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A Distracted World.

What a world in which the attention span is reduced and we lack the capacity to form complex opinions means for the future.

It is no surprise that we live in a world where the attention span has been reducing for years. To blame, are several factors. Firstly, the content that we consume has mutated into brief, catchy spouts of condensed information. You guessed it, TikToks and Instagram reels. These content formats strive for compactness and the platforms in which they are published reward those that are capable of catching your attention as fast as possible, better if they also provoke some sort of emotional reaction. Secondly, the types of mediums that people consume today have changed from predominantly written to visual. There is nothing inherently bad about visual forms of content, but visual content is naturally passive, while written content has some level of reciprocity between the reader and the written words.

The result is that how we consume content both in a passive manner and in a peculiar state of constant semi-distraction. We are never really focused on understanding the content of a TikTok, we simply catatonically stare in front of its fluorescent light. This wouldn’t be a problem if these types of content accounted for a minority of our consumption, but instead, short-form visual content has conquered our attention. As a result, we read fewer books, fewer articles, watch fewer films in the way good films should be watched, rarely make time to read complex content.

What does this mean for the world?

I suggest that the implications of this mass distraction are far more serious than we understand. Being constantly distracted and having a short attention span means that our capacity to analyse complex information is reduced, our capacity to formulate complex opinions is at a low. Yet, the world has gotten progressively more complex as this content mutation has been happening. This entails that to understand, analyse and operate in today’s world we need a heightened ability to deal with complexity.

Being distracted means that productivity falls, as deep, focused work is ever so rare and difficult to achieve. Being distracted means that we have a reduced capacity to understand and critique how political leaders make decisions and the direction of our societies. It means people are less creative, less engaged, less proactive. We are so easily manipulated because we are somewhat passive agents in the world as opposed to engaged individuals actively shaping the world. We create less art, write fewer books, create less innovative companies. All because we are distracted.

While this, on an individual level means that anyone that retains the ability to focus and deal with complex information has an inestimable competitive advantage, on a sociological level, the implications are frightening.

The first step, I propose, is to collectively realise how distraction is ruining us. Then we need to fight it back. Clearly, it is no easy task. Passively watching compelling short content is the path of less resistance. But the consequences of not proactively addressing the issue of distraction are a threat to the very fabric of society, democracy, and the human race.

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