Abbreviated Life: Attention Spans Getting Shorter Still

September 30, 2008

I’ll admit right at the outset that my attention span could use a gym membership, some spin classes and even some cross training. The cross-training comment was a joke, as my attention span flits from one item to the next without minimal urging or outside intervention.

Even as I compose this column, I’m frantically looking around the room at various objects that might easily take me away from the keyboard and into magical lands. Lands of television watching, Italian Ice snacking, scooter riding, magazine reading, and even furniture construction.

It’s not that I like all of those activities more than connecting with you readers, but I find my mind struggling to slow its pace and stroll along with my fingers. It’s not ADD (as I’ve ranted numerous times about how that’s a fantasy diagnosis created by antsy parents and accommodating physicians), but it is very real. And I’m not alone.

Just today, while cruising the Internet at 82MPH and jumping from Facebook to Twitter to CNN to the Sarah Palin Quotes page, I stopped to read a person’s profile. This guy regularly posts to Twitter as @technosailor and has his regular site here… TECHNOSAILOR.

His name is Aaron Brazell and he’s a self-proclaimed social media expert and backs up this bravado with some impressive writing on the subject and a long line of followers on Twitter. I poked around this follower list and added some of the smart ones to my Twitter feed, but then realized that maybe Twitter is starting to supplant longer forms of writing in the social-media space.

Brazell still keeps a blog going – and has a handful of contributors who blog nearly every day. People like Steve Garfield put videos up and are everpresent in the electronic space. And guys like Adam Gaffin are putting up news and other media by the barrelful.

But what has happened – or is happening – with the general audience in this space? I fear that it’s slowing and growing at the same time.

Last night my aunt asked me about blogging and ‘doing’ a Website. I told her I could get her up and running in 15 minutes, but I stopped short of asking her why she now wants to enter the digital age. I imagine that in the worlds of people 50 and up, digital is new and fresh and email is the wave of the future.

Look at the younger set, though, and you’ll see a move away from long-form blogs to quick-hit Tweets and Facebook status messages and FriendFeed aggregation of a person’s activity. In fact, I took a look at three people on Brazell’s following list and none of them had a blog post fresher than last June. While each had a Twitter post no older than two hours.

Have they run into the problem of having so much short stuff to share that there’s nothing left to build a bigger discussion around?

Are we facing the ultimate in OMG, L8TR conversations? And where does journalism and column writing fit into this new world?

Thankfully, the proportion of people currently mired in the new-media space is tiny. People are still wondering what a blog does. News organizations are just finding out that a shared Twitter post is called a Tweet. And our legislators don’t even use email yet.

So is the wave of the future ahead of us or crashing down upon us? It’s really up to the consumers to decide.

Ultimately, the delivery system isn’t the major factor to writers and other content producers. A good story, article, feature or column is the ultimate goal. I don’t care if you eat off a paper plate or the finest china, the meal of information should still be top-notch, accurate and compelling.

Let me know what you think and where you are in relation to the wave(s).

Keep reading!