Since the most recent advent of digital reading and ebook proliferation, the techno format has been blamed for a drop in reading comprehension scores among grade school students, developmental concerns over children’s screen time, and even the overturning of a time-honored pricing and value structure within the publishing industry. With the abundance of content, ebooks have even been blamed for the drop in quality of the written word medium and for giving consumers so many choices that they opt for other forms of entertainment instead.
While those arguments can be disputed all day long, a recent study by Microsoft has found that tech and gadgets may be causing us to lose our focus. The study polled 2,000 Canadians via an online survey, as well as conducted more in-depth physiological response tests, but seems to have been aimed at reassuring the marketing and advertising sector that investing in advertising wasn’t a higher risk than in the past. That’s a small comfort when you look at the data from the study which showed the average attention span (for focusing on an ad, presumably) was 12 seconds, and is now only 8 seconds. As the study’s report indicated, that’s one second shorter than the attention span of the average goldfish.
Instead of determining that the digital landscape is making us lose our focus, the flipside to this information could also be that we’re becoming far more discerning and more capable of determining that an ad is not worth our time and focus. With the bombardment of online advertisements, we may have simply adapted to that reality and become better at returning our focus to the information we were seeking in the first place, rather than on a flashy advertisement.
While the report was quick to point out that 140-character tweets and “conversations whittled down to emojis” may be the culprit, it’s interesting to note that the option to download the full report from Microsoft came with two choices: download the entire report as a PDF or simply view this “whittled down” infographic of the data. Further, an article announcing the study and its results contained four separate online advertisements in the sidebar, three sponsored links from outside websites, seven hyperlinked headlines for featured articles published elsewhere on the site, and six click-bait articles from other websites. Even our news contains “distractions,” and rather than spout the inability to focus caused by digital, we might learn an even more valuable lesson: discerning tech users are better able to focus on the content they want than ever before, and have learned to tune out the fluff.