Whenever I sit in a movie theater, I see that, at any point during the movie, at least a quarter of the people in the room are looking down at a cell phone. Similarly, I see students sitting on the quad with books in hand, constantly taking breaks from what they’re reading to check their phones. Now, I’m not saying I’m not guilty of any of these behaviors, believe me, I am. However, I try to be aware of them, as they say a lot about how our generation, the first to grow up with a constant digital connection to each other and to the world, observes and comprehends life.
My entire family is in the entertainment business, and as a result, our family discussions often focus on the industry. One day, when we were discussing America’s declining interest in movies, my uncle pointed out that young people today observe their lives in 10-second clips. He was referring to Snapchat, where we see what our friends are doing through pictures or 10-second bits of video. Snapchat has also embedded into its platform a feature called “Discover,” in which various publications, ranging from tabloids to mainstream news sources, present content in the form of short “snaps.” He said that because we take in so much information in such short bits, we struggle to keep our attention on one thing for an extended period of time. In the media business, this is seen as a transition from “long-form” to “short-form” content.
The modern drift away from long-form content goes beyond just movies. When I try to show my friends any video over two minutes, they say “it’s too long.” Similarly, people scroll right through long posts on Facebook without giving them a second glance. Nobody reads full articles anymore, instead reading news through one-sentence headlines that appear as push notifications on a smartphone. In the modern age, there’s more content available to us than we could ever fully comprehend. Because of this, we try to see as much of this as possible, and it takes a toll on us. Since we’ve become used to seeing bits of information with no consistency, we’ve been drawn away from spending long amounts of time on one piece of information. This has seriously shortened our attention spans to as short as eight seconds according to one study.
Many people would say that this is the new status quo, and it is something that the world will adapt to. But there’s one serious problem with the new way of absorbing media. We see things so quickly that we record it and move on to the next one. What gets lost in the interim is analysis, a problem especially important when it comes to the news. Headlines and snippets are very easy to slant with bias, or worse, falsify altogether. If we don’t read more into the news we see, how do we know what’s real and what’s fake? We live in a time when people publish fake news to spread their ideals, and we have to be vigilant about the stories that we see as true. When we believe what we see at first glance and move on without a second look, we can and will be easily misled.