Six years ago, Microsoft came out with a study that found the average human attention span is less than that of a goldfish. Not exactly sure how they track that – have you ever locked eyes with a goldfish? – but there’s no doubt that our attention span is decreasing. Put it in a tweet or a short video, or you’re sure to lose a lot of people.
But in the effort to keep people’s attention with short blasts of information and entertainment, we are losing something valuable. We’re losing the ability to engage with thoughtful conversation and move past a knee-jerk response to whatever flits across our news feed.
One simple way to do this: pick up a book. Tune out TV’s constant breaking news, and engage with an idea, a time in history, or a fictional world that takes you beyond social media’s outrage of the moment. Stretch your mind by engaging something bigger than what’s on a screen. If we’re going to work our way through this polarized time we’re in, it will not be through tweeting at each other, or by watching bite-size clips on our cable news channel of choice. It’s going to take stretching our minds and giving careful thought to different perspectives for 20 minutes (or more!) – and then being open to talking (and listening!) to each other honestly and thoughtfully.
If you’re reading this, 20 minutes may not seem like much. But for others, 20 minutes of focused attention can feel unending. Either way, continuous attention is kind of like prayer or exercise. If 20 minutes seems out of reach, start with 10. If 10 minutes seems too long, start with 5. If 5 seems too much time to pray, start with the Jesus prayer – or, if it’s exercise, take the stairs if you’re only going up a floor or two.
And when it comes to reading, don’t just settle for bite-sized social media posts or blogs (even this one!). Pick up a book, and let it stretch you, challenge you, move you. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself fishing in deep waters – way past where the goldfish can be found.