At a recent gathering with a close non-Country Day friend, I discovered that the long-prophesied destruction of attention span amongst youths is no longer confined to science journals and headline journalism. No, my generation is living it.
“I can’t see her really being serious with him. What ever happened to…” my friend said. His voice slowly trailed off into nothingness while I twirled and devoured my linguine.
When I looked up, my friend was staring at his phone, his fingers flying across the illuminated screen..
“Sorry, what was I saying?” he responded, noticing his momentary withdrawal from the real world. Before I could even answer his question, he was back at his phone, scrolling and tapping.
A new disease is spreading – five-second attention.
By no means am I immune to this disease. At a meeting of the Octagon editors and our advisor Patricia Fels, she commented on my repeated glances at my cell phone.
But this lack of attention span isn’t just related to in-person meetings. In the time it has taken me to write this very column, I have already checked Snapchat twice and Instagram once – and replied to one email and six texts – all before the seventh paragraph!
At no time did I notice my own lack of attention span more than while I was taking the SAT.
I’d already taken the test twice and undergone a countless number of practice exams, but I struggled this October to stay on track with the questions. Every noise, motion, or even the slight fluctuation in lights sent my mind racing.
Here are some of my thoughts during the long test:
“It seems like all the frost on the window has melted. I wonder what temperature it is outside. I wonder how well the JFK High School band does at competitions – I can hear them from half a campus away.”
And of course the most dreaded thought of all: “What’s happening on Instagram right now? Has anyone sent me any Snapchats? What am I missing out on right now, because I’m here stuck in a classroom?”
My mind is used to distracting itself. It took all my mental strength to stay on task, especially during the Critical Reading section.
It wasn’t always like this. When I took the SAT the first time, I felt like an agent sent from a Bond film to seek out the correct answer in the reading passage.
But a year of near-constant social-media surfing has inoculated my brain against long periods of thought.
My generation has grown up in the so-called “Information Age.” Everything we want – from the weather in Johannesburg, South Africa, to what I ate for lunch yesterday – is documented and readily accessible. It’s only normal to want to be constantly plugged in.
In school, we are taught that many skills our teachers acquired are utterly useless in the world today.
But some skills – like face-to-face contact and focus – never go out of style.