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Attention Span summary

Gloria Mark

A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity

4.5 (795 ratings)
19 mins
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    Attention Span
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    Declining attention spans in the digital age

    Let’s be honest: we don’t need scientific data to know our attention is waning.

    You’ve probably noticed it in yourself – the constant urge to pick up your phone, the Reddit rabbit hole you can’t seem to pull yourself out of, the countless hours spent on TikTok.

    The digital world commands our attention like no other human invention before it. As a consequence, it has changed the way we live, work, and think. 

    Gloria Mark has studied people’s relationship with digital technology for almost as long as it has existed. Much of this research was conducted in “living laboratories” where researchers observed people in their everyday workplaces. Stopwatches, clickers, and notes were used to record their behavior. 

    Here’s what the research found. On average, people in the workplace spend about 3 minutes on a task before switching to another. But on the computer, they switch attention – from one website to another, for instance – every 2.5 minutes. Or at least they did in 2004. By 2021, they’d started switching their attention every 47 seconds. 

    Not all of these attention shifts are conscious and purposeful. Some happen out of boredom, some out of habit, and some happen when the internet does what it does best – pull us into a rabbit hole of link-wandering. 

    Another concerning finding? When people get interrupted during a work task, it takes them 25 minutes to get back to their original task. Sometimes these interruptions are external, such as an incoming phone call or a colleague eager to chat. But often, they also happen internally when a question, memory, or important task pops into their head.

    To be clear, attention-shifting, multitasking, and interruptions have existed long before the internet. Our brains are actually pretty good at dealing with these scenarios. But every time they do, they use up quite a bit of mental energy. And the more it happens, the quicker our resources are depleted. No wonder we feel more stressed, exhausted, and burned out than ever before!

    These basic findings about our attention spans should come as no surprise. But some of the results that scientists have uncovered actually run counter to the narratives we tell ourselves. That’s right – we’re about to bust some of the common myths about attention.

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    What is Attention Span about?

    Attention Span (2023) examines the connection between the digital age and our capacity for attention. As digital devices have become inextricable from our lives, our attention spans have shortened and our stress levels have risen. Drawing on scientific research, it debunks modern myths about attention and explains how we can reclaim it for better well-being. 

    Who should read Attention Span?

    • Anyone worried about their decreasing attention span
    • Those who have trouble disconnecting from their phone
    • People who feel stressed, exhausted, and burned out

    About the Author

    Gloria Mark is a psychologist and professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. Initially trained as an artist, Mark later became an expert in the field of human-computer interaction. She has researched people’s daily interactions with technology for almost two decades, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, NPR, and the BBC.

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