The iPad kids are growing up, and our ability to focus is shrinking
For many people, the internet and social media is still just new, somewhat confusing technology. But, as the iPhone comes close to its 16th birthday, it is becoming the norm for more and more people to have had social media present for their entire lives.
One of the biggest side effects of having instant access to the internet at all times is also one of its most insidious: shrinking attention spans.
Ever wondered why you can’t power through fantasy novels like you used to? Or why you might have a hard time even sitting through a movie? Well you’re not the only one.
It’s easy for me to scroll through Instagram reels endlessly, wasting upwards of an hour doing absolutely nothing. But the second I sit down with a book? The urge to pick up my phone creeps back. Taking a look at your phone’s screen usage can be utterly sobering.
Our attention spans have shrunk, and are still shrinking. We are spoiled with choice, more so than any other time in history. With access to literally every piece of information in the palm of our hands, how can we be expected to focus on or be satisfied with just one thing? Sitting inside for two years during a pandemic staring at Zoom screens has definitely not helped things.
Something that has become somewhat of a norm for many people, myself especially, is the act of “multi-screening.” This includes things like having a YouTube video in the background while playing video games, or scrolling on your phone while watching TV.
I knew that I had a problem once I realized that it was becoming difficult for me to eat lunch without a YouTube video playing in front of me.
Multitasking feels like somewhat of a requirement nowadays in order to be productive. Unfortunately, multitasking doesn’t actually exist. Several studies show that it is impossible for the human brain to do two separate things at once. So what is multi-screening actually doing to you? Ruining not just your attention span, but most likely your memory as well.
It’s clear that creators of short-form video content, like what you would find on TikTok, have mastered the art of profiting off viewers’ newly-shortened attention spans. It’s no wonder Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube — along with the users of those platforms — have shifted to focus on this type of content over the past few years in order to stay relevant.
There is now a whole genre of content online that is essentially pre-packaged multi screening. It’s not uncommon to run across an Instagram reel that has two or three videos playing simultaneously. It usually consists of clips from a TV show with mobile gameplay underneath. Strange, I know.
But this idea of having extra videos to keep viewers’ attention has become pervasive in Gen Z culture. The last concert I went to had kids in the crowd holding up their phones, not to take videos, but to play clips from Family Guy for everyone behind them to watch.
By now, even if you’ve managed to read this far, you may have realized that your own attention span has been destroyed through countless hours of scrolling through brainless content. Good news, here are a few tips that will hopefully help you regain some of your ability to focus.
Learn your own habits. As scary as it might be, turn on screen usage analytics and keep track of what apps take up most of your time and when you find yourself using them during the day. Once you know what you’re doing, then you can try to correct it. Discovering that you’re averaging four hours a day on Instagram is a sure-fire way to motivate yourself to change your habits.
Stop multitasking. Entirely. The next time you’re doing something, try focusing solely on it. Waiting for your toast? Don’t take out your phone. Folding laundry? Don’t even listen to music. The next time you are going for a walk, ditch your phone entirely. Practice being fully present in what you are doing.
Force yourself to sit down with a book. Think to yourself, when was the last time you finished reading something that wasn’t for school? Devoting the time and attention to reading an entire novel is the perfect way to prove to yourself that you can still focus.
It’s clear that social media and internet culture have impacted our lives and attention spans to a staggering degree already, and will only continue to do so as time goes on. It’s up to you to decide how much you let it affect you, your habits, and your ability to focus.