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Author Topic: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?  (Read 4604 times)

Paul Keith

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After reading this thread, it makes me wonder whether short attention spans really exist -- to the point that you can blame it on short attention spans.

What really fuelled my doubt was the fact that if people really had short attention spans, then no one or almost everyone would be a lurker in the internet.

It shouldn't even reach these numbers.

At the same time, if people really had short attention spans, most of them won't often bother with creating noise to disrupt the signal ratio by throwing insults or even "detailed-lite" advises at a person who writes something long. There should just be on average people who act like editors and jot down what you should change and improve with your post (specifically rather than generally saying your posts are vague and long) and then there should be people who just flat out ignores a post.

Yet, for some reason, we short attentioned span beings can often even go to such points as type "Leaving/ignoring this thread. Thanks for ruining it." while our so-called short attention spans seemingly ignores the thread.

I'm putting this in the general software section because it seems useless as a question on it's own. Why would most people care what category we fit in? Most people type because they want to know or share something and hope someone can provide them additional data for their cause. Short attention span, long attention span. In software especially web apps, the end justify the means. Even if what it is justifying is the fact that you can read an entire set of 140 char. of different topics as opposed to 1 whole article on one topic of the same length.

That last sentence got to me.

It seems that in reality, you can't really write for short attention span people because they simply don't exist. Instead, what we have is a consumer attention span people who ignore things that don't benefit them and join things that do.

...and then you bank on this and hope you can ride the momentum so that even if your software didn't really start out the best, you have combined improvements plus peer pressure plus enacted a form of self-wage slavery by which "content creator activism" helps make the software the standard and continues to generate your market for you.

I don't just mean this for Web 2.0. Isn't MS Office used because there's no free alternative?

Then when there was a free alternative in OpenOffice, wasn't this used because it was free and not the best?

Isn't it kind of strange that when Wordpad is in front of you, our attention span is shorter. Yet with the same online interface for blogs, someone's attention span gets long enough to write an entire blog for life (or at least until they failed their expectations)?

Similarly from a reader's point of view, doesn't it seem weird that a person can read a long useful Amazon interview because it's the one that gets voted the most even in 1 star ratings but after 1 review, we can often get short attention span syndrome and not check an even shorter review if we're satisfied by that review?

When I think of these examples, it just makes me wonder if short attention span really exists or whether it just became a popular term because it seems to hit it close enough to an idea so that most of us don't need to think on the issue anymore when writing an article, developing a software user interface or some other unnatural way technology makes us view things. (For example, before the clock how much value did we put in seconds and minutes. Yet if that were proof of our short attention span, we'd have been unable to take advantage and see any value in seconds and minutes and we would merely drop those concepts in favor of just hours or 30 minutes.)

In the end, I want to know the answer because for people who have problems with communicating, every little correct detail counts more to the quality of my products (like say an article or a program or a media based story) compared to normal people who have less of this problem but require people like me to hold up to their standards.

Paul Keith

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2009, 08:12:28 PM »
This Amazon review provides a much shorter and direct issue as to why I'm skeptical:

Source: http://www.amazon.co...ewpnt#R1TY559HFLITPR

Quote
The Web demands your writing deliver "joltage". A former chief executive of the Fairfax newspaper group liked to compare the newspaper-reading experience to a warm bath. Web reading, by comparison, is a 30-second shower - get in, get the job done, wake you up, don't hang around. As Kilian puts it: "Computers condition us for high joltage. A 'jolt' is an emotional reward that follows a prescribed action ... We feel deprived if we don't get some sort of jolt at regular intervals, so we go where we hope to find more stimulation which, on the Web, means web sites."

I don't quite agree with the warm bath example as I never grew the habit of picking up any newspaper outside of a tabloid but it seems much more true that everything on the web is a joltage.

If it is, doesn't it further prove that attention span doesn't exist at all? That when someone ignores the content of your post, it is not because they have some innate clock within their attention spans but that often times, your article, your product and your program just doesn't jolt those people enough?

I compare this with a program that has a wiki, a manul and a forum vs. a program that has all of these AND has a live guest demo, a clear way to spot the pricing scheme, an above average quickguide and a design that gives the illusion of simplicity but is far far more complex.

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Beware old-style marketers who see the Web as another opportunity to pump a message at a commercial audience. In most media, the marketer hunts the customer down and delivers a broadcast or printed spiel that can be hard to avoid. On the Web, the customer comes looking for the transaction, with a million other sites a single mouse-click away. Research shows Web users are uncommonly likely to bolt at the sight of an old-style marketing pitch. A very few good Web marketers, on the other hand, already understand that the message of a commercial Web site must rely on a more subtle link with a brand's values.

Again, doesn't the bolded part imply that the key factor is in manipulating people and not in people manipulating themselves (even when they claim to be manipulating themselves)?

Quote
The Web suits "response" writing which prompts the user to carry out an activity. In the offline commercial world an entire marketing discipline - direct response copywriting - has evolved to offer users spcific benefits if they carry out particular actions. Indeed, the long-established rules of direct response advertising copywriting often look remarkably like Web writers need to import these direct response lessons, in just the same way that Web interface designers need to understand how to convince users to click on the appropriate screen buttons. "The Web is a culture of impatience," writes Kilian. "Effective appeals offer quick and painlesss ways to respond".

...and this is where I am lost again. It seems like a "magic card trick" term.

You only agree with the idea that it is a culture of impatience after the answer has been given to you.

Yet, when I was reading that paragraph, the thing that strikes me was impatience was the last thing I would attribute it to. Instead I would say the web is a culture of gullibity and I'm not just thinking of scams and such.

Even people like the Open Source fanatics, produces and inspires gullibility out of the group being gullible.

Now I am not saying these people are stupid. Far from it.

I think what I'm getting at (I'm not really sure) is the idea that because all of these qualities attributed to short attention span have some truth in them, that even smart people on the web can get lazy at verifying anything.

...and that ignores the vague issue of opinions, groupthink and internet peer pressure and gullibility towards all of those words. (which are qualities that investigative journalism nor empiricism don't really handle)

If this is true, then wouldn't the reality simply be that the problem with communicating with all kinds of people on the internet (including short attention span people) stems from us just not maximizing the manipulation of people...or the manipulation of joltage to reel in our culture of gullibility?

Of course, this is an evil perception and some well-meaning person who put alot of passion to their products may 100% disagree that it is what they're doing but that's why I'm asking.



housetier

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2009, 09:03:12 PM »
I didn't read your posts, but my point... oh did you see THAT?!?

Paul Keith

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2009, 09:18:17 PM »
Yeah, it sounds good in theory but that's why I'm being skeptical.

It might be a case that common sense (which is not so common) is replacing valid objectivity of the word.

Plus "Did you see that?!?" is a bad real scenario example. It implies that as you're viewing this page, there are things popping up all over your PC.

In that situation, you should be more worried that your anti-virus is not working rather than on focusing on one webpage. /sarcasm
« Last Edit: September 28, 2009, 09:20:36 PM by Paul Keith »

housetier

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2009, 09:21:48 PM »
I don't have any anti-virus software :) but still cannot focus on one webpage for more than 2 minutes.

Paul Keith

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2009, 09:29:44 PM »
Are you sure it's exactly more than 2 minutes? Maybe you can't focus on some webpages for more than 1? Maybe other webpages make you focus more on it for up to 2 and 30 seconds?  :P

housetier

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2009, 01:38:10 AM »
I don't have the means to actually measure the amount of time I give attention to something. But I am very good at hopping from task to task, from page to page, from irc to web and back.

On the other hand, I can concentrate for hours on something an be really productive (for example writing the minutes of our regular panel meetings).

Going back to the OP I think this focus on attention span is a marketing campaign to monetize users' clicks.

app103

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2009, 09:51:04 AM »
I wouldn't say it's a matter of a short attention span for most people as I would call it a short interest span. Losing interest in something quickly or not being able to become interested in it at all, isn't the same as having a short attention span.

There is also the issue with losing focus, which isn't the same as a short attention or interest span.

Some people's writing style can cause readers to lose focus too easily. In particular, people that write incredibly long paragraphs that ramble on & on. If they got to the point and said what they had to say with less nonsense filler text and broke it up with some white space, it would be a lot easier to read and keep focus.

Also shoving too many topics into an article, that would be better broken up into multiple articles can cause one to lose interest.

But these are issues with readability and rest on the author and have not much to do with the reader.

Now going back to the attention span issue, one of the biggest problems I have developed over the years is the ability to stay interested in a television program long enough to survive through the commercial breaks. As soon as one hits, my interest turns off and I wander away, fully intending to come back when the commercials are over...then something else grabs my attention (and interest) and I forget all about whatever I was watching and never return to finish.

This is one of the factors that contributed to me giving up TV permanently. After a few years of not watching, I found I really can't any more. Take the commercials out, and I can.

I suppose if I were reading a book and was forced to put it down and do something else for 3 minutes after every chapter, I might have the same issue with reading, too.

As far as the claims that teens don't like to read, I think they are wrong. Teens will spend a great deal of time reading about topics they are interested in, and will even read quite long articles that are well written and with good style.

What they don't like is reading something they are not interested in. Boring text turns them off no matter what length it is, and what constitutes as boring differs from person to person. I don't think age really has anything to do with it, though.

And I think housetier is right about that article having more to do with marketing than anything else. I think it could probably be summed up as this:

When selling magazines door to door, get to the point and ask if they would like to buy a magazine as quickly as possible. Don't spend 3 hours trying to make small talk with boring unrelated topics before finally getting to the point of why you interrupted their life by knocking on their door. That way they can tell you "No"  (or buy a magazine) a whole lot sooner and you can hit the next house, without each potential customer getting turned off by your style & personality, slamming the door in your face before you even begin to give them the sales pitch.

And when giving your sales pitch, don't jump up & down like a wild animal or scream at them. Don't talk to fast or too slow. Don't try to sell them a million things at once. Don't wave things close to their face. Let them take a look at what you are trying to sell them.

Don't make them stand on one foot, perform circus tricks, or play Simon Says while you are giving your sales pitch or when they are in the process of making an order.

Answer their questions, explain things that are not clear, help them understand.

And if you give them a fun free gift as a reward for putting up with you, they won't be likely to slam the door in your face so fast when you come back again.

And after the sale, make sure they can communicate with you if they need to.

Don't make them swear to keep your product a secret if they are happy with it. Let them tell their friends and family and give them a way to notify you that their friends would like you to visit their house, next.

Same rules for websites.  ;)

One final note: The reason why most people like the interactive features mentioned in the article is because we all like to think that our thoughts, opinions, and experiences matter and that someone is genuinely interested in them. (doesn't matter what age you are)

Paul Keith

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2009, 12:16:28 PM »
Thanks app and housetier, I'd try to ask something more in-depth but I think I'd probably bore both of you so just one question:

The thing with the theory of short attention spans though, is that even if you change the names or disagree with it, one of the core lessons is being direct to the point.

The common example being that you tune out to something you're not interested in because the author rambles on.

However what happens when it's something you're not interested in but the article is 140 characters

I can't speak for everyone but I find it interesting how I tune out more to twitter posts than when I'm scanning RSS feeds. (But the interface is important. For example, I hate Google Reader's default mark as read when you pass by it)

...or vice versa? (Yes, I'm cheating the 1 question bit)

What happens when it's long but you're interested in it and you found it to be direct to the point?

Again, can't speak for everyone but I found that I can read a long pdf (even if it has clunkier page switch controls and slower and more horizontal scrolling) than I could a long list of articles with hyperlink texts to other articles. (ex. wiki lists when you're in list navigation view)

Note that I'm totally severing the link to program interfaces so that the direction of the issue is more focused.


app103

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2009, 02:01:36 PM »
The difference between the 140 char "articles" such as you find in twitter and a real article of longer length is how you read them. On twitter you don't read...you scan. It's like looking at a list of post titles, and you scan for ones of interest to you. The fact that so many people share so much stuff you are not interested in and you know that, but also know they share things you might be interested in, you approach it knowing full well you are looking for needles in a haystack and you'll be throwing most of it away.

With a feed reader, you subscribe to content of all the same type when you subscribe to a feed. Less noise, more signal. More articles, no list of what the blogger had for lunch.

If you want to see how interested people can really be with a simple 140 char post, compare the level of engagement in the original format of twitter and to the same posts imported to Friendfeed.  Human filtering can make all the difference when it comes to separating the noise from the signal and generating an interesting discussion around the content that 140 chars was pointing to.

The post on twitter might pick up a comment or 2, and might even get a bunch of RT's, but a substantial group discussion that is more interesting than the original 140 chars? Not going to happen. People don't really read tweets. And there is no way to keep the entire discussion on the same page. It's too fragmented.

On friendfeed, you are still scanning for content of interest, but if you like something you mark it and it makes it more noticeable, sending it again past the people that missed it the first time. If another marks it, it starts to grow more visible, and again goes past those that missed it the first 2 times. Then comments make it a larger block, sending it past again. The more times it comes past you and the bigger it gets, the more likely you will notice it, read it, and interact with it. Your friends have filtered for you to help you find the signal among the noise. But if it is noise to you, despite the interest others have in it, you can hide it and never see it again.

Plus the discussion is all on the same page and you see the whole thing, including the contributions made by those you are not following.

It's not a substitute for a feed reader, but it compliments it, and allows you to follow writers rather than just the words they write. You can see their influences, the thought process, and sometimes the inspiration behind the words they write.

Plus, just like in google reader you can group people into one or more categories based on your interests and the type of content they share, just like you would classify a blog's feed.

Instead of category of Photography, I have one called Photographers, where I not only have the listing of the blog posts they write, I also see their stuff they upload to Flickr, the things they favorite, the list of the music they listen to, the jokes they tell, their rants they don't share on their blog. Yes, it's the same stuff they share on twitter in some cases, but it's not fragmented as much, and I see a whole lot more and it can have more meaning.

Because Twitter lacks the ability to filter people into categories like this, it makes it much more difficult to get the most out of it.

Plus unlike Twitter, Friendfeed does give more than 140 chars, which can grab your attention better, keeping you from missing the really interesting stuff.

These are examples of posts I made that I cross posted to twitter that most people probably let slip right past them without noticing, but with added content and with the way the human filtering works, combined with the conversation all on the same page, it had a much greater reaction on friendfeed, with more interest shown. (I saw no evidence of anyone noticing I posted these, on twitter)

The Kopp-Etchells Effect
I'm Hungry
Is It Ethical To Engineer Delicious Cows That Feel No Pain?
The Finger Test to Check the Doneness of Meat

If you want to see it in all its glory, view this page not for the content but for how things grab your attention, making note of why. It will be a real lesson in how things grab your attention and why you miss some things (is it because of the image? the comments? the number of people that liked it? the number of times it keeps coming back to the top?)

Everyone I am subscribed to

Keep in mind that I don't view it like this, I use filters a lot, I have other enhancements & scripts I use, and I keep the real-time scrolling turned off so it's much slower for me.


Paul Keith

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2009, 02:35:30 PM »
@app

Quote
On twitter you don't read...you scan.

Not saying you are wrong but the same people who often mention short attention spans, often mention the fact that everyone or at least 99% of readers in the Internet are diagonal readers or F-readers.

F readers basically are people who read the first line completely when their curiosity is peaked. (ex. headlines, first sentence of post)

After that, depending on the quality of the content, they sputter out or end up reading the posts completely.

Meanwhile diagonal readers are ones who read the headers, bolded bullet points, etc. while scanning the rest no matter if they are valuable contents or something useless until they have judged the content enough to reread it, drop it or take note of some minor bits.

Quote
With a feed reader, you subscribe to content of all the same type when you subscribe to a feed. Less noise, more signal. More articles, no list of what the blogger had for lunch.

As you alluded to in your post, this only works if you have set up the folders between Photography and Photographers correctly. Most people who go to these lengths already have gone through the issue of filtering the data to it's minimum categories.

The rest pretty much don't use these types of RSS readers at all or they use it because they don't know of Netvibes and Feedly.

Quote
If you want to see how interested people can really be with a simple 140 char post, compare the level of engagement in the original format of twitter and to the same posts imported to Friendfeed.  Human filtering can make all the difference when it comes to separating the noise from the signal and generating an interesting discussion around the content that 140 chars was pointing to.

The post on twitter might pick up a comment or 2, and might even get a bunch of RT's, but a substantial group discussion that is more interesting than the original 140 chars? Not going to happen. People don't really read tweets. And there is no way to keep the entire discussion on the same page. It's too fragmented.

On friendfeed, you are still scanning for content of interest, but if you like something you mark it and it makes it more noticeable, sending it again past the people that missed it the first time. If another marks it, it starts to grow more visible, and again goes past those that missed it the first 2 times. Then comments make it a larger block, sending it past again. The more times it comes past you and the bigger it gets, the more likely you will notice it, read it, and interact with it. Your friends have filtered for you to help you find the signal among the noise. But if it is noise to you, despite the interest others have in it, you can hide it and never see it again.

I'll admit that when I tried FriendFeed, probably because I don't have default friends, I could never read any of the discussions there or even when I join some, it gets annoying because I don't know when a thread has added a new comment or reply.

I have used Plurk though and discussions don't get better. In fact, it is perceived as a wrong thing by people who see me constantly break the 140 char. limit of the replies. (and I would argue that from my experience with both, Plurk alerts you better to new replies to your comments)

Another problem with this is that if we ignore the 140 char. limit, we still have the issue that each forums have different cultures. If I posted this on a random board with a tech sub-board for example, I probably wouldn't get any reply that equals the depth of your reply here.

But if we just attribute it to the different interest levels of different forums, than we still couldn't estimate the interest span of these areas because a forum with the most members interested in a single issue is not always the most civil of forums but is in fact more exposed to knee-jerk and rude posters. A forum with fewer members on the other hand may not even hold a candle to the community of DC.

...but the problem now is that we're going nowhere because we both already agree with the idea that short attention span (as a word) might not exist.

Unfortunately, for someone like me who is often accused of writing too long of a post, these kinds of concepts aren't just an issue of agreement or disagreement. Knowing the reality of these concepts could make or break the difference between a post that people I align with will read and from a post they will ignore.

(I often don't care about the rest of the internet population not because I don't value their opinion but they may not care so much about a topic that their comments are often just short twitter level comments and not a discussion that could help educate/enlighten/expand on my dilemmas and ignorance.)
« Last Edit: September 29, 2009, 02:43:42 PM by Paul Keith »

app103

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2009, 03:06:57 PM »
I never said that short attention spans didn't exist. I said that most people probably do not suffer from it. Those that do suffer from it (ADD/ADHD) don't like it one bit and it causes problems in their life of one sort or another.

I'll admit that when I tried FriendFeed, probably because I don't have default friends, I could never read any of the discussions there or even when I join some, it gets annoying because I don't know when a thread has added a new comment or reply.

Should you ever want friendfeed lessons from a power user, feel free to send me a private message there and I'll show you all the wonders and great tools.

Quote
Unfortunately, for someone like me who is often accused of writing too long of a post, these kinds of concepts aren't just an issue of agreement or disagreement. Knowing the reality of these concepts could be make or break the difference between a post that people I align with will read from people who don't. (I often don't care about the rest of the internet population not because I don't value their opinion but they may not care so much about a topic and their comments are often just that, short twitter level comments and not a discussion that could help educate/enlighten/expand on my dilemmas.)

You would be really surprised at what goes on, on friendfeed. A lot of very intelligent people with a lot to offer. I never saw a social network quite like it before. It reminds me a lot of this forum in a lot of ways. It is the first of the "web 2.0" social networks that actually had the ability to draw me in and capture my attention for more than 2 weeks and made me feel like I belonged. The rest of them all made me scratch my head and ask "why do people like this?" and left me feeling like a space alien. (and I think I have tried almost all of them)

But it does matter who you are subscribed to. Not everyone is social. Too many dump their feeds there and never really participate or talk to the people they are subscribed to.

Like I said, if you want a guide, message me there and I'll teach you the ins/outs and point you in the direction of who is worth following.

Paul Keith

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Re: Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2009, 03:15:07 PM »
@app,

Quote
I never said that short attention spans didn't exist. I said that most people probably do not suffer from it. Those that do suffer from it (ADD/ADHD) don't like it one bit and it causes problems in their life of one sort or another.

Sorry. I was just over-simplifying the point to cut my sentences short.

Quote
Should you ever want friendfeed lessons from a power user, feel free to send me a private message there and I'll show you all the wonders and great tools.

Sure, feel free to do so. I just subscribed to your Feed:

My profile:

http://friendfeed.com/theplagiarist

Quote
You would be really surprised at what goes on, on friendfeed. A lot of very intelligent people with a lot to offer. I never saw a social network quite like it before. It reminds me a lot of this forum in a lot of ways. It is the first of the "web 2.0" social networks that actually had the ability to draw me in and capture my attention for more than 2 weeks and made me feel like I belonged. The rest of them all made me scratch my head and ask "why do people like this?" and left me feeling like a space alien. (and I think I have tried almost all of them)

I get where you're coming from. Nothing like a forum with a nice community and friendly people behind it.

Quote
But it does matter who you are subscribed to. Not everyone is social. Too many dump their feeds there and never really participate or talk to the people they are subscribed to.

Guilty as charged. I tried but it was like Twitter. Without friends, it felt like I was navigating through a messier RSS Reader.

(Plus I don't get, lifestreaming. Caused my posts to get double posted when I double posted on some service.)