OK. Stop everything that you're doing.
Literally. Stop it.
Just click play on this video below and then do nothing except watch it.
Don't open an additional browser. Don't check your text messages. Don't skip ahead. Don't go pee.
Just click play and then watch the video in its entirety.
Did you make it all the way through the video's three minutes without doing anything else? Without running a search for #RIPShaq? Like, you just sat there the entire time watching College Humor's Adam Conover rail against unfocused multi-tasking?
If so, then good for you!
But if you didn't give Conover your undivided attention, don't feel bad about it. It's not like you're alone here. All of our attention spans are declining. A study from 2008 showed that our attention spans halved in the decade preceding the study, from 12 minutes to five minutes. But why? Well, many are blaming it on the internet, claiming our dwindling ability to focus has something to do with the vast amount of information available to us around the clock. As Nobel laureate economist Herbert A. Simon put it, "What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."
In an article for Wired, Nicholas Carr similarly wondered about the effect that rapid web-surfing is having on our brains. The research Carr cited argued that just five hours of online activity is enough to "rewire" our brains.
When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.
Neil Postman also questioned the decreasing attention span of humans in Amusing Ourselves to Death. During the infamous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, he noted, audiences would gather to listen to the Senate hopefuls debate for hours and hours. Today, similar debates last less than two hours — and we wouldn't dare sit through those without Twitter at the ready.
Granted, none of this neuroscience or history is in Conover's video, which simply features him, alone with his Mad Men suit and hairdo, daring us to give him three minutes of our lives.