The Amazing Shrinking Attention Span

The first book I ever read for fun was the novelization of the Death of Superman. For those of you that know me, it should surely shock you to hear that there was a time in my life that I didn’t like to read. My old man convinced me that comic books weren’t all that bad and that’s where I started. Though comics still carry the undeserved stigma of being childish, they aren’t exactly Moby Dick deep. So comics became the seed of my bibliophilia and when I laid down the fertilizer in the form of that aforementioned super tale, it quickly sprouted. Before long it became the sequoia it is today. (I fear I carried that metaphor too far…)

After the book report was done, yes I was actually able to write a book report on it, I realized I wanted more. This picture-less tale was able to convey so much more than the panels comprising its comic iteration. While I appreciate the drawing of a devastated cityscape and the fallen hero in its midst, to be presented with the description of the sounds of sniffles by the bystanders, the feel of a mocking sun, the emotional turmoil, all this afforded me to make my own picture and one in which I was more fully connected. I wanted the chance to paint more of these mental pictures.

The first “real” book I read for fun was The Stand. My brother lent me the unabridged version and I tore through it. All 1000-odd pages of it. And that brings me to the point of the post: I wonder if we’re hearing the death knell of a book of that size. Oh, they’ll always be around but think of how popular The Stand was. Even if you’ve never read it, or even don’t know what it’s about, you’ve heard of it. And not because of that disappointing TV Movie, either. How long before such a book is dismissed simply by its size?

I’m currently reading Clash of Kings, the second book after Game of Thrones which has gained second run of popularity thanks to HBO. Both books come in at over 800 pages. I ask you, would it be as popular if it wasn’t for its visual adaption. I’d like to think so, ‘tis a marvelous story. However, think about the internet for a moment. How many times have you been surfing the net and come across what promised to be an interesting article. You click on it and start to read. Yet, after mere moments you look over and see the size of the scroll bar. It’s a tiny little rectangle. What happens, then? You groan and go off to find a shorter article.

The internet is a game changer. It is changing the way we access, present, and digest information. Its influence is nigh omnipresent. Yet, the serving size of that information is becoming smaller and smaller. We’ve gone from ponderous 1000 page tomes to 140 word tweets. That’s horrifying. I don’t claim to be exempt from this shortening of attention span either. I find myself clicking from short article to short article and when confronted with one of those tiny scroll bars, or a “next” at the bottom of the page, I beat feet and look for a shorter article.

I’m not sure what can be done to help poor souls like me, either. It wouldn’t be that large a leap to say that never has there been such a collection of information in one place as there is in cyber-space. While that much information is a good thing, one of the draw backs is the vast amount of info-nuggets. News, trivia, stats, those are all useful but not very long. It’s great to know things as they happen or that bit of esoteric knowledge but this is sort of thing is shrinking the attention span.

And what of this post? It is an exercise in irony by being too long for too many people’s attention spans? I wonder…



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