Attention Overload: What we can do

Shameem Akhtar | Updated on: Sunday, December 29, 2019, 09:41 AM IST

Representative Image  |
Representative Image |

In the last two decades human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight and a half seconds, that makes us less attentive than a goldfish which is gifted with nine seconds.

I came upon this startling research done by Microsoft Canada a few years ago (perhaps that means our attention is depleted even more since) while trying to understand why I was feeling all fuzzy, forgot important details that I ostensibly put on the top of my day’s timetable. Was I getting old or was something else dragging me down?

Though I have no issues with my ageing, and often feel younger than in my twenties, this flaky behaviour had become an area of concern.

I realised that a large part of the blame may be safely placed at the altar of an information overload. The easy access of different tools on your smart phone has accentuated this: how many times during the day do I check my mail, get distracted by something irrelevant stuff in the mail box? Or how often do I check my social media post, and along the way saunter off into some compelling post?

Then we are compelled to be polite online: so that we need to wander through our list of admirers to grant a reciprocal number of likes. Not doing so would make us irrelevant online. Add to this the dark side of social media: our mean and pathetic need to check on those we dislike and see what the hell they have been up to while we led our life of drudgery.  We  never had the scope for so much peeking into so many lives. If we thought our ancestors wasted a lot of time gossiping around the fireside, we have a far better entertainment, hating our nemesis online by constantly clicking on their posts. And if they are on YouTube, we can even enjoy the mean luxury of pressing the dislike button.

It not just that we see something online and move on. Everything impacts us powerfully. If you are a fitness enthusiast seeing professionals or experts can demotivate, rather than inspire you, though you foolishly and fondly believe otherwise. Seeing others on holiday could make you feel low about not being able to afford it. Nothing is simply a simple “like”. If you like animals and see Peta videos you are disturbed for hours after, not knowing the sense of doom and panic that shadows you the entire day.

I think we get the drift.

We are all victims of an attention overload. It is called attention panic. Symptoms include fatigue, feeling depleted, low esteem (‘She got more likes than me’) negative reaffirmations (from fake, filtered, or photoshopped images of joy, peace and happiness in the beach and sun).

What we can do:

1. Employ a time block, when you don’t keep reaching for your phone. You can keep important contacts as starred ones so that you can still be in touch during emergency.

2. Filter. Filter. Filter: Cut down on irrelevant tasks online. If it is professional, do it within a set time frame, instead of throughout the day. Do not subscribe to every newsletter. Use apps or programmes that help you filter stuff.

3. Draw lines between professional social media surfing and personal. Be clear, firm and create  a timetable, to divide this. The fuzzy lines between professional and personal online lives is potentially harming offline relationships.

4. Do real stuff: Walk, run, go for films in movie halls (not watch online), meet people over coffee instead of chatting over different apps.

5. Keep a log for a few days and see how much time you spend online and how much of it actually adds up.

6. Keep track of your online habits: they can shock you.

Come on, you want to get your 12 second attention span soon. Not become a goldfish inside of  an online bowl.

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Published on: Sunday, December 29, 2019, 09:45 AM IST