I read recently that a new Microsoft study found that our average attention span has dropped to eight seconds.
This is down from an average attention span of 12 seconds, 17 years ago, in the year 2000.
Goldfish, the study said, have a nine-second attention span.
The average human, the study says, has a shorter attention span, in the year 2017, than a goldfish.
This got me thinking.
This is an interesting competition; human versus goldfish. Who has a worse ability to focus? Which species is more easily distracted?
Goldfish are winning for now, but it wasn’t always this way…and I predict this battle will take new, unexpected turns in the future, as we battle each other in the years to come.
The following scene (a transcript of an actual moment from a family of goldfish) will, I think, support my point well enough.
Bill Goldfish was a well-respected goldfish in the bowl.
He took care of his family, at least in those aspects of ‘taking care’ of a fish family that the humans didn’t fully provide. He loved his wife Susan, and provided his son Johnny with that tough-love that only a dedicated father can provide.
At least that’s the way he saw it.
Johnny saw things differently.
Bill worried about Johnny. The boy seemed to be reckless, more interested in finding the next quick thrill than in the sensible business of being a good Goldfish.
Bill and Susan also cherished their quiet time together. They would sneak away and swim calmly over to the castle, and stay there for a time, marveling at the castle’s creative design and homey welcoming feeling.
“Such a nice castle,” Susan said, as the two of them swam idly in front of it.
“Yes, nice castle,” said Bill. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
“Don’t they?” Susan asked absently.
“Sure don’t,” said Bill.
“Who makes castles, anyway?” Susan wondered out loud.
“The humans, of course,” Bill said, in that matter-of-fact way that Susan didn’t really like much.
“I know,” Susan said, “but don’t you ever wonder about these things? Don’t you ever try to imagine what it’s like to be a human, living out there, out of the bowl?”
“No,” Bill said. “I do not ever wonder about that. Damn humans! Who would want to be like that? I hear they only have an eight-second attention span.”
At that moment, Bill and Susan’s tranquil moment was shattered by the wild screeching of their son Johnny, as he swam rapidly into a skidding turn.
“Yeeeeeooowwwww!” squealed Johnny, sloshing the entire bowl’s water sideways.
“Johnny!” screeched Susan.
“Stop right now!” Bill yelled. “What is the matter with you?”
“Just having fun,” Johnny said casually. “Hey, look at these blue rocks down here. These are awesome!”
And before his parents could say another word, he was off to the bottom of the bowl snooping around in the blue rocks.
“Johnny, get back up here!” Bill snapped. “We’re not finished talking to you.”
“Blah, blah, blah,” Johnny muttered. “My parent are B – O – R – I – N – G!”
“Johnny, come here right now!”
Reluctantly, Johnny swam up from the blue rocks. He couldn’t just swim straight back to his parents, though. As always, he became distracted by something else.
“COOL!” he shouted. “Look at this!”
“Johnny, put that down! Do not play with the algae! That’s disgusting!”
“It’s cool!” Johnny insisted.
Susan heaved a sigh as Johnny finally swam back in front of her.
“Goodness,” she said. “You have algae smeared all over your face. Come here, let me wipe it off.”
“I’m hungry,” Johnny whined. “What’s for dinner?”
“Goldfish food,” Bill said.
“Again? Why can’t we have something different?”
“Well,” Bill began, sounding slightly sarcastic, “I don’t know, maybe because we’re GOLDFISH?”
“Hey, what would you do if you woke up one morning and saw me floating upside down in the water?”
“Johnny!” his mother shrieked, “Do not talk like that!”
And a moment later Johnny was off again, inspecting the back wall of the castle.
“Hey, did you know there are some really weird bumps on the wall back here?” Johnny yelled.
Bill looked at his wife and shook his head. “I swear, that boy barely has a five-second attention span. Worse than a human!”
“What are we going to do?” Sighed Susan.
“The boy needs discipline. That’s all,” said Bill. “Leave it to me. I’ll knock some common sense into him.”
“Oh, Bill, I worry,” said Susan. “Try not to be too hard on the boy.”
“I’ll be just as hard as I need to be,” he said, and he swam off behind the castle.
When he got there, though, Johnny was nowhere to be seen.
Bill looked to the left of the castle, to the right, up, down. He did not see his son.
Then, out of a small window in the castle’s turret, Johnny came speeding out like a bat out of hell, leaving a swirling wave in his wake.
“Got you!” he yelled at his dad. “Yeeeooowwww!” And he was off again.
Bill took a moment to collect himself. He took a deep breath. Then he turned away from the castle and began swimming toward the small plastic scuba diver, where Johnny was trying gamely to remove the small plastic scuba tank from the diver’s back.
“This is going to be harder work than I expected,” Bill said quietly to himself.
October 14, 2017