I Have the Attention Span of a...

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

…goldfish! Ring the alarm! People who study these things are writing research papers telling of our declining attention span- oh… look over there- is that a video of a dog licking a goldfish? I’ll be right back. I have to click on that- I love goldfish videos!

Take your time.

So, from an article of our collective declining attention spans, we’re off on another click. All it took was something less than 8 seconds, meaning we humans are now competing with goldfish as to who has the longest attention span. Experts claim that goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds- humans is down to 8.5 seconds. Fifteen years ago, it was twice as long.

After watching the doggie video, I’ll head over to my fish tank and have a staring contest with Goldie, my goldfish. I’ll do my own research on the attention span of a stupid goldfish. The first one to blink loses. If I lose in the toilet Goldie goes!

Hang on! I just got a notification of a once-in-a-life-time-sale. Never again, it says, will leather jackets be marked down this low! I’ll be right back.

If you’re still with me or have found your way back, I must warn you that I’m furious about losing to a goldfish. So incensed, you’ll have to read this to the end (just 4 minutes) to find out if I survive the chest pain that I have just started to experience, to say nothing of my tingling fingers and quickening heart rate.

If you can stare down Goldie for 8.5 seconds, you win!

First of all, how do they know what the attention span of a goldfish is? Did they wire the brain of one up and asked it to read the Gettysburg Address? How do you do that? Goldie is almost impossible to catch being slipperier than a bar of soap down between your feet while in the shower. And what about the wire. Goldfish live in the water, and wire and electricity don’t mix. Plug the little bugger in, and it will turn Goldie into a barbecued ‘glow’ fish with crossed eyes.

Hang on- I'm getting a Facebook notification. Oh crap… I don't have time to read that. Is it from someone in my tribe? Yep. I click 'like' and move back to my current outrage, which is… oh geez. What was it again? Oh ja… The experts say I have the attention span of a goldfish. That just pisses me off.

So what if it were true? What does a goldfish do with its superior attention span anyway? Huh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a painting done by a goldfish. Has a goldfish ever read a book or piloted a jetliner or milked a goat? Goldfish seem only capable of swimming round and round and babbling.

I will have to give goldfish credit for being able to babble. In that way, they are a bit human-like. I, too, have seen adult humans swim back and forth across a stage and babble, like at a political event or a TED talk or church pulpit. Back and forth, lips moving with the occasional bubble of warm air rising to thunderous applause or amens. But mostly, they just babble. And for the entire length of our attention span, 8.5 seconds, we watch as if mesmerized by the back and forth and the bubbles from babbling. Then my phone dings interrupting my near-random thoughts. Another notification.

Its Clarissa, my cousin. She just sent an Instagram telling the world how angry she is. Explosively angry. Someone should try to talk her down before she blows a major blood vessel. She is using words I’ve never seen her use before. She is steaming about the doggie video making the rounds. She clicked on the video, thinking she was about to enjoy images of a lovely friendly little puppy becoming best friends with a goldfish. No! The puppy ate the goldfish. When watched in slow motion, it appears the puppy put its long tongue into a fishbowl to lick a goldfish, the fish then tragically lept into the puppies mouth, and from instinct, or the gag reflex, the puppy swallowed. At least that is what I saw when I watched it. I have to admit to a brief moment of disgust — the poor dog. I try to imagine a slithering swimming goldfish going down my food pipe. Ewe…

But that isn’t how Clarissa saw it. “Who would allow this to happen?” she posts. “Oh… the injustice of this. A poor goldfish eaten alive by a dog! The owner should be put into jail!”

To understand her reaction, I need to tell you about Clarissa. This will only take a few moments. Hang in there with me.

Clarissa runs a goat rescue from her 3rd-floor apartment downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan (on Ransom Ave). This is all on her Facebook page. If you have an injured, lost, or unwanted goat, she’ll take it in, smother it back to health, and attempt to find a warm home for it (not the ‘warm’ in how one might describe a dutch oven). Her Facebook page makes her apartment look like a fancy hobby farm, complete with pictures of her and various goats sitting on bales of straw. There is even a video of her dancing with a three-legged billy goat in her living room.

Clarissa and I had a falling out years ago. Thinking she was an expert on all things concerning goats, I asked her if 10 pounds of goat hamburger for 59 bucks was a good deal. Another cousin from the other side of my genetic mess was selling goat meat on Facebook. Evidently, Clarissa found my question in very poor taste and verbally lashed me for weeks. I finally got her to stop when I asked her if she treats her goats as badly as me when they pee on her couch. She stopped but only after telling me that there is no such thing as good goat meat. In fact, there is no such thing as good meat. “ALL MEAT IS EVIL,” she yelled in all caps. I decided not to ask her what I really wanted to know; what does goat meat taste like?

Yes, my cousin is a vegetarian, and now I’m having a hard remembering what I was telling you about. I have a vague memory of being angry, but… ah. Now I remember. That insulting piece of research suggesting our attention span is now less than that of a goldfish. They have got to be kidding, right?

“Social Acceleration is real, and it is coming after our brains.” That is what a study from the Technical University of Denmark claims. Social acceleration is “the increasing rates of change within collective attention.” In other words, our attention span is getting shorter ever more quickly. They claim they know this from the length of time twitter hashtags survive. Hmm. In just fifteen years, our attention span was cut in half. Sounds ominous.

I briefly ponder the effect of having no attention span. We’re only 8.5 seconds away from that. Would we then be compared to an ameba?

Anyway- what is wrong with a short attention span? Well, some are claiming that it’s changing the chemistry in our brain. We’re becoming more forgetful. Research shows 25% or teenagers will forget significant details of close friends and relatives. 7% will, at times, forget their own birthday (that’s me). 39% of us will forget a critical piece of information every week and lose at least one household item every week! Oh… the inhumanity of it! And you’re not running for president!

Another study from England says we shift our attention between smartphones, tablets, and laptops 21 times in an hour. For some reason, they didn’t include the TV and the interruptions from the ‘kid’ who wanted to crawl on your lap to have you read to him. We check our phones so often, it actually consumes over 3 hours each week (guilty). If you’re average, you’ll have read maybe 20% of this article (that’s good cause I only wrote about 20% of it). An office worker gets interrupted every 11 minutes, and it then takes 25 minutes to return to the original task. And that’s today’s research- what about in another fifteen years?

The more I read, my anger turns to depression. Maybe the researchers are right. Maybe our attention span is getting shorter. If so, is there anything we can do?

As is often the case, it doesn’t take a pile of smart folks to research what is obvious even to a goldfish. The first step is for us to back away from the constant interaction with our digital devices. We must get back to the point each potential interaction does not become an interruption. So what if your phone dings from a notification. It or whoever can wait. This is especially true when in a conversation with another. The rudeness of continually checking our smartphones should be evident to all. It sends the message that the conversation is about as important as watching a goldfish babble.

As you’d expect, many others have pondered our declining attention span and have set about to help us expand ours. has come up with 13 ways.

Finally, if you have read this far… you deserve a blue ribbon. Your attention span is just fine. Thanks for reading!

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