How’s this for a half-baked, back of the envelope theory – a contemporary viewer attention span will shrink at a rate inversely proportional to the available image fidelity and/or quality.
Why do I think this is worth considering? A few reasons. The first is that rarity of material tends to place greater value on its existence. This can be seen in many places, from the high bid value on original photos of the early Beatles to the scathing criticism on Walter Isaacson’s missed opportunity. The very fact that it’s hard or impossible to recreate or newly obtain more of the same makes any piece of history immediately more valuable.
The second is that I’ve been noticing more of our endless efforts toward creating the highest resolution ever,or the never forgotten childhood, or the documentation of almost everything. With each minute, we’re capturing, storing, tagging, linking and tweeting about all the moments unfolding. But are we really focusing on these moments or simply archiving them for future reference? Each new piece of memory committed to our online paths adds to the collective memory, in some awful way decreasing the value of each one ever so slightly (I’m not trying to say each new piece of recorded media is equally worthy, or valuable, merely pointing out the inverse affect of this point compared to my first).
The third is that it would seem like our viewing habits are skewing towards the shorter, the more bite-sized, the digestible chunk, over long form or slower forms of media. Time pressure and digital media availability have influenced this, certainly, but certainly a shortened attention span would be a factor. I think this is linked to the material we’re digesting, the media we consume and the sheer availability of it for all to enjoy. The more supply we have, the faster our demand is satiated and the sooner we lose interest.
I think it’s useful to consider the legacy we’re consuming and the legacy we’re involved in creating. A paucity of material to work with left generations to their own imaginations to be creative or inventive. The breadth of material we have, literally at our fingertips, has had a real impact on the way we think, learn and feel. I’m certainly not of the opinion that it’s wrong, or that a shorter attention span is even a bad thing in the first place, but it’s certainly worth unpacking.
For sure, these thoughts are unfinished, but one has to start somewhere.