Distracted Society: How Distractions Shape Society’s Short Attention Span


“Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley, reflects society’s short attention span and craving for diversion by depicting a future world engulfed in superficial amusement and immediate satisfaction. In this society, individuals habitually consume soma, a pleasure-inducing pill that perpetually keeps them content. They grew to embrace and approve of the indoctrination that occurred within the artificial baby production facilities. Huxley’s cautionary tale reminds us of the danger of becoming complacent in our oppression, urging us to be vigilant against its influence. Many people are aware of our decreasing attention span. It is widely known that our consumption of short-form content, like short videos on platforms like TikTok, along with constant distractions such as advertisements, contributes to this trend. These forms of short-form content are designed to capture attention quickly and provide instant gratification. Consequently, our ability to focus for extended periods has diminished, and we have developed a constant desire for new stimuli. This shift towards shorter attention spans has been driven by the convenience and accessibility of short-form media, significantly impacting our consumption and engagement with content in the digital era.

Telegraph companies were driven by the desire to transmit information quickly, shifting the value of information away from its usefulness in social and political decision-making. Previously, newspapers primarily focused on local news, which directly affected individuals and their communities. However, the creation of the telegraph amazed people with its ability to transfer information rapidly. As a result, the speed of information became important, and the emphasis shifted towards transporting as much information as possible in the shortest time possible. This phenomenon is observable today, with journalists vying to be the first to report breaking news and individuals on platforms like Twitter rapidly spreading the latest gossip, even if it pertains to utterly inconsequential matters. Consequently, there is a constant deluge of information, often overshadowing genuinely important news in a sea of irrelevance. According to Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, “Prior to the age of telegraphy, the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew about had action value. In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became the context for news. Everything became everyone’s business. For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right of reply.”

Intelligence has become synonymous with being knowledgeable about a multitude of things, rather than having a deep understanding of specific subjects. The telegraph also severed information from its context. In written text, sentences exist together, with clear connections and continuity. However, with the telegraph, slogans, headlines, and one-liners became the predominant form of information. This conveyed the notion that good information didn’t require context, eliminating the need to delve into history or consider the potential implications. This constant bombardment without context contributes to much of the conflict we witness online. Disputes arise because the information is presented without nuance or the necessary background to fully comprehend its meaning. The lack of context is particularly evident on platforms like TikTok, where concise content prevails. It can be dangerous, as complex topics are simplified to a fault.

Overall, the rise of short-form content has had a profound impact on society’s attention span, leading to a noticeable decrease in our ability to focus for extended periods. The constant exposure to bite-sized information and the fear of missing out on the latest developments in media have intensified our need for distraction and instant gratification. However, this constant stream of information and the pursuit of novelty has come at the expense of deep reflection, critical thinking, and meaningful engagement. Individuals must recognize the impact of these trends and strive to strike a balance between staying informed and nurturing our capacity for focus, introspection, and authentic human connection in an increasingly fast-paced and fragmented digital world.

A final thought from Postman:

“Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information–misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information–information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”

― Postman, N. (1985). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.