Brian Resnick, writing for Vox.com, explored the concept of society’s collective attention span—and why it’s continuing to fall. Off the back of new research published last month in Nature Communications, Resnick noted how the researchers used Twitter as a measure of our collective attention:
They measured collective attention on Twitter by looking at how long individual hashtags stayed in the list of 50 most popular hashtags. In 2013, they remained, on average, for 17.5 hours. In 2016, that was reduced to 11.9 hours.
This fall in our collective attention is mirrored on Reddit threads, the coming and going of blockbuster movies and even Google trends (which rapidly spike before fading out after a few days). What’s causing this drop? Technology, media consumption and the rise of the attention economy.
With digital tools, companies keep getting better at knowing how to capture attention, targeting ads and content to particular users.
News sites that need high pageview numbers to turn a profit cannot afford to miss out on super-popular trends like Game of Thrones, or Avengers, as fleeting as the attention for those topics may be.
Because every media outlet is jumping on the same bandwagon, the cycle is “self-inhibitory,” Lorenz-Spreen says. “Because the more you produce, the earlier people become bored about it.”
The mechanisms driving the attention economy have weighed heavily on my mind in recent weeks. Seemingly infinite A/B testing thanks to big data and real-time feedback have enabled organisations to optimise content for maximum engagement (i.e. maximum ad revenue). Add to that psychological hacks and dark patterns designed to keep our attention, is it any wonder we move onto the next shiny thing when it’s dangled in front of us? We’re only human.