The digital goldfish generation

Bridie O’Shea explains why even after such a long break from university, no amount of refreshing can help extend your attention span in class.

If you manage to read through this entire sentence without clicking on a new tab, checking your phone, going to get something to eat or dozing off to sleep.. Congratulations! You’ve passed the test.

And what test is that? you may ask. Well, it’s the ‘Is your attention span greater than that of a goldfish?’ test.

Yes. That’s right. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span was eight seconds in 2013, falling from twelve seconds in 2000. That is one second less than the ever popular yet highly underappreciated pet, the goldfish, who is currently sitting out in front on a winning nine seconds. 25% of teens in the study forgot major details about close friends and family and another 7% actually forget their own birthday from time to time.

And the culprit for the decline in our ability to concentrate on an activity before our mind begins to wander? You guessed it. Our BBFL.

The internet.

Now I’m not dissing the internet. Not at all. The internet is a wondrous and magical place that has saved many a uni student from endless boredom or from failing an assessment (amongst a million other things).

But Old Mate Internet has dramatically increased external stimulation and so it comes as no surprise that our attention spans are decreasing.

We live in a world of instant gratification, where feeling bored is a big no-no. We want what we want and we want it now. Then we want the next thing and we want that now (but really we actually wanted it three seconds ago). It’s a dangerous spiral and our minds are trying to rewire themselves to keep up. Every time we start a new task, our brain has to reorientate itself.

Interruptions can be fatal to productivity and the internet is a huge distraction.

Research by Lloyds TBS Insurance showed that people over 50 are able to concentrate for a longer period of time than young people. According to the research, busy lifestyles and ‘intrusive modern technology’ are to blame for our generation having lower attention spans than previous generations.

It is also these ‘intrusive modern technologies’ we are surrounding ourselves with, that play a vital role in altering our behaviour. Texting, Facebook comments and Twitter all rely on brevity and timeliness to function. This allows for automatic replies and quick-fire discussion. And let’s be real here, we’ve all sat and watched Facebook comment fights, it’s like an instantaneous soap opera on your computer!

With our brains now rewiring to behave this way, it’s easy to see the effect in lecture theatres. It was never difficult to pay attention for extended periods of time but when someone is talking at you for an hour, your mind does begin to wander. Just be careful with letting it wander too far or you might find yourself on the notorious ‘People Sleeping at Newcastle University’ Facebook page with a smudge of sleep drool on your face.

We cannot change the fact that technology plays such a huge role in our lives. The best option is to accept and roll with it.

And if you’ve managed to stay with me all the way through this 574 word article, then I commend you on your concentration skills. Hopefully you’ve got enough fuel in the engine to keep it up for the first week of uni because honestly, no one pays attention after that.


Images: Getty Images

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