Lowering attention spans: Should we be worried?

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 28 Jul 2022, 7:40 PM

I have a friend, based in the US, who’s a wonderful singer. Singing is his favourite pastime, and he’s doing a lot of it ever since, a few years ago, he discovered an app called Smule, where you can not only sing and record audios and videos of the performance but can also pair up with anyone, anywhere in the world and sing together. Earlier, he would make it a point to send me all his video recordings on WhatsApp, which I would enjoy and then forward to other friends.

Lately, his offerings have whittled down, and I was wondering if he’s cutting back on singing time. No, he responded, when I finally asked him in as many words. Not at all, he emphasised. “But are you sure you want to receive them from me? I mean, do you have the mindspace to listen to a song?”

“What do you mean? Of course, I do!” I snapped back, irritated.

“Okay then,” he responded, vaguely.

A few days later, he sends me a new recording. I immediately pressed play, and then realised it was a very short recording — just a couple of minutes long. It tapered off at a point earlier than even the halfway mark (I know the song quite well, it’s one of my favourites, Dil Dhoondta Hain from the Hindi movie Mausam). So, obviously, I asked him why he had sent me less than half a song. To which he replied, “Because I thought you wouldn’t have the patience to hear out the whole song — which is almost five minutes long.”

No one listens to full songs anymore — with singular, rapt attention, he went on to add.

I wanted to know how he could be so sure about this. And he told me this strange — but true — story of how he kept tabs on his songs:

“The moment I post a video on Facebook these days — with a little caption explaining the song — I start getting dozens of Likes… it seems like they are coming on auto-prompt. Tell me, how can someone Like a song when I’ve not even started singing? There are numbers where the opening music is protracted and the singing voice only kicks after 45 or 50 seconds, and yet I see Likes [and sometimes, comments] coming in immediately. So clearly, nobody even listens to the full song, maybe they don’t even listen to it at all, but they Like it.”

He’s not very bothered about Facebook because he finds it impersonal and fake. But he cares a lot about WhatsApp because “here, I make the effort to send a video one-on-one”. “Forgive me if I sound a little pretentious and perhaps crazy, but whenever I send videos, I send them one by one, instead of forwarding them in tranches of five, and I keep going back to that WhatsApp thread to see if the person is online and has seen my video. And I notice most of them react — favourably, of course — in a minute and then go offline, so I know they have gotten inattentive much before 20 per cent of the song was sung. Then there are those who go offline after the blue tick appears, come back after 10 minutes and then say something like ‘Bravo’ or ‘Amazing’ or at least a heart emoji — because they couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to my song in the first place, but felt it would be rude if they didn’t comment.”


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