“Belgorod shooting: Gunmen kill 11 in attack on Russian trainee soldiers”
“Elon Musk under federal investigation over Twitter deal”
“Leeds fire: Emergency crews tackle city centre blaze”
These news articles are among the most recent publications under the BBC. Fairly typical to read, right?
In actuality, I have just recreated a disturbing trend—and rendered you my unwitting participant. Any guesses?
Allow me to break the suspense: it is not the content nor construction of the articles themselves that pose a problem even if such articles often portend unfavourable conditions of the world; rather, the real threat lurks within our receptions—that is, of nothing more than the headlines.
Contemporary media, largely consumed by our phone screen’s glittering array of social media applications, has embraced a hustle-bustle, circus-juggling act. Where the form of casual, sat-in-an-armchair reading of the daily paper, perhaps by a warming fireside, has been steadily replaced by notifications, bells, and alerts providing bite-size snippets of facts and figures as we scurry about our day to complete teetering lists of tasks. In other words, society has experienced a rising trend in the skimming of article titles, while simultaneously foregoing further, deeper reading. All for the sake of catering to time-constrained, “gotta go, gotta go—no time to waste, terribly sorry!”-stylized routines.
Certainly, a number of annual reports conducted under the United Kingdom’s Office of Communications (Ofcom) have substantiated distinct patterns in the news consumption of the British population. Namely, that a strong trend among new generations may be observed in a passage of the baton from newspapers to social media as primary sources of information—a trend accelerated by the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, individualistic trends in information reference have proven that the derivation of news has expanded to include a more diverse, meshed assemblage of numerous social media applications as opposed to a more formerly concentrated derivation of news from a singular newspaper. The less time we divide among each independent source and a reported attributability of decreased validity and reliability by Ofcam of social media applications as sources of news consumption; contributes to a sense of justification in recognizing the risk associated with less attentive or deeply-rooted approaches to information absorption and dissemination in contemporary society.
Why have we become satiated in the “art” of concision and summation? Is this rapid imbuement of facts and figures really a vehicle for advancing the education of society or merely a grim façade for a more shallow indigestion of information? Have you already, perhaps, been whisked away by a devastatingly ravishing banner notification entitled “The Head of Lettuce Outlived Liz Truss With The UK PM Resigning After Just 44 Days As Leader” (an unfortunately non-fictitious heading) from your ever-faithful news source, or merely the absence of a prolonged attention span? Am I really just talking to myself?
I don’t mean to send you, the reader, into a pit of existential distress; ultimately, this quicker-than-ever mode of information delivery is a collective burden and, with a bottomless supply of information right at our fingertips. As in viewing a TikTok about the “10 Oddest Phobias” before deciding, upon learning of two such phobias, to scroll to a time-lapse depicting a melting glacier beside a rousing caption, the inherently human thirst to accomplish more in less time is understandable, but not excusable.
The first step to solving this problem lies in decoding the underlying cogs and gears of our minds: why have our attention spans seemingly taken a blow in this new delivery of information? What underlying weakness have distraction-based, pay-per-click articles exploited?
The culprit is named instant gratification. In an article by technology writer Alexandra Samuel, the relationship between self-control and instant gratification is exemplified through the well-known Stanford marshmallow experiment in which children are provided with an opportunity to either eat one marshmallow or delay their gratification for the prospect of two marshmallows. Although temptation likewise afflicts “grown-ups”, why delay the reward when, in the free reins of adulthood, you can readily satisfy this desire for instant gratification with effortless swipes and clicks?
More often than not, our brains stealthily rewire to favour this approach as a survival tactic. Yet the ability to fulfil instant gratification by relentlessly scavenging for the final hook or punchline, as enabled by the colourful cosmos of instant data, has produced, according to surveys conducted by King’s College London, a hypothesised result of more limited attentiveness and hollowed comprehension. Grasping a news article, whether that article be based in foreign policy or architectural design, necessitates an acknowledgment of its full degrees since conflicts and concerns as face our world are complex and thus discredited through abbreviation. By taking the time to slow down in our information-processing and indulge beyond headlines, we can become more aware decision-makers and effective contributors to our society.