As technology advances, we are evolving our style of attention to different things, not just in the form of multi-screening, or switching between different applications/ tv programs etc on your device, but also stretching out to when you’re conversing with the people around your or doing different tasks.
I decided to conduct a small test to see if attention declined and memory was impacted when watching tv whilst having access to other screens or access to only one device. For this, I used my mother and father.
For the first part of this test, I didn’t say anything to either of my parents about conducting a test because I wanted to observe their natural actions. My father had his phone and laptop beside him while having the tv show on, my mum had her phone and I also had my phone. Keep in mind that it was a tv show that we all enjoyed watching.
AIM OF THE TEST
Observe the actions and attention span of both my parents to see whether having multiple devices effects our attention and to what degree.
As the show began all of us were watching the tv contently through to about the first ad break, during the first ad break my mother went on her phone and my dad went onto his laptop, as the show came back on mum put down her phone but dad continued to address things on his laptop. I noticed that as the show reached its midpoint mum went from only checking her phone during ad breaks to only being off her phone when the most critical parts of the show were happening, and dad, however, remained on his laptop for the entire duration of the show.
After the show finished I informed both my parents that I had been observing them to see their attention span over the duration of a tv show with multiple devices. I then proceeded to ask them a few questions
Q1. Why did you go onto a different device while the show was on?
DAD: “ I got slightly bored when the ads came on so I went onto my laptop to pass time”
MUM: “ “ when the ads come on I get bored so I switch to something else”
Q2 what did you do on the second device?
DAD:“ I checked some emails and then ended up getting caught up in it and spent the rest of the time catching up on the things I needed to do “
MUM:“checked Facebook, I can’t remember what I checked through”
Q3 how much of the show do you remember?
DAD: “ not much, probably about the first 15min and then maybe the last couple of minutes, I didn’t really pay attention”
MUM: “ a reasonable amount, probably the main parts, I can’t remember any fine details, I got a little distracted”
For the second half of the test, I asked both my parents to watch another tv show but not with their other devices. But as I thought the attention span was about the same but instead of reverting to the other device for stimulation, my dad would either talk to my mum or play with the dog and my mother would get up to clean or get food. So either way whether with or without devices there was the same level of distraction, but whether this is because we are used to having the devices is another question.
After this I asked Q3 again with surprising results even though they had been distracted by other things other than a device, the attention to the contents of the TV show were much higher. With the first being only about 60% and with no devices being around 80-85%.
At the end of both tests I asked one last question: Do you think it’s a positive or negative consequence that our attention span is declining? Why?
DAD: “Well honestly, I think as a culture we are constantly evolving with new technologies affecting how we live and experience the world. The fact that our attention is possibly getting shorter because we have more options for visual stimulation doesn’t have to be negative, could it be now that our brains are more active? If we are switching between different things it could lead to our attention becoming advanced because we are able to switch between different tasks. Personally I don’t think my attention span overall has declined, of course with the television it has, as the television is a form of visual entertainment, and as technology has evolved I have been provided with more options, so I enjoy switching between them to get the most out of my time for ‘personal enjoyment’. In everyday life away from the TV, my attention span is the same as when I was younger, apart from the effect my age has had, when I talk to people I don’t find myself switching to something else, and when I’m working on technology my attention stays focused. I think instead of worrying about our attention span declining we should be working with it to adjust how we experience entertainment, maybe it’s just that TV has too many ads, let’s get rid of those *laughs*”
MUM: “ I reckon it’s a little concerning, but I’m not too sure, personally it doesn’t have a negative effect on how I do things, I don’t feel dumber *laughs*
It was interesting to see that with or without multiple screens, attention wasn’t fully on the main task, this could be because we have adjusted to the habits of being with multiple screens or just because we are naturally constantly looking for different and exciting things. As well as this it was clear in this test that other technological devices impacted on the memory more, but this could be because it’s a more ‘involved’ process. Overall it’s clear that having multiple devices does change the attention span you have when watching the TV, next thing will be to research whether this is a negative or positive consequence of technology.
Hiller, S. (2017). Susan Hiller: “Channels” at Matt’s Gallery. [online] THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. Available at: https://thegirlwhoknewtoomuch.com/2013/04/30/susan-hiller-channels-at-matts-gallery/ [Accessed 20 Sep. 2017].
McSpadden, K. (2015). You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. Time, [online] p.1. Available at: http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/ [Accessed 2 Oct. 2017].