Wednesday 28 November 2012

OVEREXPOSED and DISINTERESTED: The Fight For Attention In The Modern Era

You used to go searching for that rare record. You'd line up for hours. You'd travel home desperate to hear the magic on Vinyl. Or CD. 

Even when mp3s first came about, do you remember? It took an hour to download one song. When it finally arrived, you were in heaven.

Now we stream movies. We watch box-sets hour after hour. We carry 10,000 books in our pockets. We read the newspaper while jogging.

Hearing your favourite song used to be a privilege. Now you're so bored 18 seconds in that you skip ahead, eager to find something better.

But how often do you find that magic?

Hardly ever. The magic is gone, we have too much access. 

We get false highs all the time. A quirky band comes along, and we're momentarily quenched. Or the marketing guys tell us the new Bond and Batman are the greatest films ever -- we believe them, momentarily, until we remember what a perfect movie really is.

A perfect movie is what we knew back when we were kids in the front row.

But that was long ago. Truth is, 'Casablanca' isn't as good as it once was, because our neurons are wired to think about tweets and emails while we're watching. And we have to glance at the phone, just in case there's a text.

If you can sit down and truly sink into a book, I applaud you -- you're one of an extremely rare group of people.

We have too much. So much that, nearly all of it bores us.

We pretend we're paying attention, but it's just not possible for the modern digestive system. We're stuffed. Over-fed.

We think this is evolution, but it's not. The devices, programs and apps are things that were invented and marketed at us, regardless of whether they're good for us. The human brain cannot multi-task in an efficient way. This has been proved time and time again by neuroscience. 

So we find a battle going on; there's a montage happening in the movie? Maybe I'll check my email. The song's boring? Maybe the next one suits my energy. The YouTube video lasts another 30 seconds? Maybe I'll read that article about Israel at the same time. 

We're kidding ourselves, and we're losing the battle. We're losing our passions. We can pretend we're paying attention, or we can say we're different and that all this technology helps us --- but we're rewiring our brains to suit the app-sellers and device marketers. In the process, we're losing our love of the things we hold dearest. 

Care to share?


  1. I found a YouTube video of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" from 1969. I played it for my four-year-old (when he couldn't get what he wanted), and he fell in love with it as if it were played just for him. We played it over and over and sang along until he fell asleep in my arms. That magic wasn't possible just a few years ago. You just have to look for it.

  2. Yeah, habits have changed and I sometimes miss that feeling, but I have recently found that feeling again. There is a documentary about beatboxing, which was shown at a couple of places, but never publicly released because of some copyright issues. I searched for this a lot, even looked for bootlegs, but I couldn't find anything. Recently I found that there is a VHS copy in a library in Florida. Just the fact that I know it's available somewhere was exciting to know. Unfortunately I'm not located in the US, so I still have to find a way to see it, but I am looking forward to the day I can watch that.

  3. Absolutely agree with this post. I'm 22 years old and the gap between myself and so many kids my age is enormous. Kids at my college walk, sit, talk, go to the movies, eat at restaurants texting, constantly filling that 'void' of not being entertained. There's no such thing as hobbies or doing something out in the world without their iphones.

    I have a cellphone that takes calls and voice messages. That's good enough for me. My sister is obsessed with tumblr, and I just don't understand the constant scrolling to get the next post. The only thing I would like is an Ipod - never had one before and my portable cd player is too big to carry around. (My family's always been poor so I've never had the gadgets other kids were given).

    I try to look on the bright side though - there are things we've never had access to before. I found the only existing footage of a I Love Lucy episode taping recorded by an audience member in the studio. I wouldn't have known that existed ten years ago. Those moments keep me hunting. :)

  4. Hi Kid,

    I really enjoyed reading this article despite disagreeing with pretty much all of it. In a bid to cement my feelings, I wrote a semi-reply here:

  5. This post really resonates me. It feels like people can't enjoy things anymore because everyone suffers from a really short attention span. I am guilty of this as well. Sometimes I feel like I can't even enjoy a nice conversation over a nice meal with people anymore because they won't stop checking their damn phones.

    I kind of see the rise of media as a mixed blessing, though. Now so many cool things, such as independent filmmakers and garage bands, are able to get some exposure they would not have had without the Internet. Good things can now spread like wildfire.

  6. I couldn't agree less and more at the same time.
    My agreement goes to the fact that this is probably the truth for many, many - perhaps even the majority - of people out there. Even people around me. The reason I still have to disagree is that this is not my personal reality. You may say I belong to that rare group that really likes to enjoy what they do right now. Okay, of course I sometimes get bored doing something and perhaps check my facebook or something, but that's really the exception for me.
    I don't know, am I that un-normal?

  7. Or you find a random site and end up reading the post, and other posts and thinking "yeah i agree" or "disagree but want to read more anyway" and then you read some other random stuff on the site. Then you end up bookmarking it out of interest. Yeah I still do that. Good work.

    Most of the people these days have no patience to read a book, or take the effort to understand a simple insurance or a contract.
    They simply lost the ability of concentration... Large companies are thinking about placing their policies on youtube videos, so clients know what is it all about...and sooner or later everybody will need a lawyer (USA), because we will be too lazy to think and not get into bad situations.
    On instagram:
    Yes, ppl are snapping away hundreds of pictures a day, then they put that faded 70's filter on and post it on the net for everyone to see -To me it means, that we are still longing to be valued, secretly we all want to be on an old potograph that is so important for someone that kept it for 20-40 years.. we want to make history, we want to look like sth great happened to us, we want to look epic, in an instant...(I know, those crative filters make everyone look better, but the above thought is still valid I think...)
    Sorry, I seem to struggle to express my thoughts in English...
    To the KID : Love all your post, and I like that you are very "real". Thanks, there are so much fake and pretentious things around.