The Short Attention Span is a Myth

Here’s why you shouldn’t create content that caters to it

Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash

Have you heard social media marketing experts tell you to create content that ‘hooks, baits and holds’ people’s attention in less than 10 seconds?

Yes; it’s exactly like comparing people to fish.

They ask you to do this with enticing headlines, scroll-stopping videos, and eyeball-grabbing content. Their logic is that people have short attention spans and you need to do everything to ‘seize’ their limited attention. No wonder reels are aggressively promoted on the Instagram platform or ‘shorts’ on YouTube are constantly pushed into people’s feeds.

The Goldfish Myth

They back this up with a study done in 2015 that compared the attention of people online to that of a goldfish, saying it lasts less than 9 seconds. (There’s a reason that story isn’t factually correct, but mostly, let’s stop blaming innocent fish so that people can sell their products or services!)

But what if you didn’t do anything of the sort? What if you were to write thoughtful content that filled the entire Instagram caption space, all 2200 characters of it? And what if you didn’t have to battle an algorithm, use hashtags, or post at the best times to capture people’s attention?

Serve Your Audience

When you follow this strategy of truly serving your audience, you’d observe that something fascinating happens.

  • Your true audience connects with your work.
  • They stick around to read your work.
  • They search for your content, if they can’t find it, to ensure that they stay connected to your work.

That’s why I deliberately write long-form content, mostly on my website and sometimes here, on Medium. It’s why I take the time to write longer captions on my Instagram posts and even listen to podcasts that last for 2 hours or more. I don’t listen to them at 2x or 4x speed either. Where’s the joy in that? What earthly purpose do we gain from listening to a podcast at 4x speed? Perhaps a tick mark on an imaginary to-do list that says you’ve listened to a podcast today?

But is it worth it?

There’s a value and purpose in deep work and long attention spans, but most of it isn’t given enough coverage in the mainstream media.

Let’s believe in people

Let us not feed the illusion that content has to be short, grabby, and brief to engage with people. It’s perpetuating a myth that people are always distracted and unwilling to focus on anything long enough.

If that were true, nobody would read a book or spend their days watching a slow movie that is all about storytelling or sit through a two-hour performance at their local theatre. Yet, people do it, don’t they?

The truth is that people will pay attention to something or someone if the work deeply resonates with them. The more you follow the conventional path of marketing to short attention spans, the more you feed the beast of short attention.

Instead, focus on creating content you’re proud of and believe in wholly. As for the audience? Believe me, they will find you, read all the way to the very end and nod along as they identify with what you’ve created.

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Shailaja V

Shailaja V


Digital minimalist. Writer. Bibliophile. Coach: I teach creators how to grow an organic audience without the overwhelm. More about me: