By David Sable

Source: Huffington Post

“[What information consumes is] the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” -Herbert Simon, Nobel winner, Economics (1978)

Think about that for a moment.

Since the advent of movable type heralded the evolution of readily accessible information, our senses have been assaulted with ever-growing, ever-changing sources of information while, in direct correlation, our attention spans have been shrinking.

True…and while I will posit no “alternate truths,” I will share some thinking that, in my opinion, has important implications for marketers—including politicians—and maybe for all of us as we ponder some of the issues.

Let’s be clear: it’s a little embarrassing to think that a goldfish has a longer attention span than most of us do. It would seem, in fact, that while our human attention span, in a continuous downward slope, has dropped below eight seconds over the past 17 years, goldfish have held steady at about nine seconds.

Now, back in the day, my teachers used to berate me with similar statistics, but my recollection is their claim that a gnat could sit longer than I could…So it goes.

Back to truths.

Should we be ashamed because of that little goldfish? Should I be embarrassed because of that gnat? Are we really losing it—or is there perhaps something else at play here that needs to be understood?

The social media sites tell us that people interact in seconds and fractions of that (according to a Millward Brown Brand Lift Insights study from 2015, 55% of all mobile sessions last less than 30 seconds). Video played on those sites can actually be understood and contextualized in as little as three seconds, or less.

Do you believe that? And let’s be clear: someone is paying precious money every time you scroll and three seconds of video run on your screen.

According to one viewpoint from NYU’s Applied Psychology department, we’re already on the road to perdition:

The short-attention-span issue is linked to the idea that social networking encourages the reward center of the brain to signal as it does with drug use, due to the instantly gratifying nature of these simulated interactions. Greenfield proclaims that the rapidly occurring interchanges present in these websites will accustom the brain to operate on these unrealistic timescales. As a result, when one finds that responses are not immediately forthcoming, Greenfield suggests that behaviors of Attention Deficit Disorder will become prevalent in adolescents, a diagnosis on the rise for years (Wintour, 2009).

As I mentioned, my teachers credited me with being ahead of this curve.

Back in 1968 (honest!), I became obsessed with the notion of rapid-fire information and the absorption of said information by our brains.

OK—full disclosure—I was obsessed with a TV show called The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Tame by today’s standards (with an occasional zing that would make it relevant even now), but to me it was radical revolution.

One Sunday night, they broadcast a short video called Classical Gas—3,000 Years of Artset to a musical composition by Mason Williams. Williams states:

The short film was a collection of approximately 2500 classical works of art, mostly paintings, that flashed by in three minutes. Each image lasted only two film frames, so one saw twelve images a second! At the end of the film the viewer was pronounced “cultural” since they had just had “3000 years of art indelibly etched in their brains in 3 minutes!

It blew my mind and has stayed with me ever since. Watch and listen.

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