“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” William James
In 2009, a New York Times article cited data suggesting that Americans consume over 100,000 words of information per day — a whole PHD thesis.
And that was before TikTok.
But at the same time as the amount of information we consume is skyroketing, it feels like our attention spans are getting shorter.
Adult ADHD diagnoses are on the rise. ‘Brain fog’ is now a common folk concept. And most of your frends will tell you that it’s getting harder and harder to concentrate.
How could we be consuming more information and finding it harder to concentrate? It seems antithetical that we could be paying more attention in one sense, whilst also finding it harder to pay attention in another sense.
What if this information overload is causing our lack of focus? There are at least two reasons this could be true.
Firstly, humans have a finite capacity for attention in a given day. There is only so much data our little computers can process. Every news article, Instagram Reel, even every conversation — they all require us to expend our precious attention resources.
Secondly, inactivity and mind-wandering are necessary for replenishing our focus. As we spend more time ‘switched on’, our brains have less time to rest and digest. Over time, we have less and less capacity to pay attention.
So as we spend more of our attention consuming information, and spend less time on the things that replenish our capacity to attend, it becomes harder and harder to concentrate.
Maybe the information overload is causing our lack of attention.