The Telegraph (U.K.) recently reported on a study in which researchers surveyed 2000 participants to determine the average human attention span in 2016. They found that we are less attentive than goldfish.
Disturbingly, our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds, reported in the year 2000, to eight seconds now in 2016. According to the study, this is correlated directly to the increased use of smartphones and mobile technology in general.
Rather than see it as a detriment, it could be argued that this allows us greater ability to multitask…right? To a certain extent, yes, we are becoming more adept at making quick decisions and moving on to the next.
The other side of the coin means that as adults we’re actually like young children who struggle to stay focused for more than a little while because there are prettier, more interesting things in the room. Much like kids in a room full of new toys, the immediate and constant access to information offers us more colorful objects and interesting tidbits to peruse with every swipe or tap. There’s always text and email, and don’t forget Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Pinterest, where bright shiny photos, news, and gossip is spoon-fed to us in a continual stream.
There’s no denying that the list of positive impacts stemming from our access to information is vast. And there is no shortage of life conveniences that mobile accessibility has afforded us. However, when a credible study tells us that a goldfish has a longer attention span than the average smartphone user, you can’t help but ask, ‘what?’
Yes, scientists believe the attention span of a goldfish to be about nine seconds, and now we brilliant human beings have dropped to eight seconds! So where does this leave us with the art of communication?
With an average eight seconds to devote, how much thought are we giving to our email and text responses? How much care are we dedicating when we should be crafting with focus, rather than hurriedly banging off an abbreviated half-message with barely a greeting, sign-off, or term of cordiality. There is an informality that has crept into even professional communication chains.
“Good morning” has become “hey,” and to avoid those pesky additional three letters, “Thanks” has become “Thx.” That really saved you some time, but at least it’s a sign-off, where some have forgotten that a courteous greeting and sign off can go a long way toward establishing rapport.
Punctuation doesn’t exist, and capitalization seems to have gone by the wayside, with a lower case ‘i’ being perfectly acceptable as the pronoun ‘I’. You remember, the always-capitalized first-person singular pronoun. But what the heck, let’s do away with one of the most basic rules of grammar, because we’re in a hurry and typing a lower case ‘i’ saves us a whole lot of time!
Here’s the problem with all of this: with the lack of attention to communication comes messages lost in translation. In the translation of abbreviated writing, intended messages can become muddled, miscommunicated, misunderstood, and misapplied. That’s a lot of misnomers and misconstrued information going around in eight seconds. But no worries, with all of the multitasking, we likely won’t even be aware we’ve miscommunicated, and the eight seconds will be up, and off we’ll go to the next email, text, meme, or snap.
Take a minute or two—yes, a whole 60 or 120 seconds—and be sure your ability to communicate continues to be honed and used. Like riding a bike, if you go lengths of time without practice, you won’t necessarily forget how, but you may be wobbly when you turn back to it. Communication is not something you want to be wobbly at as it is at the core of every personal and professional relationship you aspire to develop or maintain.