“Too Long”

April 12, 2013

Thrown away text book blowing in the wind.

Copyright 2011 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Students  in my Psychology 101 classes were assigned to read an article having to do with the sleep deprivation experienced by students-this was part of an on-going discussion of the states of consciousness.  The article was from a national magazine and totaled four pages of text.  In both sections the discussion began with the standard, open-ended,  “What did you think of the article?” question.  Many students gave the same initial response-“It was too long.” When asked, many more who had not verbalized this raised their hands in agreement.

Four pages.

At first I was surprised and then dismayed by this response.  After all, this was not like reading an entire book.  However, relatively quickly I understood their answers.  “Too long” simply confirmed, at least anecdotally, one of the issues of living in a post-modern, information-technology, society:  we are conditioning our brains to demand immediate gratification and activities requiring more than a few seconds or minutes of attention are tuned out.  And there are some interesting points to consider when discussing this topic.

Jack Dorsey, the inventor of Twitter, was interviewed on 60 Minutes (see here).  Truth in disclosure:  I am not a member of Twitter and have never tweeted in my life.  I do absolutely recognize the contributions social media have made to culture and to the sharing of information.  Wael Ghonim is an example of the force social networking can be (see here and here).  Mr. Dorsey described how listening to the chatter on scanners informed his view of human communication.  As he listened, Mr. Dorsey came to a conclusion about what he considered essential in the process of communicating and that the ability to immediately share one’s view could be made possible via social media.  Hence the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter.  Please listen to the 60 Minutes interview contained in the first link above so as to hear Mr. Dorsey speak for himself.

Broken grey cell phone

Copyright 2010 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Can such forms of communication be an asset?  Absolutely, Mr. Ghonim is a case in point.  At the same time, I am concerned that this brevity of communication can lead to redacted thinking and a shortening of attention spans, as explained in this article published in the New York Times.  Other articles discuss the benefits extended reading has had on brain development and in the understanding of others’ behaviour and emotions, a concept known as empathy (here and here).  Given that so many children and young adults are using social media during some of the most critical periods of brain development (adolescence), it will be interesting to see the long-term effects on our society.  One hundred years from now, will sociologists look back and say, “What were we thinking?”

Take care.