Why We Are Knowingly Raising A Generation With Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
It came as no surprise when it was announced that Instagram overtook Twitter in the amount of users on its network. Now whereas Twitter and 140 characters is not a panacea of writing or knowledge by any means, we should for a moment actually digest the implications of this small watershed in technological history. Reading words vs. looking at pictures is no longer a battle to be fought. Pictures win out.
Maybe photos are worth a thousand words as the saying goes, but it has become a battlefield of pictures and hashtags and no longer of thoughts, ideas and actual communication.
In our age of technological advancement statistical studies have measured the time an individual will spend reading an article or informational piece. Indeed there are very specific statistics on exactly how many characters long a Twitter or Facebook post should be to reach the optimal number of people. Even LinkedIn suggests to keep Pulse articles short in order to retain the attention span of the readers and then continuously write new articles. What is even yet scarier is the need to put everything into “bullet points” or “numbered lists”.
Let us be honest here. The simple truth is that our attention span and desire to retain information and knowledge has become more unforgiving coupled with little patience. Even a cursory look at our evolving lexicon shows we “post” to social networks and more often than not these posts are ego-centric, self-serving and certainly not worth the brain matter to remember. Before you scream “hypocrite” I fully admit I am guilty of such posts as well.
In defense, the amount of information available to the average computer, smartphone and tablet user, is nothing less than mind-boggling. Indeed many of the new technologies and buzzwords revolve around this reality. One only need look at the amount of times the terms “big-data” & “data mining” appear in articles. Our brains must constantly sift out the chaff, and our eyes swiftly skim the surface barely reading let alone having retention. Discussing a topic in depth demands way too much effort, time and brain-power than we are usually willing to give it. One should find this somewhat ironic due to the fact that we are also in an age where the amount of information available to us is beyond comprehension. Indeed the illogical mathematical algorithm would tell us the more information available the less amount of time we seem to want to spend with and comprehend that information.
The sad truth is that we have become a society marked by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or just plain Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). We have also come to expect instant gratification in all that we do. The pacifier is never far from reach.
Even the supposed lofty offices which navigate the technology industry are ruled by instant gratification. Return on Investment (ROI) for seed money and VC firms has continuously decreased in time. Ask any individual who calls themselves in our new-age speak an “entrepreneur” as to the veracity of this. Results are demanded almost before the first line of code is written. Ideas need to be explained in 3–5 minutes — speed dating for the business world. I can only imagine how many great ideas have fallen by the wayside because the individual presenting them could not do it in 3 minutes.
In yet another area of information, if one follows journalism or blogs associated with the myriad of newspapers the rules become clear. Say it short; don’t complicate anything with too many facts; use a personal anecdote to get your POV through to the reader- even if it is clearly a fictional anecdote. Too much information will simply kill the interest in the piece.
Over the past few months I have watched and read for research many posts, articles, opinions and comments on a varied amount of subjects. Many of the posts reminded me of a quote attributed to Plato:
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”
So why write this article which will be read by only a few people? Maybe I am the fool Plato speaks of. Yet it is clear to me that our penchant for instant gratification in addition to our ever-developing ADD syndrome which is now growing into maturity is not only effecting adults but is creating serious repercussions on the youth in society. The atmosphere is toxic to the attainment of real information and knowledge.
We have become a society of selfies, secret chats, photos and self-absorbed in our own world of apps, computers and texting. Take a look at Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or even LinkedIn. Without a photo or video embedded in what you post, it is guaranteed to be lost in oblivion. I, myself, now follow “the picture in post rule” religiously. Indeed, even authors seem to put more effort into their book covers than into the writing and editing phase of their next great magnum opus.
I realize I have painted a dim view of our present and even a scarier one of our future. I am sure many will disagree. Technology has given us amazing breakthroughs and the speed of news through various social networks and traditional journalism has perhaps done a world of good and prevented many disasters.
Nevertheless the fact remains we have, as a society, have become attention deficient in the hyperactive sense. So, thus ADHD would also fit in defining the path which is being followed religiously. We have developed a core need for instant gratification. We no longer read, but rather we post, tweet, comment and now more often than not we take pictures and add hashtags to them, as if this will explain all there is to know about the human experience. We visit beautiful places and our first thought is not to take in the beauty with our eyes and heart but how to frame it in a photo and what hashtags will cause it to go viral.
We certainly have lost the art of personal communication in actual conversation. We have replaced the dictionary with the camera in our phone.
So I look to our next generation with some trepidation. Fifteen second videos & photos will become our main mode of communication. We will continue to use 140 characters and Selfies to define our own self-worth. We will post endless attempts to garner some sort of attention in tens of social networking systems. Sensory overload will inculcate our youth. Education, serious and much needed education which requires information, facts, figures, and knowledge will fall by the wayside. No matter how much you would like to, one cannot teach the history of World War Two in a fifteen second Snapchat. Nor can one write a magnum opus and hope it is read in segments posted in Whatsapp (though I am sure someone will try!)
Facebook, Twitter, lnstagram, LinkedIn, Whatsapp and all the rest are tools not an end in and of itself. They are not meant to replace education or knowledge. Communication means expressing your thoughts and feelings and actually listening to (not just hearing) what the other has to say.
We need to make these tools work for us. We need to use them to their fullest but not sacrifice knowledge, intelligence and self-respect. We must find a medium ground in order that the next generation be not lost forever in a self-destructive circle of selfies and emojis.
Actually, a really interesting take on all this would be the evolution of the emoji. As texting took over the generation, it became clear that emotions were a huge part of the expression universe. At first keyboard symbols were used to emulate these emotions. Then the emoji universe began to appear and has taken on a life of its own. Not one messaging program can make it these days without emojis built in or the ability to add them through a third party app. Emojis are for all intent and purpose the expression of emotions without the need to use words and deep introspection.
Indeed an actual movie based on emojis is being made.
Emoji Movie in Development at Sony Pictures Animation
Sony Pictures Animation has always existed as the odd cousin of animation titans Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks. Its…
While we may look upon this in a positive light, where the expression of emotion has stayed critical, the fact is our new generation is losing the ability to express itself in words. Actual words and sentences. This does not only effect technology. This has far reaching effects on human relationships. If our children do not know how to talk and listen, if they cannot express their inner feelings and emotions to those closest to them, if the thought process is trained to redact everything into an LOL and a BTW, and add an emoji to round it off, then relationships become shallow and fleeting at best.
Yes, I will continue to post with photos, ask for comments, count the likes, and follow the twitter comments and retweets religiously. I will devote thought and time to the proper hashtag to use. Yet I will also attempt to express myself, my thoughts, feelings and emotions in as clear a manner as possible.
We have entered the era of the photo, emoji and hashtag. Perhaps this is advancement and the future. Yet we still must learn and teach our children how to fully express themselves and listen to others. And maybe, just maybe, we can make technology and all its wonder work for us as the tool it is meant to be — not as some existential mode of self-absorbed instant gratification. If we do not strive for this, I fear we will turn into but a fleeting shadow in the next picture taken even if Facebook can tell us through facial recognition who it is in the photo with their face 90% concealed. The hashtags will read: #shadowunknown, #ionlyreademojis & #lostforever.
About the Author: Ted Gross is an author of literary fiction, children’s books and various non-fiction articles. His short story collection, “Ancient Tales, Modern Legends” has received excellent reviews. He also served as a CTO for many years with an expertise in database technology, PHP and OOP. Ted can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter; LinkedIn & just about any other communication platform you desire :)