An Attention Span the Width of a Macbook Air

How many tabs do you have open right now? Are you even on a desktop? Or are you in a window external to the link you just clicked on twitter? When was the last time, you gave your full, and undivided attention? The last time you fully committed to a task at hand, completing it within the exact time needed without drifting into other thoughts and to-dos’. According to recent studies by Accenture, 87% of media users engage with multiple devices and screens at any one time; E I G H T Y S E V E N P E R C E N T.

This week’s task asked us to conduct a small scale, self-test to see just how poor our attention span was, particularly in terms of media use. This informal test was to reveal our response to the digital media space, and how we organise and spend our time engaging with screens. The research I conducted, was not aimed at producing specific statistical results or spitting out facts and guaranteed responses to categorised situations, but just to improve my self-awareness, revealing to myself exactly how divided my attention is when engaging in the digital space. Over the course of the last week I have made several peculiar observations about my personal media use:

  1. If I am treating myself to a good Netflix binge in my loungeroom, I will make sure I have my phone by my side to respond to work, internship or friends. As a guilty second-screener, I also realised that I do not do this if I have friends or family in the room with me, actively participating in the absorbing of the television show with me.
  2. Not only do I have multiple tabs open in Chrome, but will go through each of the websites in my bookmarks bar in consecutive order: Blog, Emails, Facebook, SOLS, university emails, Twitter etc. In that order, every time I begin a new session. (What’s with that Claudia?)
  3. I realised how much I hate friends using their phones when we are having a conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I love you to death, but you know who you are!
  4. I often find myself utilising distraction-free options when creating content on my laptop. Spatially thinking contributing distraction-free workspaces on Microsoft Word and WordPress.org is a fantastic example of designers catering for the next digital era; one that is imminent if not already upon us.

With all these attention-demanding spaces, we must understand distractedness and become self-aware. How do we find depth amongst the many voices calling from a plethora of different screens and devices? And, is multitasking a bad thing? We live in a society that finds depth in business, and scrambles for tasks to allude to importance. My question is, is there worth in finding a way to reverse the psychology of an ingrained culture? Or do we think upstream and beg designers to develop platforms supporting a growth in our attention spans?

Forgive me for the lack of academic perspective on this piece, as I felt it was a topic that as a generation we know all too well. Ethnographic insights into this area will assist not only marketers and individuals, but also those developing the next era of digital evolution. This non-conformative and wildly used practice of engaging with media will come into play when conducting any form of media research; not something that can be understood with statistical data and quantitative methods, but through insights into real-life and non-numerical behaviour.

Much love,

Claudia

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