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Short Attention Spans with regards to Technology - Does it really exist?

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Paul Keith:
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:
This Amazon review provides a much shorter and direct issue as to why I'm skeptical:


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."
--- End quote ---

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.

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.
--- End quote ---

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)?

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".
--- End quote ---

...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.

I didn't read your posts, but my point... oh did you see THAT?!?

Paul Keith:
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

I don't have any anti-virus software :) but still cannot focus on one webpage for more than 2 minutes.


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