The evolution of social media has corresponded with the devolution of the average person’s attention span.
In fact, I’d have no problem saying that it’s a direct cause and effect. Social media has made it easier for us to access and process information quicker, simpler, and in greater bulk. Thus, it has certainly contributed to a minimization of people’s abilities to hold their attention on a single topic for lengthy periods of time.
That’s why social media has made a concerted effort to cater to this. Twitter is 140 characters. Facebook compiles everybody’s statuses one on top of another so you can view them all in a span of seconds. Viral YouTube videos usually last no longer than 45 seconds. Pinterest allows you to organize a barrage of photos one on page, like an array of vomit on your computer screen.
Honestly, I’ve yet to understand the appeal in Pinterest. But that’s a topic for another day.
People think that it’s a coincidence that Twitter’s 140-character limit just happens to perfectly accommodate to our society’s need to grasp information quickly. But I think that Twitter’s character limit has created our society’s need to grasp information quickly. It’s all subtle manipulation, and it’s worked.
So what’s another way that social media has managed to condense information, depreciate our attention spans and insult our intelligence all at the same time?
Goodbye articles, lists are the new fad! Websites like Buzzfeed can mostly be blamed for it. Whether it’s reasons why the 90s were the best time period, or about how Facebook sucks, or why New York can become an aggravating place to live, or an actual list of the worst things in the world — these lists draw people to their website as easily as Channing Tatum in a wife beater draws women.
It’s amazing that nobody caught on to this sooner. Lists are perfect for this day and age. People get intimidated by articles — but who gets intimidated by lists? They fulfill everything on the ADD checklist.
- Condensed content: No lengthy paragraphs, no verbose descriptions, just a quick sentence about what it is.
- Conveniently arranged: The lists are all laid out in one page, numbered, one on top of the other. Just like a Facebook Newsfeed. How convenient! But think about it — how often do you actually read a list that has each number on a different page? When that happens to me, I ‘X’ it out 90 percent of the time. But Buzzfeed is too smart to do that.
- Pictures: In this case, you don’t even have to read the words. Pictures tell you the story. Absolutely mandatory for the ADD-ridden mind.
- No commitment: Articles and stories have a beginning, middle and end. To really grasp them, you pretty much have to read the whole thing. And if you want to stop midway, you have to at least read to the end of a paragraph. But with lists, there’s no such commitment. You can stop anytime. If you’re not enjoying the list, or find yourself becoming bored, you can simply exit the website after #4.
- Even this list right now describing why lists are convenient is subconsciously pleasing you: You see what I did there? I can be manipulative too! *Goes to point to his brain, misses, pokes self in eye.*
In fact, I’m surprised that a social media website based solely around lists hasn’t been invented yet. I’m sure someone is working on it right now. But I just wanted to put it out there, so when it does get created, I can say I thought of it first. And reap no other benefits at all.
Just think about what the most memorable and well-known part of David Letterman’s show is. The Top 10 List. Every night, about 15 minutes into his show, Dave holds up the blue card and says, “Ladies and gentleman, here’s tonight’s top 10 list!” And then everyone in the audience goes nuts. Lists are so simple and so dumbed-down, that they almost trigger some type of euphoria in our brain, like catnip does to a cat.
And Letterman has been doing it for more than two decades. The dude was way ahead of the game.
But what else do you notice about these Buzzfeed lists? As opposed to Letterman’s lists — which are perfectly rounded to the number 10 — these ones all start with a different number. And not only are they not different, but they’re not even rounded.
It’s never “25 reasons…” or “40 reasons…” Instead, it’s 22. Or 39. Or 17.
What the hell?!
I’m surprised that more people with OCD — the same people who absolutely must stop pumping gasoline at exactly 10 gallons — haven’t become outraged over this. And quite honestly, I don’t even think people truly notice.
In fact, I think the quirky numbers are all part of the manipulation. By having a list titled “34 reasons why Spongebob Squarepants is secretly a member of Al Qaeda,” it’s more likely to catch our attention. If a list started with 25, or 20, then that’s boring. It’s dull. Commonplace, even.
More importantly, it doesn’t catch our attention, and therefore nobody ever reads it. However, when it’s 26, or 31, our brain subconsciously realizes that something is wrong. “Lists shouldn’t start with that number,” our brain tells us. So we notice the list because of it, and then we actually read the title, and our interest is piqued. We click on it. We read it. We laugh. And then we share it on our Facebook walls.
This madness must stop!
I can’t be the first person that this has annoyed, can I?
Whenever I see somebody share one of these lists, I shake my head. Because they’ve been hoodwinked like a hamster on a wheel. But in the hamster’s case, at least it gets health benefits.
Consider this a public service announcement. Say ‘No’ to arbitrarily numbered lists.