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Wednesday, February 28, 2024  
17 Shaban 1445  

Day 4 of my newsroom internship: A badtameez take on Gen Z’s brains

Challenging theories about attention spans
Photo by: Web Designer Depot
Photo by: Web Designer Depot

Research has shown that Gen Z has an eight-second attention span online. That means we prefer looking at concise content, often disseminated through attention-grabbing pictures as opposed to long-form posts and articles. In the newsroom today, instead of writing, I am creating a Canva edit that is designed to capture the attention of an audience, ironically, as they read a 700-word blog about my newsroom experience. The editor wants me to create artwork like that on The Atlantic, but I don’t have the best aesthetic sense in the world. I try to outsource the edit to my friend but that doesn’t work out either. The desk editor next to me finally jokes, “You’re really spiraling, aren’t you?”

It’s true. I spent two hours trying to create the Canva-edit-from-hell and the final result wasn’t that special either. Just a picture, two paint splashes, and a line of text. Although, perhaps, given Gen Z’s ‘dwindling attention spans’, that’s exactly the way we should have preferred it.

I don’t want to relive the trauma of creating the edit. What I do want to talk about is the patience and effort that goes into the creation of artwork.

That is, I want to argue, that while Gen Z is often accused of lacking patience and the ability to pay attention, it is also the generation that is involved in the creation of the ‘rapid-fire’ content that is seemingly numbing our brains and decreasing our attention spans.

Acquired Attention Deficits, or something like that

The way we consume information has evolved. Gone is the image of the courageous (and ancient) man pouring over hundreds of books in a huge, vintage library before finally finding some obscure piece of information. Now, there are people scrolling through social media websites, halfheartedly clicking on the ‘like’ button to prove to the world that they exist.

The ancient man might have been able to acknowledge the effort that went into writing those long books but today, social media content is so ubiquitous, it simply just seems to ‘show up’ on our newsfeeds. A lot of the time—especially in business social media profiles—there is no identifying information about the creator of the edit. Yet, each day, a new, ‘interactive’ post appears to grab our attention amid the huge pile of content at our fingertips.

If the content doesn’t grab our attention, we are free to scroll past and find better options. There’s no point wasting our time on something that doesn’t interest us, after all.

Researchers, however, argue that that’s not ideal for our attention spans. Dr. John Ratey, a clinical associate professor at Harvard, was the first person to coin the term “Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder” hinting toward the negative ways in which technology was restructuring our brains.

Yet, I disagree. Consider:

From consumers to producers

Robots may take over the world someday but currently, content doesn’t simply ‘show up’ on our newsfeeds.

Theories about the scandalous Gen Z attention span focus too much on consumers of information rather than producers. When we talk about the eight-second attention span, we don’t think of the people hunched over their laptops, engaging in the tedious task of creating the perfect image. We don’t think of the bloggers who are constantly surveying their surroundings, perhaps paying more attention than the poets, to find interesting content.

What’s more, the fast pace of life requires that we don’t just create content; it demands that we create it quickly. Within that context, the art of paying attention becomes even more crucial but at the same time, also faster.

So, perhaps, the issue is not that our ability to pay attention has disappeared. It’s just that we need to be quicker about it. Plus, we need to deliver good-quality content.

For creative people (who are often subject to wild mood swings), this isn’t always an easy task. Yet, as I scroll through my social media, it’s obvious that most Gen Z content creators have managed the quality-quantity balance pretty well.

So, if you’re looking to throw a look of contempt toward the ‘new’ generations, perhaps you should think again. Technology hasn’t completely eaten our brains yet.

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