I learned about the 80 second rule this week. Apparently the attention span of those viewing content online is less than a minute and a half. The person who told me this warned, “You only have 80 seconds to get your message across before they click through.”
I suppose I should be encouraged by this. After all, the length of the average commercial is only 30 seconds. I have nearly double that amount of time before you get bored waiting for me to say something meaningful and go looking for the puppy cam on YouTube.
Still, I can’t help thinking about Neil Postman’s warning that technology is not neutral. “Every technology is both a burden and blessing; not either-or but this-and-that” Postman writes in his book Technopoly. Postman observes that the uses a culture makes of technology are determined by the structure of that technology and that any benefit it renders exacts a cost. He warns that in the early stages of adoption by a culture, the unintended consequences of a new technology (both positive and negative) are unclear. “This is because the changes wrought by technology are subtle if not downright mysterious, one might even say wildly unpredictable” Postman explains.
The Internet gives us immediate access to the collected thought of greatest minds in human history. We can find their writings in a matter of seconds. Yet as it does so, it seems that the same technology also robs us of the attention span needed to read what we find. Not to worry. A click or two more and we can easily locate a topical index of their most famous quotations. That was all we really wanted anyway.
If we have lost the capacity for focused attention necessary to read works like the Confessions of Saint Augustine, it also seems likely that we are losing the ability to engage in the kind of sustained reflection that would be needed to write anything comparable in the future. But the most terrifying implication–the truly life changing consequence of this is…
Oh, I see that my time is up. You’ve already moved on.