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Most teachers and many older people conclude that today’s youngsters have a shorter attention span than they did or than is desirable. Some suffer a now recognised condition, ‘attention deficit disorder.’

The arrival and wholesale adoption of the digital era has meant that more people are second screeners, hopping between devices, doing different things at once but always less deeply than they did a generation ago.

Some observers lament the fact that the proliferation in information technologies mean that we are building our world on short-termism so that we ignore the future. We are impatient because we are conditioned to get results instantly.

And we no longer acquire any knowledge, but only how to access knowledge.

Is that right and is it all bad?


The lost art of patience

It is generally thought that nowadays, three seconds is too long to load a website for most people.

Patience is supposed to be a virtue. Chief Economist at the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, is on record as saying that history shows us patience and long-termism leads to saving, investment and economic growth.

He believes that social media (Twitter in particular) demonstrates ‘a headwind change’ which has driven patience out of favour, permanently.

He also suggested in a speech at the University of East Anglia (February 2015) that ‘impatience has been found to reduce creativity among individuals, thereby putting a brake on intellectual capital accumulation.’

His remarks were reported along the lines of ‘the internet is bad for economic growth….’

Well we do live in a world that runs at a faster pace than any previous one in our history, but again, we have to wonder if that is all bad, accepting that it is what it is. We can’t change the pace; we can’t uninvent what is here for us. And really, does the internet slow growth?

Alternative arguments

Chartered accountant and political economist Richard Murphy took a counter view, condemning Mr Haldane as ‘a little out of touch.’

He maintained that a shortened attention span indicates an increased ability to process more information. He praised our ability to do do more than one thing at once, to ‘sift out rubbish and find the information we need fast.’

Murphy felt that Twitter doesn’t stop creativity or educational achievement. Other commentators felt that business has to be responsive to survive, and people have to respond to our changing world, so of course they move but do not have a shorter attention span?

So, why not focus on these questions and take part in our poll:

Other stuff to check out:

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, a book with ideas about conscious and unconscious thinking that is believed to have inspired Andy Haldane’s remarks.

The Daily Mail thinks we may soon run out of words to describe how much data we have stored in the world. Three generations ago, data was a pin prick, by comparison, and that absorbed people for years.

The Limits of Technology, Knowledge and the Human Brain, 18 July 2011

Is the Web Bad for Brains? 26 July 2011