Recently, technology and its effect on the human attention span has become a growing topic of discussion. When people develop issues which may include a technology element, there are often quick judgements and a cursory analysis typically highlight technology as the main culprit. All the while technology has become an increasingly irremovable part of our environment. Even among friends, family, and the public at large, it is a common attitude that technology can lead to dependency and estrangement, oftentimes applied towards the youth. However, this could simply be a change in behaviour due to a change in environment.
As a mental health service worker, and also a technology enthusiast, my perspective on the matter is different. Hearing the attitudes of change as negative by default sparked interest in me to consider looking at change in a different way. Is the change present? According to some research humans have shown indication that there is a drop in focus time during certain activities. But should we be concerned by this? Some are pre-emptively saying “yes”.
Technology is a versatile tool, which means it can vary in how it is used. The outcomes rely on the responsibility of the user to make informed decisions, including within the calculus how the tool could affect him or her. From this perspective, technology in itself becomes harmless. What may be missing is information, education, and awareness of the risks associated with how this tool is applied to daily life. It is therefore difficult to conclusively say that technology is inherently problematic. However, we cannot deny that it has an effect on humans. But what do these changes mean?
Consider that we are bombarded with information every day. This is true with our social media feeds, the 24 hour news cycle, the feedback loop between the two mediums, and the competitive arena of the digital businesses biding for the consumer’s attention and clicks. These changes in our information consumption is present. However, is it possible that our lowered attention span is conducive to our learning within this kind of environment?
When your environment is quick to change, it means that one must keep up with the changes to increase likelihood of survival and decrease likelihood of risk. Short attention spans may mean an iterative learning pattern, where people consume small quantities of information, to efficiently learn about the world in which they reside. Before the internet was popularized, life was relatively static. Careers lasted decades, and culture stayed the same throughout the generations. Now, the world can seem to change overnight, and cultural changes happen all around us. If a person in this kind of environment were to dedicate their mental focus for too long, they may lose touch of the social environment around them and the greater context. In this way, a decrease in attention span may not be a negative thing at all. It may simply mean that a person has optimized their ability to stay relevant within this new digital paradigm.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA