Well, we say “you”, but we really mean all of us who spend our days tending to the screaming infant that is the smartphone and tap, tap, tapping away on laptop and PC screens (on the keyboards, really, you know what we mean!)
We;re always being told that technology rots your brain (bit like the demon TV of our childhoods) but what is it actually doing to it? Frank Lloyd Wright said,
“Television is chewing gum for the eyes”
And it seems a fairy accurate way to look at some of our technology uses too. We’re not talking about work usage – we have to concentrate and test the gadgets you send us using the hands our gods gave us and the computers our CEO had shipped in – but about how we spend our leisure time messing about on the net, playing computer games etc.
When it comes to the web, we’re not patient! To be honest, that’s why we try tog rab your attention with our best sell my mobile deals on our home page!
According to Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder and Matthias Mayer’s “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” in the ACM Transactions on the Web, the average web-based attention span has been falling pretty much since records began.
- Less than 4 seconds browsing a page – 17%
- More than 10 minutes – 4%
So that’s only 4% of the web that we deem worth the extra 9 minutes 56 seconds. Can you imagine reading 10 minutes into a book and giving up? It probably does happen occasionally (we all read short exerts of 50 Shades… just to find out how truly awfully it’s written!) but the average is probably more like 4% of the time you don’t keep reading.
- The average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds.
- The average attention span in 2013 is 8 seconds.
- The attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds (#JustSayin!)
- There were about 361,000,000 internet users in 2000.
- In 2012, there were just over 7,000,000,000
So there’s that, but it’s hardly conclusive. Our attention spans could have – SQUIRREL – dropped in correlation with the amount of men growing goatees, how many people wanted to sell Blackberry handsets or how many children were called “Harry” and “Bella”!
Statistics only tell so much of the story. What does science say?
Domestic cats are learning to manipulate us. According to a BBC Horizon special, they’re evolving to use sneaky tricks like meowing at the pitch of a crying human baby to solicit the desired response – food, cuddles, opening the front door, etc. The point being that relatively short term evolution isn’t impossible. And it’s pretty much what some scientists are saying about our tech-addled brains.
According to neuroscientist, Proff. Susan Greenfield, the human brain is under threat from the modern world. And not to back up her research, but reading the book she published as reasearch for this blog had me trying to skip through thinking “Come on, come on, get to the point, Susan!” because I wanted to go and get my daily shot of Buzzfeed.
The Proff.’s research at Oxford University is all about the physical and neurological effects of the world on our brains. Greenfield says our brains are shaped at a microcellular level by everything we do to them – every paracetamol, childhood bump, scare, bout of Prozac-crushed depression – everything!
Our brains are changing all the time, right through childhood and well into adulthood, and now they’re changing faster. And we might not be able to cope. Influences like the internet, prescription drugs, smartphones, video games, neon shop signs and all those other 21st Century intrusions are, quite literally, overloading our brains and changing our identities.
Every wondered what your little brother would be like if he’d never found GTA and had instead grown through those testing pre-teen years climbing trees and learning how to build a soapbox racer?
In the end, Greenfield says it’s all about human identity. It’s not that technology is breaking our brains, but it’s definitely changing them faster than ever and in a direction we’re not sure we can come back from.
Ever wanted to sell your iPhone and flounce off into the wild green yonder more? Tomorrow, we’ll be covering a few tricks to keep your brain from turning to mush!