There is a study by Microsoft Corporation that has been around for a few years now, and many news sites like to reference it. Several big news sites as well as some popular science sites have all mentioned this study and written about how we as humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish. The irony is that those folks who wrote said articles about our lack of attention span clearly didn’t take the time to actually read the study, which starts with the words, “Think digital is killing attention spans? Think again”. That sort of ruins the negative spin right away, huh? So they must have skipped right past that to the first graphic they saw which (rather questionably) does compare human attention span with that of a goldfish. The report then goes on to talk about how attention span is evolving, good and bad. And no surprise, turns out it’s complicated.
The report is actually for marketers and how they can best market to audiences based on current attention spans. It may sound dull, but I found it quite fascinating, especially since attention and awareness are keys to self-defense. One interesting aspect is that the report uses a model of three different types of attention. The first is sustained attention, or the ability to focus for a long time. That type of attention does, sad to say, tank the more your digital use increases. The second is selective attention, or the ability to filter out distractions. There didn’t seem to be much change in this type of attention, no matter the quantity of a person’s digital use. The third is alternating attention, or the ability to efficiently shift between tasks, or multi-task. This type of attention actually improves with increased digital use.
My takeaway from reading this report is a reinforcement of something I already knew: our mind is adaptable and our attention trainable. (The report talks about this as well) If we train our mind to stay focused for long periods of time, it will. If we train it to break focus every fifteen seconds, it will do that too. So how are we training our brains for self-defense? The breathing and awareness exercises we do in the dojo, the mind science courses on NinjaSelfDefense.com, and even the chaotic decision-making drills we practice, all are designed to train the brain in one of those three areas of attention. Breathing and focusing exercises are not just extras we toss in for fun. We are rewiring our brain to perform at its best when we need it. And we need all three versions of attention … for recognizing danger, for staying aware in the chaos of a conflict, for staying focused enough to research the background reports mentioned in misleading articles, and for proving that our attention can, in fact, be better than that of a goldfish.