Society’s goldfish dilemma
Thursday, 06 April 2017 10:49
By Professor Dr Brian To
Dr Brian To takes a closer look at the world’s diminishing attention span and how some world leaders have cleverly taken advantage of the trend.
I’m rarely surprised these days by what I read, particularly in the populist publications. But I recently came across a piece in The Wall Street Journal that set me back for at least half a day, forcing me to contemplate revelations that an average person’s attention span has now been reduced to eight seconds – apparently a shorter period than a goldfish!
What’s even more sobering is the possibility that this assertion has merit given that wherever you are in the world these days, all eyes seem to be focussed on a communications device of some sort – particularly when you travel on public transport. Mobile devices can even be used on several airlines today via various connections with the inflight entertainment on board. Essentially, we are conditioning and training the community to spend more and more time on their devices.
In 2015, Microsoft published a 54-page report suggesting that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds today. Whether scientifically proven or not isn’t the primary concern. More important is recognition of the need to consider how to best communicate effectively, as in what we need, want, and intend to interpersonally communicate well in light of this “goldfish dilemma.”
A range of research papers have also shown that, when we listen to someone speak, we are unable to recall anything of what we have heard beyond 18 minutes. This is frightening for those of us who teach, advise and coach on a daily basis when you consider that many lectures can exceed two hours.
Given the potential credibility of the “goldfish dilemma,” it’s worth considering that in the most recent national elections in America, the Philippines and the UK, the incumbent leaders have understood this goldfish assertion better than their opponents and have crafted their election platforms on bite size pieces. Whether it be Brexit, drugs and corruption or “America first”, the messages were pieced together masterfully without additional explanation of how proposed change would occur or initiatives implemented.
Endless spending may not be helpful and endless lectures or tutorials may not be useful, so we may want to consider delivering our messages in bite size pieces and in ways that are interesting, varied, diverse and humorous given that we only have seconds to attract interest. If we partially accept the “goldfish dilemma”, we might also want to learn from these country leaders and others that use bite size pieces to motivate, inspire and encourage. The correct implementation of such methods could win you support, votes and followers that can help us arrive at our destination and achieve our desired outcomes more effectively.