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Short Attention Span

Mr. Trump has mastered this era of short attention spans in politics by realizing that if you’re the one regularly feeding the stream, you can forever move past your latest trouble, and hasten the mass amnesia. ...
Peter Hamby, Snapchat’s head of news, said Snapchat should not be “an emblem for a lack of attention span in our politics.” ...

Snapchat’s reports are ephemeral, he said, because “it’s about being in the moment” with this young audience, being in the flow of their lives.

Of course, that’s where that audience lives, in the moment.
- Jim Rutenberg, In This Snapchat Campaign, Election News Is Big and Then It’s Gone, NYT, April 24, 2016



Alina Tugend quotes James Ryan on the short attention span of today's students:

Students’ attention wanders “in a frighteningly short time — six to 10 minutes,” said James E. Ryan, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard.
- Alina Tugend, Educators Discuss the Future of Higher Education, NYT, June 22, 2016


Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.

He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in "as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned," according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.
- Reuters, Embroiled in controversies, Trump seeks boost on foreign trip, Wed May 17, 2017 | 9:38am EDT


Meanwhile, NATO is telling heads of state to keep their remarks at a May 25 summit under four minutes to accommodate the president’s attention span, according to Foreign Policy. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing,” a source with knowledge of the preparations told Foreign Policy.

At this point, regardless of what happens with Mr. Comey, the Russians and anything else that comes out of the White House in the next few days, it’s hard to see how Mr. Trump can function as the president. Reports cast him as someone who cannot be trusted to perform the core duties of his office.
- ANNA NORTH, President Trump’s King Lear Moment, NYT, MAY 17, 2017


"It can be difficult to advise the President effectively given his seemingly short attention span and propensity to be easily distracted," a source knowledgeable about McMaster's day-to-day challenges told CNN.
- Jake Tapper, Between Trump and his national security adviser lie 'ferocious' internal politics, CNN, May 19, 2017


People who have been to the Oval Office have come away stunned by Trump’s minimal attention span, his appalling lack of information, his tendency to say more than he knows.
- Elizabeth Drew, Trump: The Presidency in Peril, New York Review of Books, JUNE 22, 2017


The decline in newspaper reading after the early seventies was a miner's canary for an accelerating and relentless abbreviation of the public's attention span, now fragmented into millions of bits and bytes by the unlimited electronically and digitally generated distractions that make up our way of life.
- Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, Pantheon Books (2008), pp. 242-243


I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. ...
As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. ...
I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. ... Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. ...
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. ...
But a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. ...
By breaking down every job into a sequence of small, discrete steps and then testing different ways of performing each one, Taylor created a set of precise instructions—an “algorithm,” we might say today—for how each worker should work. Midvale’s employees grumbled about the strict new regime, claiming that it turned them into little more than automatons, but the factory’s productivity soared. ...
The goal, as Taylor defined it in his celebrated 1911 treatise, The Principles of Scientific Management, was to identify and adopt, for every job, the “one best method” of work and thereby to effect “the gradual substitution of science for rule of thumb throughout the mechanic arts.” ...
Google, says its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, is “a company that’s founded around the science of measurement,” and it is striving to “systematize everything” it does. Drawing on the terabytes of behavioral data it collects through its search engine and other sites, it carries out thousands of experiments a day, according to the Harvard Business Review, and it uses the results to refine the algorithms that increasingly control how people find information and extract meaning from it. What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind. ...
In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.” ...
It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. ...
The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction. ...
Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” ...
The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.
- NICHOLAS CARR, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, The Atlantic, JULY/AUGUST 2008




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