Monday, March 27, 2023
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How to Restore Our Dwindling Attention Spans


A question has increasingly plagued me since I began studying our relationship with technology about two decades ago: Will we ever pay attention again? The concern arose from measuring the shrinking attention spans of hundreds of knowledge workers in a variety of work roles. Whether we’re talking about a Gen Z or a baby boomer, a CEO or an administrative assistant, attention spans on our computers and phones are short and declining.

To study people’s attention on their devices, with my research team at the University of California, Irvine, and with colleagues at Microsoft Research, I observed people in their natural environments and created living laboratories. We used sophisticated computer logging techniques to measure attention spans and heart rate monitors and wearable devices to measure stress. Back in 2004, we found that people averaged 150 seconds on any screen before switching to another screen. By 2012, it had declined to 75 seconds, and between 2016 and 2021, it diminished to 47 seconds. Studies by others have replicated these results within three seconds.


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