How long can you read in one sitting? How long can you write?
I remember learning years ago (whilst studying German at floristry college – no, I’m not sure why either) that the human brain is only capable of concentrating for twenty minutes at a spell.
Now, when they say this, I’m pretty sure this twenty minutes does not include checking your phone for messages, your inbox for emails or You Tube for whatever limber limbed dance craze / semi naked pop songstress / cat swinging from a basketball hoop is trending at the moment.
No, this means solid, no looking at the time, no thinking of when the next cup-of-tea-and-chocolate-digestive-reward-is-due concentration.
Think you can do it?
I can when the WiFi’s off, however, as I’m writing this, I’ve just checked the WordPress message bell, found that little orange circle that means someone out there loves me and just had to answer, disturbing my writerly flow. Where was I?
Oh, yeah – attention spans.
I learnt this tasty nugget of brain based info over twenty years ago and suspect it’s now out of date. You see, I wouldn’t mind betting the developed – and increasingly, the underdeveloped – world’s reliance on electrical devices is changing the structure of the human mind.
Think of it. How many times have you been at dinner, met a friend for lunch, sat at the table with family over a lovingly prepared pot roast when someone looks at their phone? Once a week, twice – every day? Is spending time with the people we love so tedious? Clearly, yes.
And our need for distraction doesn’t stop with family mealtimes.
Despite the ban here in the UK, I’m sure we’ve all seen drivers using their mobile phones at the wheel – recently a woman was caught on camera drinking a cup of tea and watching Master Chef * on her ipad as she was driving along a busy A road in Essex. Clearly negotiating intersections, cars, roundabouts, and other potential hazards was not enough for her gadfly mind – she had to add the drama of juggling a cup of scalding liquid whilst being shouted at by Greg Wallace, making her drive to work like doing a Food Science class whilst attempting to complete Total Wipeout.
What – you may ask, and if you didn’t why the hell not? – does this mean for the future of reading and writing? Does the fact that we can’t focus on anything for more than five seconds mean the end of long form fiction? Well, the success of doorstop sized books such as The Game of Thrones series would suggest there are still people prepared to stick with a story for the long haul. But what of the rest of us?
May I suggest a solution? Short stories.
There’s something to suit every goldfish brained bibliophile – from flash fiction as short as fifty words, to longer short stories and serials. Literary fiction, horror, ghosts stories, steam punk … If you want to read it, you’ll find it out there.
I think even the Essex lady with the ipad could manage to read a bit of flash fiction before the Master Chef winner’s big reveal – if she’s not crashed already.
If you like your short lit online, may I recommend the following?
And shameless plug time. There’s a great anthology out every year by Irish based Fish Publishing, funnily enough called the Fish Anthology. It contains short fiction, flash fiction, poetry and memoirs, all intelligently and beautifully written and 2015’s includes a wonderful piece of flash fiction by my All Write Then pal, Jackie Burgoyne. Oh, and I really should mention All Write Then’s anthology of poetry and short fiction, Still Me published in aid of The Alzheimer’s Society.
* Even funnier than the real thing.