COLUMN: Attention spans are shortening

Published 9:39 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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There are numerous research studies in recent months that confirm that attention spans of both children and adults are shortening. The American Heritage Dictionary defines attention span as “ the length of time a person concentrates on a subject or idea without becoming distracted.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary adds “or remains interested.”

A November article appearing in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and written by its editorial board suggests that there are several causes; it is clear that technology heads the list. The ability we have now to instantly research a subject on a mobile device has created a society that has found a solution to boredom.

Those raised in the 1950s recall having only 2-3 television channels and getting up from their comfortable chairs to change the channel or adjust the sound volume. There was usually one daily regional newspaper and one local (The Tidewater News). Choices were limited, but there were always books and magazines to fill the gap.

In 2023, there is literally an unlimited number of options for news, sports, and entertainment. If you do not like what you are seeing, then switch to another option. The millennials (born 1981-96) and Gen Z (born 1997-2012) grew up with unlimited options and are easily bored with a topic for which they have little interest. A pre-kindergarten through 12th grade setting is especially challenging because teachers are constantly looking for ways and methods to vary the instruction to keep those students interested in the important information conveyed to students.

The WSJ article states that family and community conversation has been replaced by individualism. Younger generations tend to look inward to themselves for support and find very little help there. This leads to astronomical levels of anxiety and depression. Thus, these generations are not willing to look deeper within themselves or look to respected adults to achieve solutions.

Of course, there are some very real physiological and psychological causes of anxiety and depression in younger generations that are no fault of theirs. ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism, head injuries, and learning disabilities are just a few.

The good news — there is still a way to learn valuable lessons and expand experiences without logging onto a computer through an internet connection or on a mobile device. This method even works when the electric power is down. It is called — reading a good book!

Robert N. “Bob” Holt, a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is