Friday, February 6, 2009

Every 4 Seconds...

Right now I'm reading an interview on the Wired Network, with Maggie Jackson about her new book Distraction. In this book, Maggie talks about how our fast paced society is eroding our attention span. Ironically, no one will read her book because it takes too long. If she is such a specialist on attention, she should have made a 15 minute infomercial with the Sham-Wow guy, he knows how to get your attention.

While, I am always skeptical of anything psychologists say, I am writing this while trying to read an interview and watch the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, so there may be something to what she is saying. However, I think that she is a little late on the scene with this. Since the advent of TV, our attention spans have been getting shorter. When working in mass media, the goal is to grab peoples' attention. We have come to expect things to be constantly grabbing our attention, and get bored if this doesn't happen.

We can do a little experiment of our own. In TV there is something called the four second rule, which states that there should be a major change on screen, at most, every four seconds. So after every major change (a camera cut, a major shift in screen dynamics, a dude being mauled by a lion) start counting, you'll notice that you will rarely make it past four before there is another change. This works especially well with commercials and prime time television.

This is where my obsession with advertising comes from. I am always amazed at how well people have distraction down to a science. Whether it is those annoying Green Peace volunteers who stop you in front of Starbucks, or the ShamWow dude on your TV, it is very hard to avoid people who are vying for your attention. It is no wonder that we are conditioned to expect distraction, and feel out of place when we don't get it.

I'm even having trouble concentrating on one thing to be pissed off about in this article. When asked whether there is hope for adults whose attention spans are lacking, Jackson responds, "The only sort training going on now in the office world is meditation-based... ." She inadvertently points at the other source of our attention problem. Rather than realizing that we need to learn to deal with situations where you need to pay attention, we try to make the problem go away by taking drugs. Then again, I suppose no one makes any money when you learn to cope with your problems on your own.

Jackson goes on to talk about what the affects of a ADD society might be. Of course, she has to grab your attention with the hyperbole of saying that we will be plunged into a second "dark age". In this future hell-scape she envisions, people are distraction-junkies whose loyalties belong to those who can shout the loudest. Where we are addicted to gossip, we get our information from sensationalist news, and learn science from watered down newsstand paperbacks.

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