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Are we all suffering from attention deficiency?


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 18 Mar 2021, 4:18 PM

As a journalist, I have been in the profession long enough for the pendulum to swing to the other side. The whole way. In the 1990s, when there was a headline such as ‘Presumed Innocent’ given (for a magazine profile on a Bollywood actress), I’d pat myself on the back for what (I thought) was a smart turn of phrase.

Today, it will not make the cut. It has to be “dumbed down”, that’s the current currency one is all too eager to experiment with, maybe changed into something like ‘Here is why we think this popular actress has a dark side’. Or even better, ‘Here’s why this popular actress wants to smash her co-workers’ faces into smithereens’.

It has to be “clickbaity” enough to “grab” attention.

You see, attention is at a premium, we have it in short supply, so you have to be heard or seen in a way that cuts through clutters in all odd ways. Most times, substance doesn’t really matter as long as the tip of the iceberg is ‘hot’ enough.

If a ‘long read’ on an online site makes me ponder or strikes me with its felicity of language/expression, I usually forward it to those I believe may be interested to check it out. Over time, I’ve realised 90 per cent of those at the receiving end, do not bother to read, it calls for too much commitment. Ditto, if it’s a long video, unless it’s something hugely controversial, like Meghan Markle spilling the dirt on royalty. TikTok — with its 20 or 30-second videos — has basically set the bar for attention spans.

The victim syndrome struck me the other day when someone I know sent me a 3-minute video clip of her husband singing a song on a Zoom call, as part of a crooning session being anchored by a well-known music director. The husband has a nice singing voice, I got that 15 seconds into the clip. My reaction? A message saying, “Wow, amazing! What was the feedback?”

She must have rolled her eyes on the other side, before responding, “Watch it till the end, you’ll find out.”

So, here’s how it works. On any given time of day, I am being bombarded with notifications every second on my smartphone — a device which is not a luxury but a necessity. You have to be armed with one if you want to survive. Some app or the other is going off with ‘important’ alerts: work emails, bank statements, trending news of the moment, discounts you can avail of, food ordering suggestions, hotel deals, pet therapies, properties you may want to rent out, or buy, and so on and so forth.

Yet, we’re bored all the time because, in spite of info infinitum, almost nothing holds us in thralldom.

What alarms me the most is when people start displaying signs of attention deficiency during face-to-face chats. All over the world, psychobabble (these days) has it that unless it’s something personally relatable, people usually zone out during conversations. There’s a blank look in their eyes while you talk, you can see they are having a problem focusing but are trying hard to fake engagement.

With friends, I can tell them on their face, “You’re not even listening to what I’m saying,” while they counter with an honest, “Yeah, but we’re

getting the drift.” But with colleagues and acquaintances, with who you cannot get too invested, you tend to withdraw.

They say the

visual medium has better holding power since it’s moving, something new is exploding in your face every second — contours, colours, mise-en-scènes, SFX. Yet, if we don’t like a particular OTT series on Netflix and it doesn’t hook us immediately, we jump to the next one.

When was the last time you watched a long movie or listened to the strains of a two-hour concert or simply talked with a friend or a spouse or a sibling or a parent putting your heart and soul into it?

Without the need for deflections,

distractions and a compulsion to fidget? Or being subsumed by a fear of missing out: maybe a celebrity just tweeted or an

influencer posted a vacation shot?


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