I just saw this article: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/goldfish-have-longer-attention-spans-americans-and-publishing-industry-knows-it


It contained this absurd quote: “The average American attention span in 2013 was about 8 seconds. The average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. And then get this kicker – the average attention of a goldfish is 9 seconds.”


Without knowing whether “average” means mean, median, or mode, let’s think about this statement for a moment. If the AVERAGE attention span is 8 seconds, that means half of the surveyed population was BELOW 8 seconds. Let me suggest that my own personal experience (and yours may differ) inclines me to believe that “attention” is something that exists on a continuum. How do I know this? All my educational life I have heard teachers requesting my “complete and undivided attention,” as opposed to our normal state of incomplete and divided attention. So were the experimenters measuring “complete and undivided attention” or only our lesser attention? 


And that’s the question – who was doing the experiment and under what circumstances? 


It is quotes like this that really spark my ire because they lead to Educational Urban Legends akin to “learning styles” and the “Seven Plus or Minus Two” sorts of things. Next thing you know we will be hearing everywhere that the average human attention span is 8 seconds. And people who normally exercise common sense will blurt this out as if it were a meaningful statement and tell us what we need to do as IDs to boost attention. Don’t believe me?


See: http://morningnewsbeat.com/News/Detail/43792/2014-02-13/

And: http://www.paceco.com/snapchat-immediate-content-marketing-brand/

And it just won’t die: http://whosyourgladys.com/blog/pay-attention-for-longer-than-a-goldfish/

And now it has moved from attributed quote to received wisdom: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/19/satire-tag-internet-killing-facebook-tag in the third paragraph from the bottom.


 Come to think of it, I may want to shed my ethics and come up with a consultancy based on “boosting attention spans” with all sorts of corroborating “research” like Daniel Pink does in his presentations. I bet I could make a fortune with “Guaranteed Ways To Grab Attention In Training” that spoons out reconstituted pabulum in form of educational wisdom.


But I’m too tired, so I will leave it to one of you to do that. I could easily write the course for you since it would consist of little more than educational cliches, but I have no energy to market the thing.


What I would rather see than another How To Do It Right course is for people to develop a soundly critical eye and ear for nonsensical statements ripped from the context of their supporting research environment and spouted as universal dictums.

So what I did do was write to the professor and ask her what she meant by the statement and what was the context of her research. I still haven’t heard back from her yet. But then, she may have better things to do on a Friday than to respond to a curmudgeonly instructional designer with a burr under the saddle.