Friday, January 20, 2017

So how is your attention span ?

Is technology making us stupid? Well more stupid? Not a day goes past without reading something that says Google is making us daft and the amount of social networking that goes on means that we have forgotten how to talk to friends.  We would rather chat to somebody invisible on the other side of the world that we don’t know rather than nip round for a coffee. Go into any restaurant and watch couples out for  a meal together, not speaking just scrolling through their phones as if there might be something more interesting going on there.
I grew up in a house without a phone.  How on earth did we survive?  I can count on the fingers of one hand the times we really needed a phone- a quick sprint to old Mrs Jefferies and run the gauntlet of her vicious budgie Polly- or Dad was sent out on his bike to the nearest phone box.
People were better organised in those days, you kept to a timetable in your life.  Gran always expected us to appear at her door at two o’clock on a Sunday and we went swimming on a Monday night. Mum worked late on a Thursday and  that was the night we got our weekly bar of chocolate ( Fry’s chocolate cream).  Nowadays people phone each other from inside Walmart/Asda and say ‘I’m at the fish I, meet you at the bananas in five minutes.’  Don’t get me started with people who walk around Walmart/Asda in their pyjamas.


Don’t get me started ( or started again as I’ve not stopped yet) on folk who walk dogs … well the dogs run around and the owner stands in the path on their phone, talking crap….  
This condition, the angst of what technology might be  doing to us could be referred to as ‘neuro anxiety’. Folk like me struggle with new gadgets and like to take solace in the argument that it’s not good for us.  However, in 370 BC Plato used the same argument saying that the concept of the written word was dangerous because people would stop using their memories.

So let’s look at a few examples.
Goldfish are now thought to possess a rather impressive nine second attention span but before we feel smug about that, the incessant bombardment of information and the need for instant answers has seriously impacted our ability to focus.  We now have an attention span less than a goldfish.And that’s official.
                                                  He may be as bright as his shiny scales.

Eight seconds.

And getting shorter.  Microsoft proved that in a 2015 study using electro encephalograms.  I can understand how they manage that experiment on their Canadian human subjects but  how do they manage that on goldfish? I was  then wondering if a Canadian on a mobile phone or a goldfish has a better chance of following the plot of Midsummer Murders.  
                                           In last week's episode, the victim was killed by cricket balls
                                           being fired from a bowling machine. The best use of a cricket
                                           ball I have ever seen.

In the US, the centre of disease prevention has shown that the percentage of children with ADHD has more than doubled since 1990.  I suppose a rubber stamp on the report card might be in order. ‘They are easily distracted, must pay more attention.’  I got that a lot at school, I didn’t have SDHD just some boring teachers….so the smart money might be on the fact that technology might be responsible for this.
It’s also possible that gaming activates the nucleus accumbens in the brain, the pleasure producing dopamine centre.  Men are now dying after excessive bouts of gaming.  They don’t eat, they don’t sleep  they just game away and die of dehydration.  Their brains on post mortem show similar signs to any other addiction.
The key word in the above paragraph is ‘men.’   Couldn’t find any reference anywhere to female fatality while gaming.  So these men who game for days on end, have they ever met or had any physical contact with a lady person? Any person? Even a Canadian with a short attention span? 

More interestingly German neuro scientist Manfred Sptizer has pointed out that with numbers and facts and map routes only a touch away, the human race is heading for ‘digital dementia’.  There is a lack of true interaction with the subject concerned and that affects the memory.  I recall Hugh Laurie saying that  while filming House, he was a medical expert on something for 30 minutes,  then he couldn’t remember a thing once the director had called ‘cut’. I do wonder about people attending concerts and filming it on their phone (and indeed watching the filming) instead of watching what they are filming  - the show.  And that is a different interactive experience.  However, on the positive side, it can be  relaxing and comforting to know that all that other stuff, all that mundane detritus of life that nobody can be bothered remembering,  is safely stored away in a  digital recording, ready to ping when it needs to be brought to your attention. 
                                                   Aha! Who do we have here??
Facebook however, while I am sure it does work for some people, has a lot of negatives attached.  One case study shows that Facebooking between mother and daughter produces the stress hormone cortisol whereas face to face reaction between the two produce the feel good hormone oxytocin. And for mankind there has always been a reaction for a child to turn its head towards a returning parent.  That is now starting to change with children fixed on their phone or their tablet instead of looking up when somebody enters the living room. ( good for a plot if you think about it to a deadly, Hammer horror type of conclusion).  That fascination with tablets etc,  and the rise of Facebook could be leading to the human race losing their ability to face read signals, those little nuances of stress and anxiety, secondary information on how the news you are giving is being perceived and the early signal that  it might be better to change tack or rephrase before someone bursts into tears or you get a slap in the kisser.

More interesting to us is maybe, is  the Norwegian experiment which proved something I guess all authors know – that reading off a screen is a very different experience to reading off paper.  The brain interprets the information differently.  Reading a good old fashioned novel, the reader absorbs it and sees the word on the page as somebody would looking at an old fashioned map.  The shaping of the word and the lettering is important and it feeds to a very deep understanding of the text being displayed.  The brain takes time to soak it all up, and retain it. How often has an editor said ‘that paragraph is too dense and too bulky’, ‘the dialogue is too sparse.’ Not only is it not reading right, it doesn’t look right.  People who read digitally skim read, their eyes tend to hunt for key words and can very often miss the deeper, more subtle meaning of what the writer is trying to convey.
  So in case this blog is too subtle because you are reading it on screen, I will summarise.

Men who spend all their money and time gaming are less intelligent than goldfish. This also applies to Canadians. ( Just to be clear, I mean that rule also applies to Canadians not that Canadians are less intelligent than goldfish!!)
 Women who need a feel-good hormone should stay away from their laptop, eat chocolate and roll up on the settee with a furry dog and a good book (not on Kindle).  That should provide all the endorphins needed.  If you want to add a wee bit of adrenaline into the mix – read a crime novel.

Here's one being published in February....

Caro Ramsay  20 th Jan 2017


  1. Why'd you have to ramble on so? Couldn't you have just started and stopped with the last two paragraphs? Sheesh. I've got other web pages to browse, too, you know...

    1. Why does that not surprise me Evka? Do you live in the upper bit of America, you know, up there near the Canadian border?

    2. And what's wrong with that, eh? Wait... what were we talking about? Just a sec, my phone is chirping at me...

  2. As someone who regularly lectures to first year students, I'm not at all surprised by the goldfish comparison. Now if only I can persuade goldfish to write the exams...

    1. Do you allow your students to have their mobiles on the desk while you lecture? That is a constant battle in schools here. And what can be so important that it can't wait an hour?

  3. I'm so glad crime thrillers still manage to hold our attention :-) Looking forward to February now.

  4. Every home, every conference room, every classroom needs a gadget box--something my daughter and son-in-law enforce at mealtimes. Everybody in attendance puts their gadgets into a box that is put away until the event--meal, class, meeting--is over.

    A friends was disgusted with her friends around the restaurant table constantly checking their phones. So she challenged them to follow a rule: the first one to take out a phone pays the entire bill. It worked.

    1. That sounds like a great idea, Annamaria! Reminds me of a sailing trip where the first person to complain about the food had to take over the cooking.

      Things definitely read differently on the page to the screen. I always have to print out a paper version to read through once I've finished a manuscript. A different font helps, too.

      Congrats on the new book, Caro. Intriguing cover!

  5. I can't remember what you wrote in the blog above, but I know it must have been as insightful as always. Congrats on your new book, which certainly doesn't describe you. Cheers!

  6. From recent events, I think the 9-second attention span is tied more to the orange color of the bearer, be it goldfish scales or mammal hair.