This is Interesting…But What’s That?
I probably had a longer attention span as a toddler than I do today. Scrolling through hundreds of emails, notifications, tweets, webpages and class assignments during a class discussion is, admittedly, not an uncommon practice for me. “Media is no longer scarce,” my professor recently cautioned, “our attention is. That’s what’s valuable.” The tone caught my attention. Glad I didn’t miss that. I tweeted the quote instead of taking it down in my notes.
Our attention is what’s valuable. I was back on Twitter seconds after writing that sentence. A BuzzFeed writer’s poll on the “meaning of life” caught my eye, and moments later I was redirected to a Mashable graphic on obstacles to getting an abortion, followed by 3 minutes of research on economic journalists who might be able to recommend a good book so I can drop my Microeconomics class. Then I’ll have more time to work on my documentary, or suck up piles and piles of various media like a vacuum.
Tracking my own media consumption habits for two days didn’t disturb me, but it did provide some insight into what kind of a consumer I am. It worries me that I only have one recorded instance during which I spent more than 5 minutes with a piece of material. It caused me to question whether or not I spend enough time engaged with and focused on important information. The answer is clear: of course not. Waking up with the NPR newscast, which I listen to first thing through the NPR app on my smartphone, may be the longest I spend with one source during any given day. The newscast averages around 4 minutes and 50 seconds.
One thing is clear to me: people will always be curious. They will always want to hear stories. They will always want to know what is going on in the world. I, personally, will always want to hear people’s interesting and insightful stories in long-form radio or short-form video. I find plenty of the latter on my timelines and very little of the former anywhere outside of the homepage — which I very rarely visit. I download plenty of podcasts but find little time outside of my commute to listen. If I could design my perfect timeline, news outlets’ social media accounts would link to embedded long-form audio content, too. But I am not every audience member, and chances are, data show that most audience members won’t commit that kind of time.
Should I spend more time trying to filter through content that will mean something to me instead of depending on my timeline? Should I take the extra 3 seconds to load the link that takes me directly to the website rather than relying solely on embedded content? Probably. But how do I coerce my short attention span? Will my trusted sources promise me more cat videos?
Essentially, I’d like it to be easier for me to engage in a deeper, more meaningful way with the sources I love and depend on. Come on, digital teams with esteemed news organizations. Make it happen.