ELI5- Is it true that our attention span is shrinking?


Is that even a thing? I definitely noticed that i multitask when playing games sometimes, i have a hard time finishing games or videos because i get bored half way through. And i wasn’t always like that.

In: 6

Yes, [a variety of different lines](https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/apr/16/got-a-minute-global-attention-span-is-narrowing-study-reveals) of reasoning suggest that our attention span really is shrinking over time. That first link is a news article, the [original source](https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-09311-w) mentions the following:

* Hashtags on Twitter rise and fall more quickly, lasting 17.5 hours in 2013, but only 11.9 hours in 2016.
* Trends in book topics rise and fall much quicker nowadays here in the 2000s, than they did at the beginning of the 1900s.
* Box-office sales at the movies experience much quicker spikes and much more rapid falls nowadays in the 2010s than they did in the 1980s.
* Google search trends were rising and falling more quickly in 2017 than in 2010.
* Reddit trends rose and fell more quickly in 2015 than in 2010.

The authors have this to say about why:

>The empirical findings we present are remarkably robust across many domains of public interest, covering a wide range of different time scales. They reveal significant changes in the statistical properties of collective attention dynamics. The gradients of content trajectories become steeper, but their peaks remain relatively stable, causing periods of individual popularity to become shorter.
>Our modeling suggests that shorter attention cycles are mainly driven by increasing information flows, represented as content production and consumption rates. As influx increases, individual topics are adopted more rapidly, leading to steeper rises in collective attention with the self-inhibitory effects of saturation resulting in an equally steepening downfall. Thus, in our modeling framework, producing and consuming more content results in shortening of attention spans for individual topics and higher turnover rates between popular cultural items. In other words, the ever-present competition for recency and the abundance of information leads to the squeezing of more topics in the same time intervals as the result of limitations of the available collective attention.

To ELI5 that:

The modeling suggests that shorter attention cycles happen, because when we have so much more content available to consume nowadays, without more time to consume it in, this encourages us to spend less time on each topic. This leads to us also collectively abandoning topics more quickly.


Bob Dylan said in his autobiography that he used to study operas because they lasted hours and music was limited to 2 to 3 minute songs at that time.

He wrote some 5 minute songs and shook the world with them. That was in the early 60s, 60 years ago. People have been saying this for years.

I think most people have short attention spans and have for a while. We just cater to it more these days.


You’re actually not good at multitasking.

Brains are basically meat computers, and computers cannot multitask.

A single processor can do one thing at a time. Every time you hit a key on your keyboard it sends an interrupt to the CPU that tells it “Stop what you’re doing, print this character, and then get back to what you were doing.” It does this so fast that you don’t even notice, and we can do new whizbangery that makes this kind of blurry, but at a basic level that’s what’s going on. Every single thing your computer does goes into a que and and it runs those commands in order.


If you’re watching a movie and playing a game you’re task switching between the two. You jump back and forth between the movie and the game really fast, but you’re still just like a computer: executing one task at a time.

You can test this out yourself. You need a friend or a discord buddy for this though. Find a new game you’ve never played and a movie you’ve never seen. Have the friend watch the movie with you while you play the new game. When the movie is over describe to your friend what the movie was about and some major story beats. You will almost certainly have a hard time. Unless you focus on the movie, in which case you won’t make a lot of progress in the video game.


Here is a little article talking about it