Short Attention Span Theater

We live in a world of truncated content. If you don’t have 3 hours to watch a ball game, you watch the highlights in a 40-second package on TV (or on your phone or tablet).

Don’t want to watch SNL on Saturday night? Catch a segment or two later via Hulu.

News and commentary come in short spurts on Twitter.

I skim. You skim. We all skim.

Though much of this shortened content comes via new tech, the idea of minimizing content is not new.

My grandparents’ favorite magazine was Reader’s Digest, which curated and condensed content from numerous print sources. What they liked most were the humor sections, consisting of brief snippets. My mother was a subscriber to Reader’s Digest condensed books, which delivered short versions of 4 or 5 books in one volume.

In my teens and 20’s, I read The Sporting News every week. The parts I enjoyed most were the “three dot” notes columns from Dick Young and other writers and the news nuggets, often collected under the heading “Caught on the Fly.”

Some of the biggest shows on early TV were comedy programs that featured “blackout” sketches, which could run from just a few seconds to a couple of minutes. (These bits were adapted from the live theater form called Vaudeville.)

When you choose not to click on a video because it runs 4 minutes and you only care to devote 2 minutes OR when you skip a blog post because it runs 9 paragraphs instead of 3, don’t feel bad. You’re not the first to be stingy with your time.

Think of all the students who didn’t actually read Moby Dick back in the day but flipped through the Classics Illustrated comic books or skimmed the CliffsNotes.

A Short Attention Span is not a new phenomenon. The volume of content and number of delivery channels, however, are greater than ever.

With a finite amount of time and seemingly endless content choices, it’s important that we all manage our time as efficiently as possible.

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