We may have survived the MTV Generation with our attention spans mostly intact, but it appears the same can’t be said for the age of the Internet, where competing streams of information, multi-tasking and multiple screens are dissecting our withering focus into easily digestible bits. Add in our increased need for immediacy, and an old-fashioned […]

We may have survived the MTV Generation with our attention spans mostly intact, but it appears the same can’t be said for the age of the Internet, where competing streams of information, multi-tasking and multiple screens are dissecting our withering focus into easily digestible bits. Add in our increased need for immediacy, and an old-fashioned idea like the narrative starts to seem a bit obsolete.

Nowhere is this more evident perhaps, than in the way we consume video online, where the average attention span is three to five minutes, hardly enough time for a classic tale filled with fleshed out characters, foreshadowing and the like. Instead we’re served abbreviated vignettes comprised of a bit of rising action followed by the resulting climax. Where’s the resolution in that?

Given the cluttered playing field where the competition is already stiff – YouTube alone receives 20 hours of footage uploaded every minute – the content providers have no choice but to cater to the whims of their audiences to ensure adequate ratings. And while this trend hasn’t yet altered entertainment standbys like the sitcom and feature length movie (arguable perhaps), the change in our viewing habits is showing a trickle down effect.

Though never known for being stalwarts of the well told story – think pizza delivery guys and well-intentioned secretaries – the adult film industry has historically found itself on the pioneering side of technology from VHS to handheld video cameras. A fact that points to their ability to anticipate or dictate these relative shifts.

But with DVD sales and rentals falling sharply, some estimates say as much as 50% since 2006, these studios have had to make an abrupt change of course in order to keep pace. Dropping the plot in favor of scenes that leave room for little else than well, sex. The industry is finding these pithy clips to be the ideal length for consumption on the web, where they can be uploaded and sold in several minute segments at lower price points. Not to mention, sparing audiences from an excess of questionable acting.

In the end, maybe this example speaks less about our shorter attention spans in general and more about our decreasing ability to maintain focus for long stretches on genres of a particular type. In either case, one hopes that the story (in whatever form) will find a way to capture our hearts and minds once again.

[via NY Times]

[image via Editor B on Flickr]

Related Posts:

The Cookie is the Hyperlink: Why Distraction is OK

How Our Brains Are Affected by Info Overload

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