Co-evolution of technology and human behavior

Congratulations society, our attention spans are becoming shorter!

This may seem like a blatant observation, but after a lecture, I gave it some deeper thought.

I’m at a summer program at Georgetown University, and on Monday night we discussed the history of broadcast journalism with our academic director Robert Traynham.

I learned that with the evolution of technology and media comes the co-evolution of human behavior.

According to Mr. Traynham, back in the early 1900s the attention span of the average American was 14 minutes.

Now almost a century later, the average has dwindled down to about 45 seconds.

Previously, I had thought that this declining ability to focus and loss of patience were just results of our society becoming “dumber.” However now, I realize that this assumption is actually very inaccurate.

This in fact, is simply a byproduct of the world around us.

During the American revolution, people had to wait weeks to hear about news overseas. With the emergence of radio and television during WWII, there was no real concept of 24/7 news, so people only tuned in maybe once a night. Now, we have the ability to get real time updates—further increasing the amount of access to news, but also decreasing our attention spans.

We can’t help the way our brains adapt to changes. It’s instinctual. Despite the fact that it seems like people are becoming incompetent, it’s the only way for us to adjust to the rapid changes in technology. Why would we need a 14 minute attention span anyway when most things are accessible to us in seconds?

Advancements of technology can be a blessing and a curse—but our brains do the best to adjust to all the changes.


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