“I sometimes worry about my short attention span, but not for long” - Herb Caen
This week, a lot of people in Metro Manila gave their take on the week long jeepney strike. Social media is abuzz with one liner comments, posts, memes, rants, jokes about the said strike. One of the main observations you see in social media is that this strike is longer than previous strikes. Other than the fact that this issue is existential for the drivers and organizers, it is apparently felt by the organizers that there was a need to lengthen the period of the strike proper to get the average person to focus more on and understand the issues affecting the public transport sector.
All over the world, protesters have realized that it is now more difficult to get people to pay attention to issues. As such, you have people throwing liquids at paintings and gluing themselves to roads in an effort to get more people to notice the causes they espouse. There is a growing opinion that lives of people have to be disrupted more to gain attention traction.
There may be scientific basis for this opinion. In a recent study, it was revealed that the average human attention span now is 8.25 seconds. It has decreased by almost 25 percent in 20 years. There was even a study that Gen Z kids lose active attention to ads or news at a worldwide average of 1.3 seconds. In fact, goldfish have longer attention spans which clock at nine seconds. Essentially, it is now easier to capture the attention of goldfish.
Many scientists point to the internet, social media, and the modern mobile phones as the main causes for the dwindling attentions spans of humans. These things have made an overwhelming amount of information available which stretches our ability to pay attention. In addition, information nowadays in social media are designed to distract us even more easily. It is said that we love our phones and computers so much but they do not love us back.
This observed phenomenon of limited capacity to pay attention has produced the concept of attention economy. According to many, attention economy is a range of activities based on the premise that human attention is now a scarce and desirable resource that needs to be captured and maintained. It encompasses methods and tech designed to get people to engage and focus on issues or things. As content and issues increases, human ability to absorb and pay attention remains limited and even regresses. Organizations with causes and advertisers now grapple with this short attention spans and devise ways to capture attention. As such, we have video walls, severe ad placements (more ads in toilets and public walls) and of course click baits in social media and the internet.
Attention economy has made it difficult for people to focus or understand issues. For those with causes, the normal means of capturing attention no longer have the same effect. Rallies, press conferences with talking heads, and long press statements blasted across social platforms are no longer sufficient. With the jeepney issue, most reactions are emotional or shallow without a deeper understanding of the causes of the strike. With our educational system and some offices having the ability to study and work at home as a result of the pandemic, the effect of a weeklong strike is further diluted.
For political managers it is even worse. Amidst the cacophony of information, ordinary citizens normally blot out overtly political information. As such, there is a need to disguise these information bits or do something radical to be noticed.
How does one convey messages amidst this attention economy? Experts agree on the following principles. You must use less words that are direct to the point. These messages must be related to gut issues or issues that are important to the average person. You must use visuals more than words. Lastly, you must be more creative but not overtly radical or disruptive. Some Filipinos are generally less tolerant of people who disrupt their daily lives. I shudder to think what will happen if protester here suddenly mimic the British mode of protesting such as gluing themselves to streets on main highways. In our country, where some motorists run over guards for standing in their way, that would be like waving red flags to bulls. I can imagine some of our motorists salivating and shouting, “10 points!!!”
In the end, the important thing to remember is … what was I saying again?
This is my oblique observation.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.