Can I Have Your Attention Please?

The readings for this week focussed on how the Internet has changed and consequently how our interaction with the web has changed. One of the most interesting trends noted in “The Web We Have to Save” is that the web used to be more text-based content driven, such as reading online magazines, and has now shifted to more video- and image-based content (Derakhshan). This aligns with Dash and Kottke’s insights on “the death of the blog,” or how independent websites/blogs used to host valuable and focussed content on the free web, and how content is now couched within third-party sites and apps like Facebook. The goal of these apps is for users to spend as much time within the app as possible, and to not navigate out of its platform, hence the devaluing (or disabling) of the hyperlink (Dash, Derakhshan). The structure of these major apps contributes to their ability to keep our attention intra-app. This structure is called “the stream,” where users are “fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex… algorithms” (Derakhshan). The algorithms rank based on how users interact with the content, and privilege and promote what is popular and habitual, reinforcing its grip on our attention. According to “Internet Trends 2015” it is working. We are spending more time on digital media—2.9 more hours per day than 7 years ago—for a total of 5.6 hours per day on average (Meeker 14). This is why Clay Shirky tells his students to put their laptops away during class, and in his research he explains that multitaskers have impaired “declarative memory,” or the what-did-you-just-learn memory that is so important to students. Shirky’s assertion that “hardware and software is being professionally designed to distract” is corroborated by Meeker’s data that notifications are growing rapidly and are more interactive (54). How sinister, too, that “Humans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field” (Shirky). Instead of just assuming that we have shorter attention spans, after this reading I am convinced that the real problem is we are attempting to multitask during every second of our day. We are constantly being interrupted by our devices. When we do check our phones, we are sucked into the perpetual streams on our apps, which happen to feature really interesting personalized information with eye-grabbing pictures and videos. My main reaction from these readings is: What are we doing to ourselves? Wouldn’t it be best to unplug and focus? The next time someone laughs at me for taking notes on paper (my specialty) I’m going to smile to myself silently.



Shirky, Clay. 2014, September 9. Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away. Medium.

Meeker, Mary. 2015. Internet Trends 2015 – Code Conference

Dash, Anil. 2012. The Web we Lost.  Anil Dash: A blog about making culture.

Derakhshan, Hossein. 2015, July 14. The Web We Have to Save.

Kottke, Jason. 2013, December. The blog is dead, long live the blogNiemanLab.

One Reply to “Can I Have Your Attention Please?”

  1. This is a good summary of the readings, one that draws links between them and identifies their points of convergence. Unfortunately, it does little to offer us the author’s reaction to the readings.

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