Wide, not deep, attention spans

Over the weekend I did a little music gig as a side man at a restaurant. In the crowd were these annoying twentysomethings who were loudly playing music on their phone while we were performing. On one hand, I found this very annoying and was wishing the restaurant staff would come out and torture these cretins to death (but to do it somewhere away from where we were playing so the cries of agony wouldn’t interrupt the music.) On the other hand, I suspect this sort of behavior is going to become more common.

As I’ve ranted about in the past, I think the advent of endless entertainment options is preventing people from being able to focus on one thing. It used to be that you could go to a restaurant and you can talk to friends or listen to the musicians. That was about it. (You could also eat of course.) Now you can surf the web, post on facebook, watch youtube videos, stream Spotify, look at monkey porn… the possibilities are endless! I suspect the generation raised in this madness is developing an attention span that is wide (in the sense that they can keep a lot of balls in the air) but not deep (e.g. they can’t really focus on the rich detail of any one thing.)

I’ve found myself guilty of this behavior. I try to pop on to soundcloud every other day or so to see what music my virtual friends are posting. The other day I had 5 minutes in between doing some cooking and found an interesting new piece a great jazz clarinetist I know had posted. But while I was listening to it my mind was counting down to when I had to be back in the kitchen. The piece was boring me. But I realized I wasn’t really listening to it; I was simply filling time with an activity. I refocused, listened to the music and found it quite interesting (not the greatest thing ever, but more engaging than when my mind was wandering.) My point being that even a brain as great as mine can be corrupted by this culture of wide-not-deep thinking. There can be no hope for anyone else.

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