Social Media comes up every so often in heated discussions of whether or not it is beneficial. Some argue that it is, that thanks to social media people have access to real information on live events around the world. Others argue it is detrimental as hate, bullying, and misinformation is spread easily and quickly. But one issue that has been brought to the public’s attention more recently is the idea that social media is destroying our attention spans, and especially that of the younger generations too. But is it really, or are Boomers just finding something else to pick at?
Consumption of media
The rate at which we consume media has increased dramatically over the years, with the introduction of new fast modes of media such as Vine and TikTok. These platforms were originally based on the idea of short, quick videos, with Vine only having 7 seconds for creators to put out the best content they can. This meant that in the span of 30 minutes, someone could have watched 100s of videos from a range of different people. And although this was the extreme of short and fast consumption, it wasn’t the start, with Twitter only having a 140 character limit on its tweets when it was first introduced, meaning if someone wanted to go viral or put information out, they had to find the least amount of words to do that in. Some think this means that our attention spans would have been affected by this, as we became used to receiving more information in smaller, more compact ways, and in much faster modes. Instagram can also be used as an example here, as it is an app primarily focussed on consuming pictures, rather than words or status like social media platforms such as Facebook. Instagram Story Videos are capped at a length of one minute, with these videos being broken down into 15-second segments. Social media companies create their platforms around the idea that we consume media fast, and will only take in short bursts of content. But is this really true?
How has this affected us?
There is little real evidence that suggests our attention spans have been affected by the rate we consume media in. In fact, if anything the way we consume media has changed to accommodate us, and that’s not by getting faster. Twitter upped its character limit from 140 to 280, as there were some complaints that the limit was too small to be able to get information out. Even now some users have to create Twitter threads to be able to tweet a full story and details, with these threads sometimes being up to 8 tweets long. TikTok, which is Vine’s successor, recently changed the maximum length of its videos from 30 seconds to 3 minutes as many users didn’t enjoy having to watch multiple parts to get the full story behind some viral videos. These changes show that our attention spans are actually better than what companies are willing to give us credit for. Many people comment that they happily binge watch Netflix programs, getting through whole seasons of a show in just a day. So our attention spans are not being affected by social media, but instead seems to be influenced by our own moods, and the content we want to watch.
A history of complaints
This is not the first time our attention spans have been attacked and blamed on new forms of media. When short stories started to become more popular, there was a pushback against that from the older generations, who claimed this form of media would affect our attention spans and make us lazy. They claimed that people would get used to having stories told in a much shorter frame and that novels would become obsolete because of this. But as we have seen from the continued popularity of full-length novels and even series, such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter, this claim was also proven false. It seems the older generation fears new technology and new ways of doing things, and each time something new is introduced, it will inevitably receive some backlash as people fear things are moving on too quickly, and they might get left behind with the old modes of entertainment. And as technology continues to develop and more modes are introduced, it is to be expected that this topic will come up again, and again will have little evidence to back it up.
Until there are studies done into this, it is safe to say that our attention spans are likely not being affected by social media. That isn’t to say that everyone will watch hour-long youtube videos, or spend their time reading multiple novels, as people enjoy different content and different ways of watching that content. Ultimately, the way we use social media and the forms we use is down to the individual, and although some may still enjoy watching short TikToks, or sending out very short tweets, other people prefer having the option of a longer and more in-depth way to use these apps. As long as these apps keep changing to accommodate everyone, then there won’t be any issues with user approval, of the attention spans of these users.