Monday, August 23, 2010

Attention Span, Interrupted



People underestimate the importance of discussions with other humans. These tons of meetings you go to everyday involve discussions about things that matter. A lot of decisions, some life-altering decisions like marriage, jobs, and which football team to root for come after lengthy and useful discussions with people who matter.

The reason these discussions are important, is that they bring in new ideas, and your ideas and beliefs may be challenged. Your knowledge is expanded, and your wisdom keeps growing.

As a very old man himself (30 years of age is like 88 in internet life), I have noticed the progressive disappearance of useful discussions on the internet.

I started using the (very slow) internet in Jordan in the mid-1990s. I remember exchanging a few emails with other people from other areas in the world, often debating different opinions and ideas, like politics and religion. These were good discussions, and I remember a few of them.

Message boards (the ones I used were arabia.com and mahjoob) were popular, and these discussions were actually very interesting at times. Then came blogs and everything else followed to allow any person with a keyboard to type in his own opinion.

Blogs often allow for some degree of civilized discussions depending on the blog itself. However most blogs are shallow. Worse, any comments can be deleted for whatever reason, thus making your voice unheard.

Facebook is worse, because you have very limited space to express anything. You may argue that facebook was made for people to stay in touch, but with every political activity or news coming around you'll find some discussions going around.

Twitter, Youtube, CNN, Huffington Post, Ammon News or any political/news website come on top of the worst of the worst because they almost entirely eliminated normal discussions. Comments need to be read first by the moderator, then edited if necessary, or deleted, then posted on the websites. They rarely allow for 2 people to interact and reply to each other immediately. Even if someone wants to express an idea like, "American movies are terrible" you don't have enough space to expand on your idea, or give reasons for it in a similar way you'll have while talking to normal human being on the street or in a cafe.

This might seem as a trivial problem in this day and age. But look around you and see how much time people (including Jordanians) are spending on these websites everyday and you'll realize that our attention spans are increasingly getting shorter. A lot of the knowledge that I have, a lot of the opinion I have formed in my life and a lot of skills in defending any action I have taken came as a result of thousands of discussions and debates I had with other human beings. It's a skill. Discussions reveal personality traits, passions, beliefs and intentions, and we seem to be losing focus in having them.

If you disagree, comment below in no more than 140 characters.

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(in the picture above Anna Kendrick b4 shooting Twilight OMG she's so pretty, and the picture below fireworks at Khalifah tower OMG they're so awesome)

10 comments:

KJ said...

You're absolutely right and I noticed this myself when reading longer posts or news artichokes. I just can't get through them without considerable effort even though I myself do often write long blog posts. Ever since Twitter came along we became even less inclined to read long text.

Blogging went dry for a while but I have met some new and interesting people who have just Joined the blogging worked to express what they want to say in more tha the space allocated on Twitter. I guess this "reverse evolution" is what should have been the norm

Haitham Seelawi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rand said...

You might have a valid point there but I don't think the sites are to blame for it. There are different people with different interests, you're probably reading the wrong blogs, interacting with the wrong people, on Twitter you can choose to follow people who have interesting ideas, things you can learn from (and by learn I don't mean learn about their bowel movement) or follow those who don't.

Sometimes when I read the comments on those news sites I feel depressed, Ammon and Saraya and the likes are opening the space for ignorant people to say what they want to say, you click on a headline that says the owner of a tourism office ran away with the customers' money and you see comments like "Allah la yroddhom, aslan zabayen el makateb el seya7eyyeh jaybeen hai el masari men el serga... etc" you see a headline about a girl that committed suicide and the comments are mostly "betlageeha 3amleettelha 3amleh, jahannam wa be2s al maseer"! You got the point, in the end the discussion either turns into a war of words between تعليق رقم 17 صقر الأردن and تعليق رقم 41 سلطي غصبا عنك
Or a flirting session with بدوية أخت رجال
Is this the kind of discussion you want to read?
It is sad that we have to search everywhere for people who can carry an intellectual argument but I guess it's worth it in the end.
There you go, my opinion in 139 characters.

Anonymous said...

rand.. to be honest, you are the worst blogger/tweeter ever! its all about silly things, and you like to back stab your boss or friends.. stop talking about boring stuff plz

Hareega said...

KJ, there's always a good reason why these new websites emerged but somehow a lot of people think that quick is better and a brief comment or note might be a good substitute for a detailed opinion or argument.

Haitham,
facebook is actually great, I'm so glad it does exist for several reasons. However having debates via the internet (including blogs) is not the same as talking to someone face to face. You're much more likely to convince someone of an opinion or discuss a new idea while talking to them in their face, with all your facial expressions and body language rather than typing a quick message.
The little difference between blogs and facebook is that blogs belong to one person (usually), visitors go there knowing that it represents one person and they comment directly to his/her posts. With other media it's a pool of hundreds of people you know and you throw a comment here and a comment there. Nothing wrong with that, but it's very bad when people consider it an alternative to having serious debates.

Rand, those comments are usually in very poor taste. I learned to ignore them. They are a complete waste of time and internet space (if that thing exists).

Anonymous , spare us the personal attacks here, if you don't like her blog skip it.

Ehab said...

Well, I have to agree. I believe if you plot our attention spans in the last several years, it will certainly be going down. 15 years ago, I had nothing to read but books. Then the internet boomed and it was emails. Now, it's all about doing it in less than 140 characters.

Of course, this is my own personal experience. But the trend to do everything faster, if left unchecked, creates these attitudes in people.

kinzi said...

Sad...time is life and people give it sparingly to one another.

I do think there are some re-emergent bloggers climbing back on board. We'll see.

Wonder what Khalaf is doing?

NasEr said...

why isn't here a Like button too :(

Hareega said...

Ehab, it's already happening , at least in the US, my personal observation at least

kinzi, exactly , blogging is now part of the good ol' times lol

NaseR, soon I'll be adding a like, dislike, OMG and WTF buttons

Pru said...

In the past there was no internet and anything that you had to say you could only tell to people around you, now with the internet you can make yourself heard globaly. Whethe what you have to say is the result of lengthy research and careful reflection or a mere description of your daily trivial events you'll have someone reading you and reacting to your thoughts. I think that is amazing.

The social networks like facebook are portals for flirting, dating and showing off. People don't log on to them with the intention of seriously discussing matters!

What do you think is more influential; the discussion or the person you're having it with?