Rags of Light

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The "Collective Attention Span" and the attention economy.

A study reported in Vox, Yes, the internet is destroying our collective attention span, finds that our collective attention to news and media events is becoming both shorter and more focused.

What? This means that the amount of attention given to any particular event has been growing shorter – the latest comic-book movie tops the news, but for a shorter time – and more regimented: more people are focused on the big story while it lasts. The most recent example that comes to my mind is the seeming dominance of Game of Thrones over all other events, something I’m especially sensitive to since I’ve never seen a single episode.

Not surprisingly, the study blames the “attention economy.” More content is being pushed on us and demanding our attention, so our collective gaze jumps from one story to the next in an effort to keep up. And News sites, desperate for clicks, page views, etc., gravitate to the big story of the moment so as not to miss out on claiming a slice of our fast-shifting attention.

So it seems that the attentional pathologies that each of experiences individually are reflected in mass behavior: societal attentional disorder.

The logical endpoint: everyone is obsessed with the same story for one day, then forgets that story on the following day in order to be obsessed with the new day’s story. Sometimes I think we’re almost there.