Archive for December, 2008

The Human Attention Span and the (Too Much) Information Age

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Information is everywhere. One is assaulted every moment of every day with advertising, online media, email, broadcast television, radio, and even personal phone calls. We cannot escape it. Does all this information really mean we are retaining more data? Are we learning more because of the ubiquity of resources by which to do so? One could assume the answer is "yes." But, one may be wrong in this assumption.
 
What’s most interesting about the current informational landscape is that despite a significant increase in available news and information, Americans are still no better informed than they were in much less information-rich times. For instance, a recent Pew Research study indicated that in 2007, 69 percent of Americans could correctly name the vice-president, down from the 74 percent who could in 1989.
 
So, what’s happening?
 
First and foremost, people become apathetic in the face of too much information. We just stop actively attempting to process it and it falls flat. And, with so much customizable content available, people can be very selective about what they want to hear/see and can ignore everything else. 

Because of this, there’s actually a far greater likelihood of an individual being less informed as they are not choosing to be exposed to multiple news sources. It makes for a very narrow view and a very limited knowledge base.
 
Also, acquiring new information requires specific, prolonged focus and an ability to ignore distractions. In our world of media multi-tasking few, if any, are concentrating for long enough on a single subject to make it stick. 

In order to absorb the information contained in a newscast, for example, we must not only direct our attention to the person talking, but also filter out the running headlines, news updates, and financial ticker on the lower part of the screen.
 
It would seem we’ve come to an age of too much information and this is particularly true for younger people who spend extensive time media multi-tasking. They will have to decide, if, in the future, if the constant barrage of information is worth the forfeiture of true knowledge.

Some studies show that the younger, more technologically savvy generations use their brains in completely different ways than previous generations.  While the jury is still out on the subject and many scientific studies to validate this claim are necessary, the fact is that filtering through the wealth of information is still the reality for everyone involved.
 

Reading Between the Lines – Why do People Read?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

The habit of reading is going out, along with those quaint old bookshops on the corner that are making way for fancier malls that are as devoid of character as the goods they house. It’s the age of technology, and people don’t seem to have the time or the inclination to settle down with a good book any time they’re free – they’d rather fiddle around with their gadgets, or if they must read, do a cursory scan of the latest from the blog world. 

But there are some people like me who make it a point to continue their love affair with books, the one that started as a child when words and the stories they wove formed one’s best friends. And then there are others who discovered the pleasures that books could bring, later on in life. There are various reasons why people read, even today when there are numerous alternatives for entertainment, and here are some of them:

    * The right book at the right time: Kids these days are being wowed by the Harry Potter phenomenon – they begin to read just to get a taste of the hype, and once they’re hooked and have finished devouring the series, they move on to other books. A good habit is thus formed for a lifetime. The younger you are, the more likely you are to take to the reading habit. But, while it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, there are times when adults, who find themselves with nothing else to do, pick up a book that’s lying around only to find that they enjoy the experience much more than they thought they would.
    * An affinity with the characters: How often have you read a book to discover that the lead character is so much like you, that you seem to think, feel and act the same way? How often have you empathized with the situations the hero or heroine finds themselves in, because you have been in similar situations yourself? This reason, at times, forms the basis for liking the book, the author, and the genre, in that subsequent order.
    * A liking for the author, not necessarily the genre: I don’t experiment much in my choice of genre, but there are times that I’m open to trying new authors in the hope that I will like their writing style and so have an infinite stream of books to read. What I’ve discovered in the course of this trial and error method is that though I like a particular author, it doesn’t follow that I like all authors who write the same genre.
    * A taste for the genre: But there are others who read only if the book is of the genre they fancy – romance, mystery and thrillers find more takers than any other kind of books, mostly because of the feel-good factor of boy and girl living happily ever after or justice being done and the criminal getting what he or she deserves.