Digital media: Have humans been dumbed down to goldfish?

Rosemary Roller

We’ve all heard the fact: goldfish have a startlingly short attention span. However, humans may no longer be as superior to the household pet as they once thought. According to a study by Microsoft, the human attention span was only eight seconds by 2013, one second shorter than a that of a goldfish.

Contrary to popular belief, digital media isn’t the one “killing attention span,” says Microsoft. The increase of media consumption and the digital lifestyle has reduced focus time, but the ability to process that information has actually increased.

This is great news for multimedia journalism, given the shift it has been making, and will likely continue to make, over the coming years.

While newspapers are heading online, shorter content in multimedia journalism is on its way in, gearing up for an imminent takeover as a source of news. Popular social media sites have already contributed to this switch.

“The attention span is getting shorter,” noted Sheena McFarland, adjunct professor of Communication at the University of Utah. It’s “not long-form video anymore.”

Vine and Twitter are bigger than ever, constantly spewing information in short clips. Vine allows users to create 6-second video loops and Twitter limits users to 140 characters per tweet.

According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, in 2015, 63 percent of Twitter users say they get their news from the social media site, an increase of 11 percent from 2013.

Information is constantly being condensed into shorter, easier-to-consume forms. News providers have attempted to keep up by contributing additional forms of media to their pieces. No longer will readers see a page-long story; instead, the audiences get a shorter story, complete with a video, photo gallery, or both.

Journalism now consists of a wide array of media, and it can be hard to stay up-to-date.

“The most obvious challenge facing anyone setting out to provide instruction in multimedia journalism is that of the rapidly changing nature of the technologies and their social use,” notes Garrett Managhan in his review of Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide.

This digital environment is driving multimedia journalism, explains Jennifer Napier-Pearce, multimedia journalist and host of Trib Talk at the Salt Lake Tribune. “It provides possibilities for experience [and] storytelling.”

Additionally, she notes that audiences now have expectations because of the digital environment, and journalists have a greater responsibility.

“Journalism is more competitive than ever,” Napier-Pearce said.

Napier-Pearce expressed that, in addition to shorter stories, journalists also have shorter deadlines, varied presentations, smaller newsrooms and have to refer to broadcast-style writing. Journalists now have to be the producer, reporter, writer, editor and “know lots about lots.” Further, they can’t be shy about technology.

It appears that there are clear effects on society and how information is gathered as a result of this digital landscape. There’s no telling exactly where it will go next, but everyone can rest assured knowing that there will always be an influx of information at all times. Humans may be reduced to mere goldfish, but they have the world at their fingertips…literally.