Read this column before you forget to
Look at something else. Now back at this article. Now back at something else. Now back at this article.
Ok, if you don’t live under a rock, you know what I’m parodying: the Old Spice set of commercials that last between fifteen and thirty seconds long.
How about this one?
The Daily Cougar has been read by everyone, even A&M students. It’s been circulated to the moon. It is the most interesting paper in the world. It doesn’t always provide news, but when it does, it prefers The Daily Cougar.
As hilarious as these commercials are, they are bringing about the rise of the fifteen second commercials. Plots in commercials are getting lighter and shorter. And this is because companies have realized that the attention span of Americans is getting shorter. And, in terms of education and IQ, this is a very bad thing.
Have you ever been able to think deeply about a topic for a solid ten minutes if you were by yourself? That topic, and that topic only? Likely, you weren’t. You would find your attention shifting every fifteen seconds — that’s the average length of the commercials that are capturing our attention nowadays.
This is coupled with the American penchant to multitask; that is, the way we try to balance thirty things at once, be it a phone conversation, work, the latest news online, Facebook, email, etc. We often find ourselves trying to split our attention between many things. One might argue that this is a good thing. We get a lot of things done at once.
Actually, the reverse is true. We take longer to work on many things at once, and the quality of work or attention put into each individual thing is lessened by the amount of other parts of our life vying for that attention. We actually do higher quality work quicker when we focus on one thing at a time.
The sad thing is that these fifteen second commercials, Facebook and whatever else is trying to divide your attention are all reinforcing this inability to concentrate on a singular topic for more than fifteen to thirty seconds at a time.
It even affects students’ ability to pay attention in class; the craziest I’ve seen was a student customizing shoes online while trying to pay attention to math.
This would naturally lead to lower grades because we aren’t giving our whole attention to the topic at hand. In our day-to-day schedule as students, we usually have around four or five classes. That’s twelve to fifteen hours of different subjects already splitting our attention, plus the reading and homework involved in each individual class.
It would seem that we need to train ourselves to be able to think about one thing for a long time — like, say, a paper we have to write — and we need to be able to ignore the thousands of distractions that are literally roaring for us to look at them. The US needs to retrain itself to think deeply for longer, or else we will get stuck in a never ending cycle of, “Look at your man. Now back at me. Now back to your man. Now back to me.”
Ian Everett is a literature freshman and may be reached at [email protected].