My editor, Lucas, was supposed to write this piece. He decided to get me to do it. No, the internet hasn’t made him lazy. Just extremely busy. But it does neatly sum up this entire story. In the first paragraph no less. Even this last sentence is here to tell you that it’s perfectly alright to jump to the next thing.
Seriously though, there are more than enough stories about technology either making us lazy or shortening our attention span to that of a mentally deficient goldfish. I even wrote about wanting more online delivery services in the country; mainly because I want to be able to buy things without leaving my house. The walk to the front door is already too distant a journey.
Continues after the break.
The current theory is that the internet provides us with such a vast array of entertainment that we become trained to rapidly hop from on activity to another. A story from the BBC in 2002 points out that most online viewers spend less than 60 seconds on an average site. A situation brought about from the massive amount of content available.
I will admit to getting very distracted while writing this story. I may have read about half a dozen different articles between putting down sentences. Most of which probably didn’t have anything to do with what I’m writing about. Then there was the social media to look at, Steam Sale to check for games, playlists to compile, instant messaging to check, and the occasional video to watch.
I may have also ended up learning more about the Battle of Breitenfeld that I should have.
That is the thing about the internet today. Everything is distilled into tiny bite sized morsels, as if we have no time or willpower to digest anything larger. This story from Slate laments the lack of readers who actually finish reading articles. Using analytics, the author points out that a large amount of engagement happens after the page break; but only because people hit the jump to see if there is anything worth looking at.
In fact, barely half of the people who saw the story will make it to the middle. Frankly, I think he is being very generous with those numbers. Most readers won’t stick on a page for longer than a minute; a figure that includes most of the visitors to Lowyat.NET.
A more scientific source, PEW research, discovered that 87% of teachers in America think the digital age is creating an easily distracted society. Although, 77% of those same teachers agree that technology is having a positive effect on research habits. In other words, while these students can’t focus on what is in front of them, they eventually get the job done.
Traditionally, this would mean that the students would be considered lazy slobs who are constantly slacking off. Distractions are bad, and prevent people from achieving their maximum potential. Or in other words, how are we going to get into the ‘zone’ for productivity.
Wired magazine had a better explanation for the way the internet has altered out mental capacity. Studies have shown that heavy users of the internet are better at multitasking. They have to be to keep up with all those IMs, emails, meaningless notifications, and stories to read. However, the act of having to process all that input overloads the brain. It gets even worse due to the habit of people putting hyperlinks into webpages. An act that slows down the reading process and breaks concentration.
All this has turned us into a generation of people who only skim articles. Doing otherwise would take up too much mental capacity, and we wouldn’t be able to focus because of all those distractions. We aren’t lazy for not focusing on the job at hand, instead there is just too much information for us to waste time on a single topic.
You can read up more here. Yes, I put that hyperlink there to see if it would break your concentration. Which it probably did because you spent that fraction of a moment deciding whether to click on it or not.
What this means is that our attention spans have not been reduced, nor are we too lazy to finish reading an 800 article (or watch a 10 minute video). Our mental capacity is simply overloaded due to the amount of stimuli available. As a response, we alter our habits to absorb as much of this information as possible. It’s as if given the opportunity to choose from an infinite number of choices, we will attempt to choose them all. That’s the exact opposite of laziness.