Katie Ogden

Hit or Miss?

     When it comes to social media platforms, popularity tends to be hit-or-miss. Over the years, poor updates, change of user base, and apps pulled off of app stores have caused a loss of many platforms. The heavy integration of social media into modern life for consumers has lead to a need for rapid consumption of media. Attention span has decreased rapidly in many teenagers across the globe. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, the attention span of the average human has decreased from 12 seconds (2000) to 8 seconds (2013).

     One app that will live on in infamy is Vine. With hundreds of vine compilations online today, it could be argued that Vine’s death is the reason it became famous. Vine compilations, the only relics left over from the now ancient platform, set the scene for a new type of media consumption– something faster and simpler. MyTutor.Co.UK refers to this as the ‘goldfish effect,’ since humans are below a goldfish’s average attention span of nine seconds. Social media platforms are not entirely to blame for the drop in attention, but applications with short content such as Vine and TikTok have not helped.

     On Vine, the time limit for a single video was six and a half seconds long. Slate.com claims that “On… TikTok, fifteen seconds is the magic number.” This means that an account owner can expect every video on the site to end within fifteen seconds or less. Why does this matter? As a user scrolls through their feed on these rapid-consumption apps, they are training their brain to expect only a few seconds of content before moving on. Many professionals and unprofessionals alike blame rising rates of ADHD and ADHD symptoms on this phenomenon.

     Psychology PhD Tracy P. Alloway, who gave a TEDTalk on the connection between social media and attention span, believes, “it’s easy to point the finger to technology as the scapegoat.” Alloway performed studies that show the disparity between the attention spans of subjects that actively used social media and subjects that used networking sites passively. However, Alloway does not necessarily view this as negative. On the Psychology Today site, she wrote, “social media can change our attention—but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

     The psychologist explained the concepts of ‘spotlight’ and ‘floodlight’ brains. “We used to use our attention like a spotlight—focusing on one thing at a time. I call this the Spotlight Brain. […] Now we use it like a floodlight—this allows us to work with more than one thing at a time. We can pay attention to multiple pieces of information. I call this the Floodlight Brain.”

     Because the age of social media requires people to process lots of information in a short amount of time, frequent users learn to absorb new info using the floodlight method. The next time you wonder why short-video apps like TikTok have blown up, thank the way that technology has changed human attention growth.


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