Digital era glitches attention span

by Anna Waletzko, Staff Columnist

Statistics show that most people probably won’t finish reading this article.

Millennials are considered the “lucky generation,” especially when it comes to research. We don’t have to sit in a library, go through catalogs, or read hundreds of pages to find the information we’re looking for, if we don’t want to. Answers are at our disposal. Most things are just a click away. We live in a fast-paced world — a world where efficiency and convenience are in high demand.

Now a lot of the time, the efficiency is helpful. There’s an app for almost everything: where the gas station with the lowest prices is, all restaurants that conveniently deliver and more. But the Internet, in all its efficiency, has massively impeded the human ability to focus for long periods of time.

BuzzFeed is a classic example of how the media massively appeals to shortened attention spans. It has a substantial amount of pictures and headlines, but few words. BuzzFeed can be fun, especially if you really want to see “16 ‘Community’ Gifs That Explain College Perfectly,” which is pretty funny.

However, a page like this, filled with pictures and lacking words, represents how technology has taken over our minds. Many simply don’t take the time to read things over. It’s all about fast-paced visual appeals.

The Skimm, another convenient news source, has the tagline “We read. You Skimm.” While it may be useful for keeping up-to-date in a fast paced world, it also shows a pattern emerging among society. People are reading less and less, especially online.

A recent study entitled “Not Quite The Average: An Empirical Study Of Web Use,” conducted at the University of Hamburg, aimed to track Internet users found that 41 percent of actions taken during the study was clicking the back button.

The gist of this study is that links are often clicked, but the content isn’t read.

“I skim it, because usually they’re pretty long,” social work junior Julianna Castro said about her online reading habits. “You can just scroll through, or find another article on the side.”

It seems as though the Internet has readers constantly searching for something more engaging.

Slate, an online current affairs magazine, uses Chartbeat, a traffic analysis firm, to follow and record user patterns on their webpages. With a huge increase at zero, 38 percent of people viewing a page left before reading anything. About 50 percent of people read to the halfway mark and then bailed.

Where do these users go when they bail? Another page, of course.

According to a University of Hamburg study, hyperlinks are the only thing clicked on more than back arrows, accounting for 52 percent of online movements.

There’s a constant stream of distractions awaiting each Internet user, whether it’s a hyperlink or a pop-up ad. Cookies track your movements and know exactly what type of things you’re likely to click on. This leads to a perpetual chain of distractions as users move from one link to the next, commonly known as “bouncing.”

Nicholas Carr, author of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” wrote about how Internet use affected his own attention span.

“My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles,” he said.

This can be seen on Twitter or Vine, where content is limited to a small amount of space or time. It’s good entertainment, but it shows how fast paced and quickly our minds are expected to move.

Many would argue having this vast amount of knowledge at our fingertips gives us power. But we don’t have a vast amount of knowledge at our fingertips — we have information, and there is a huge different between the two.

Information is what we take in, what is thrown at us, but knowledge is what we do with said information. Knowledge is how the information is applied. Make sure the information is being applied and not just clicked through monotonously from one page to the next. Stay a while, and read a bit.