I'm reading, and enjoying, the book Microtrends, by Mark Penn. It's copyright is 2007, so it is a couple years old.

In his chapter "Lon Attention Spanners" he makes the argument that attention spans are growing longer, rather than shorter.

From a reading perspective, he pointed to a couple of different things.

1. Magazines like Atlantic Monthly and Foreign Affairs - which focus on very long pieces - have actually increased circulation...Foreign Affairs by 13 percent from 2002 to 2005.
2. In 2005, the average best-seller was 100 pages longer than the average best seller in 1995, and that in 1995, the average best seller was 385 pages.

He also talks about the popularity of series fiction as evidence of sustained attention spans.

He also goes into other areas of popular culture, citing certain TV shows, the growth in popularity of puzzles, and other aspects of our lives.

Really, I have no point to all this...I read the chapter last night and it kind of stuck with me, and thought I'd share, as I found it interesting.

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Devil's advocate: So, in order to have "attention span," must you have a concentrated or sustained effort to understand something?

Is being able to focus on something that you are engaged in for pure entertainment value (Perhaps writing? Reading Robert Crais? "Alone time" with my fiance? Watching all 93 hours of Lord of the Rings? Shooting hoops with the kids? Playing with the dog?) qualified as "attention span?"

I guess it comes down to just what constitutes an attention span and everyone probably has different ideas.

I guess it depends. It is sort of like this. As a teenager, I attended a Methodist church. It seemed that the pastor had one of two goals every service: 1) Beat the Baptists to Cracker Barrel, or 2) Get us home in time for kick off. These days, I attend a non-denominational church. That pastor? Well, he likes to run his services toward the 90 minute range, and I have to admit that occasionally, near the end, my brain starts to wander off topic. Does this mean I have a short attention span?

About a month ago, I was fairly sick for a few days and one day, I plopped on the couch and watched the entire Cadfael series - all 13 of 'em - in one day. However, given my illness and the manner in which I watched them, I don't think that qualified as "attention span."

I suspect it is one of those things that is like the question "what is talent?" Ask different people what constitutes a long or short attention span and the answers are likely to be as varied as the people.
I think we're confusing a short attention span with being stupid and longer attention spans with being smart. That's not the case. If I take 10 minutes to tie my shoes, am I any better at it than someone who took 10 seconds?

The amount of attention you pay to something depends on how many tasks you have in front of you.
10 minutes to tie your shoes? Sounds like something you picked up in a newsroom somewhere.
There was a lot of drinking at that newspaper. That's all I'm saying.

There was a lot of drinking at papers where I worked until I became a publisher. Nothing against drinking, but I have serious serious serious blood pressure issues (and I was in the news business!), and alcohol just made it worse, so I'm a teetotaler.

My newsrooms hated me.
Yes, we got into comparing apples and oranges on "attention span". I switched to "concentration" after a while, having the effects of TV viewing on the reading skills in mind.

Attention span is a matter of choice. People will pay attention for long periods of time if they like the material. Writers should be aware of that. They can feed into this by identifying the audience and writing to it both by subject and level of difficulty. Adding thrills and suspense is an additonal device for making the readers keep on turning pages.
You're right, "concentration" is a much better word. It's not the same as "attention span."

Your last point is why mystery dominates sales. Romance is good at it, too, but there are other factors at play (SEX!!!).


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