Have you been paying attention?

As I write this post, it is 11:12 p.m. and I am currently sitting on a comfortable sofa in my living room, all alone with just my television and you guys (yes, I’m talking to you) to keep me company. As someone who suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder, I find the idea of observing the attentive nature of people watching television, particularly in this internet-dominated era, to be particularly interesting.  However, in order to properly identify how our attention spans work, it is important to observe an individual’s behaviour. I, therefore, decide to observe my brother’s attention span whilst he was watching a football match, without him being aware. The decision to not let him know I was observing him was deliberate, as had he known he was being watched, the behaviour would have been less natural.


So, as I sat down and observed my brother’s behaviour, the main thing that occurred to me was how much he was browsing the internet and apps on his smart-phone, whilst still ‘watching’ television.  He would even watch YouTube videos with headphones in, which puts a whole new meaning to the term “multi-tasking”.  When I asked him, 5 minutes later, who scored the goals in the match he was ‘watching’, he said he would have to rewind as he wasn’t paying attention. Admittedly, I am guilty of also being like this, particularly when I am watching a movie or T.V. show  on Netflix. So, why are we, as an audience becoming increasingly inattentive and distracted?

Bayn & Ross (2007) highlight that our generation’s  need for instant pleasure and quick accessibility results in our need to multi-task.  Since the emergence of smartphones and tablets, we have become, as my parents would say, ‘glued to our screens’ and therefore our attention spans have slowly decreased. Microsoft has explored this issue by identifying three types of attention: Sustained, Selective and Alternating. Sustained attention is the ability to focus on just one thing at a time.  It is the most effective type of attention, particularly when something important needs to be done, such as writing an essay. However, this type of attention is becoming increasingly rare in an era of social media. Selective attention is the ability to keep your focus while faced with some distractions, such as the phone ringing or music. It is somewhat similar to the third form of attention, alternating, which is the ability to quickly alternate between tasks. This type of attention is the most common, particularly in generation Y. However, it is rarely effective, particularly when something important needs to be done. Alternating attention is arguably what is causing our attention spans to decrease…

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to watch a movie on Netflix while playing Stick Cricket…


Bayne, S. & Ross, J. (2007). ‘The ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’: a dangerous opposition.’  Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education.

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