Our incredible shrinking attention spans

When’s the last time you read a book from cover to cover? Watched an entire movie without checking your phone or tablet? Put in a solid seven-hour working day uninterrupted by your Facebook feed? Had a phone conversation without scrolling through your inbox or doing a cheeky spot of Googling?

For many of us, these once-ordinary experiences of sustained attention - doing one thing at a time, and doing it for a sustained period - are seem as distant as what my kids used to call "the black and white days."

Between the sheer volume of information we sift through on social media and the hectic engines of the 24/7 media cycle, we are not simply “consuming” much more content. We are gulping it down.

And in snack-size bites - grazing constantly but never actually sitting down to have a meal. Or, for that matter, taking the time to digest what’s been swallowed.


The impact of those new habits of consumption has been the subject of much speculation and considerable handwringing - but, to date at least, precious little data.

That’s now starting to change. And researchers are beginning to confirm what many have long suspected: that our attention spans are shrinking - and with it, our ability to recall information,  think creatively or just plain get sh-t done.

Fuelling the FOMO

A new study by researchers at the Technical University of Denmark and published this month in the prestigious journal Nature Communication found clear evidence that our collective attention span has been steadily contracting as our access to information sources has exploded.

The scientists studied data from Twitter, Google Trends, Google Books, Reddit and Wikipedia,  as well as movie ticket sales and citations of scientific publications. Their conclusion?

“Content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more regularly.”

In layman’s terms, our attention spans simply can’t keep up. Topics grab our attention more rapidly - but our interest fades just as quickly, as FOMO (fear of missing out) propels us toward the next shiny online object.

Screen-time a risk factor for ADHD

And it’s not just adult attention span that’s going haywire. Canadian research published last week found that by the age of five, children who spent two hours or more looking at a screen each day were 7.7 times more likely to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to children who spent 30 minutes or less daily.

The myth of multitasking

Other research suggests that the now-widespread practice of multi-tasking, sometimes called “double-screening,” is further fuelling the attention crisis.


We are kidding ourselves that toggling from screen to screen is making us more efficient, say researchers. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The more “tasks” we juggle, the more mistakes we make.

Multitasking also plays havoc with short-term memory, causes anxiety and actually inhibits creativity.

But it does save time, right? Wrong. When you try to juggle a bunch of small tasks while also completing a larger one, everything you do will take longer, as the brain needs time to re-set every time you switch attention.

We are kidding ourselves that toggling from screen to screen is making us more efficient, say researchers. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 

And that’s for fully formed adult brains. Children are neurologically even less equipped to handle the cognitive load - their protests to the contrary notwithstanding.

"Despite what kids will tell you, their brains aren't up to multitasking," says Family Zone cyber expert, Dr Kristy Goodwin, an expert on the effects of technology on productivity and health, "Teachers, both in private and public schools, are reporting a massive decline in attention spans."

Setting firm boundaries for study-times - and limiting gaming and social media - are the keys to protecting attention span. Family Zone can help.


Really? How?

Topics: Parental Controls, Social Media, attention span, multitasking

    Try Family Zone for FREE

    Sign up now to try Family Zone for 1 month, totally free of charge.

    Free Trial
    Subscribe to our newsletter
    Follow us on social media
    Popular posts
    Parental Controls | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | teens on social media
    Can we talk? 100 questions your teen might actually answer
    Parental Controls | Screen time | youtube | smartphones | WhatsApp | suicide | self-harm | momo
    MOMO unmasked
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | Cyber Experts | parenting | roblox
    Roblox: What parents need to know about this popular gaming platform
    Parental Controls | Cyber Safety | tinder | Cyber Experts | parenting | yellow
    Yellow: The Tinder for Teens
    Parental Controls | Social Media | privacy | decoy app
    Hide It Pro: A decoy app to look out for
    Cyber Bullying | Parental Controls | Screen time | Mobile Apps | Cyber Safety | online predators | tiktok | paedophile | child predator | Likee
    LIKEE: What parents need to know about this risky TikTok wannabe

    Recent posts

    Press the reset button on your kid’s online routine

    COVID blew up our teens’ screen-time. It’s time to get them back on track. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, our children are facing a ...

    Bigger families face super-sized screen-time challenges

    If you have more than one child - and statistics show 86 percent of families do - then managing screen-time can be double trouble. Or ...

    'Bigorexia' a growing risk for today's boys

    We’re starting to understand how social media can damage girls’ self-esteem - but what about our boys? New research finds disturbing ...

    The metaverse: Brave new world - or an upgrade for predators?

    Mixing kids and adult strangers in a self-moderated online environment ... What could possibly go wrong?