How do you measure the attention span of a goldfish? The

media have a lot to answer for, after failing to check the source

of their headlines and spreading this rubbish far and wide.

In the digital age, it seems the ability to stay focused is now

considered a superpower. A weaker attention span could be the

side effect of the brain having to adapt and change over time in

the presence of technology. However, there are ways to

improve our attention span amid the ongoing texts, tweets, and

other interruptions. A 2012 study published in The Journal of

Nutrition found mild dehydration can cause you to lose

concentration. It is imperative to stay hydrated even when you

don‘t feel thirsty. Men should drink 13 cups of total beverages

a day while women should drink nine cups, according to

the Mayo Clinic. A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS ONE found increasing your fitness level can do wonders for

your attention span. Men who were part of a Spanish cycling

team responded seven percent much faster than the less fit

group in a computerized task. Exercising the body is

exercising the brain. The same study found an office worker

gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes

an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an

interruption. It‘s better to give a task a dedicated time slot to

solely focus on your work and ignore the irrelevant.

Technological devices that are within reach can easily lure you

in to decrease your attention span.

Traditionally, training was delivered in instructor-led

workshops that lasted from two hours to two weeks. (Indeed,

research suggests that the majority of training is still delivered

in this way). But today‘s audience has little tolerance for this

these behemoth sessions and companies are asking whether

these extended sessions are delivering an effective return on

the investment. There is a growing movement toward replacing

tortuous training marathons with brief learning experiences

that are delivered, as needed, where needed, via the internet.

These brief training experiences have been referred to in a

variety of ways including micro-training, short-form training,

as-needed training, and my favorite: ―burst training.‖ I like the

term burst training because it correctly suggests that the learner

is receiving a quick jolt of knowledge. The ideal burst training

can be defined as ―Ten minutes of training, within five minutes

of its need, to an audience of one.‖ In the next few months, we

are going to look carefully at brief training experiences and we

will examine what can and cannot be taught this way, the best

training media for bursts, the special power of ―video bursts,‖

and most importantly, how using bursts affects retention and

transfer.

Contrary to popular belief, students don‘t have short attention

spans. They can focus for hours on a single project. But it has

to feel relevant and meaningful to them and they need to have

the time and the space to accomplish it. It‘s not easy in a world

of school bells and curriculum maps. However, it‘s something

we should strive for. We should draw students in to the deeper,

slower work of creativity — because when that happens,

learning feels like magic.

Figure 6: The myth of shortening attention span of kids

So, there are many truths and a few myths about the shrinking

attention span. This is situational, for example children are not

distracted by anything when they watch comics or other

programs of interest. It is for us the grownups from an earlier

generation to understand these social changes and adapt to the

new realities.

IV. DATA ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION

There is no two opinions about the fact that working

environments in organizations are changing with every

innovation in technology. Humans have adopted technological

changes as a way of progress, and these technological changes

have been accelerated by the digital proliferation of mobiles

and other aids. One of the critical changes has been that the

work needs to be performed faster and faster to cope with the

speed of flashing messages across continents and among

younger and adventurous people. People seem to exhibit a

tendency for undue haste and hurry to complete tasks and find

solutions to their problems. Marketing and product

manufacturing companies seem to be aware and exploiting the

current environment

Digital Technologies have been adopted as a means of coping

up with the speed with which work needs to be accomplished.

Learning and Training are greatly enhanced by the two way

process of interactive media. This interactive feature is the

distinctive feature of current business, industrial andhttp://www.npr.org/2013/05/10/182861382/the-myth-of-multitaskinghttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smart/http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256http://www.medicaldaily.com/brain-boost-sports-practice-fitness-has-attention-benefits-244986http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324339204578173252223022388

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educational environments. Whether digital technologies have

been thrust on us or not is not a question or matter for debate.

These technologies have definitely improved the quality of our

lives and the younger generation is already adopting it. Every

invention or new technology is a challenge, starting from the

invention of the wheel. The only logical and practical way

forward is to accept the realities of a changing world.

Will this work and what are the psychological constraints?

This is the vital question that organizations and consultants are

trying to find answers to. However this hurried way of doing

business may not be compatible with the human psyche. This

is because of ‘the attention span’ that varies depending on the

task and the natural inclination of the doer. A lot of attention

has been paid and continues to interest researchers how

generations of humans can cope with. It is not only the skill

sets needed to complete a task but the motivation to do so is

more important. That is why a lot of research is being done in

this field to find solutions.

While the concept of attention span is receiving a lot of

attention from researchers and academicians, organizations

have to be guarded against opinions which are self serving in

nature, even if coming out of multinationals with a lot of

‗fanfare‘ through media channels and web pages. Companies

and organizations should independently assess the value of

new technologies and the impact on customer views and how

they are influenced by digital distractions through the media of

mobiles and network of web pages and messages through

friends and opinion makers. In the current environment where

the medium has become the message, companies need to

evaluate their media policies for advertisement!

As the technology is marching with giant strides, the skill sets

and ability to exploit the same have to be developed. This is

where the concept of attention span makes a halt. Digital

technologies assume that there is no halt or pause before

adoption; but practically this is not true. New knowledge and

skill take time to sink and this time period is what is meant by

attention span, giving a breather to individuals to understand

new ways and means. By training and development of

employees, organizations cope with these developments. But

to assume that there is no GAP in time before new

technologies are absorbed is incorrect. Digital technologies

and the younger generation try to absorb the changes by visual

and graphical modes of speed training

RECOMMENDATION

We need to recognize that ‗change is the only constant in

Business‘. The success of any business will depend on the

speed with which they recognize the need and adopt change.

The concept of attention span is not for the psychologists alone

to understand, but for all of us as business managers as well. In

fact organizations, instead of deliberating on whether there is

reduction or increase in attention spans due to new

Technologies, must get on with the fulfillment off their

organizational purposes through training and re-training of

employees. As mentioned in the review literature, this has to

be done by adopting new methods for training that may

involve shorter attention spans, but very effective means to

achieve organizational results.

Marketers will have to contend with the reality of shrinking

attention spans to modify and adjust their product campaigns

and promotions. This is very nicely depicted in the figure 7

given below:

Figure 7: How marketers contend with the attention span

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[17] Johnstone, A.H., & Percival, F. (1976). Attention breaks in lecture. Education in Chemistry, 13, 49-50.

[18] Lagerstrom, L., Johanes, P., & Ponsukcharoen, M. U. (2015). The myth of the six-minute rule: Student

engagement with online videos. Proceedings of the

American Society for Engineering Education, June 14-17,

2015, Seattle, WA.

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attentional blink. Percept Psychophys 66: 1418–1432

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[23] Shapiro KL, Raymond JE, Arnell KM (1994) Attention to visual pattern information produces the attentional blink

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B. Internet and Other Sources

[25] http://naturalsociety.com/attention-span-is-shortening- significantly-by the-year-but why/#ixzz5CJYU9MsU.

[26] https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091278 [27] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/magazine/21FOB-

medium-t.html

[28] http://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped- from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-

ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479

[29] http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00985.xhttp://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/113/4/708http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/113/4/708http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/113/4/708http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/113/4/708http://naturalsociety.com/attention-span-is-shortening-significantly-by%20the-%20%20%20year-but%20why/#ixzz5CJYU9MsUhttp://naturalsociety.com/attention-span-is-shortening-significantly-by%20the-%20%20%20year-but%20why/#ixzz5CJYU9MsUhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0091278http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/magazine/21FOB-medium-t.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/magazine/21FOB-medium-t.htmlhttp://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped-from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479http://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped-from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479http://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped-from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00985.x

 STUDY OF STUDIES

OUR SUPPOSEDLY shrinking attention spans are a hot topic these days—as you may have seen on TV or heard on a podcast or read on Twitter or glimpsed on your watch or else just intuited from the antsy melancholy of those few unbearable minutes each morning between when you open your eyes and when you first reach for your phone.

Emblematic of the genre is a 2015 Microsoft report that claimed the average human attention span had shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013 (even shorter than the nine seconds of focus maintained by the notoriously distractible goldfish), presumably on its way to zero. [1]

Yes, this sort of alarmism is as old as the hills. An 1897 article in The American Electrician worried that a growing dependence on the telephone would turn us all into “transparent heaps of jelly.” But while the notion of addiction to our smartphones (the most usual suspects in the current attention crisis) is contested, numerous studies have found that compulsive phone use can lead to separation anxiety, chronic fear of missing out, and a painful thumb condition known as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis—signs worrying enough that we can’t rule out the eventual jellification of humanity. [2]

Curiously, our bond with our phones persists even when they are doing literally nothing. Researchers in Paris observed that 37 percent of women and 30 percent of men walking by themselves held in their hand a smartphone they weren’t using. (Pairs of men and women held phones as they walked only 18 percent of the time, suggesting that we can still capture each other’s attention on occasion.) [3]

Yet blaming smartphones for our distractibility feels too easy—human attention has always been fleeting. A study conducted several years before the first iPhone was unveiled found that workers spent an average of just two minutes using a particular tool or document before switching to another. [4] Moreover, interruptions may have a silver lining. Many workers who were insulated from distraction by websiteblocking software became more aware of time’s passage and were able to work for longer stretches—but also reported higher stress levels as a result of their sustained focus. [5]

For those seeking to exercise greater control over their attention span, science has some suggestions. A 2016 study found that mindfulness meditation led to shortterm improvements in attention and focus, and that the benefits were disproportionately large among heavy multimedia multitaskers. [6] And research published earlier this year suggests that the long-term attentional benefits of regular mindfulness practice may be even more substantial than previously thought. [7]

Ultimately, it’s worth asking: How long do we really want our attention span to be? A little mindfulness can be grounding, while too much sustained focus can dial up our stress levels. What’s lacking these days, then, may not be attention so much as moderation in the face of countless stimuli that are simultaneously diverting and engrossing. In the end, it seems like our only hope as a people, as a civilization, really, is to … to, um—sorry. Lost my train of thought.

THE STUDIES:

[1] Alyson Gausby, “Attention Spans” (Microsoft Canada, Spring 2015)

[2] Gutiérrez et al., “Cell-Phone Addiction” (Frontiers in Psychiatry, Oct. 2016)

[3] Schaposnik and Unwin, “The Phone Walkers” (Behaviour, April 2018)

[4] González and Mark, “ ‘Constant, Constant, Multi-tasking Craziness’ ” (Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems, April 2004)

[5] Mark et al., “Eff ects of Individual Diff erences in Blocking Workplace Distractions” (Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems, April 2018)

[6] Gorman and Green, “Short-Term Mindfulness Intervention Reduces the Negative Attentional Eff ects Associated With Heavy Media Multitasking” (Scientific Reports, April 2016)

[7] Zanesco et al., “Cognitive Aging and Long-Term Maintenance of Attentional Improvements Following Meditation Training” (Journal of Cognitive Enhance

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