Can You Concentrate Long Enough to Read This Title in Its Entirety without Blinking or Looking Away or Yawning?


If the answer is yes, then congratulations. You may just have a longer attention span than the average Canadian. Or a goldfish.

According to a recent study carried out by Microsoft, the average Canuck had an attention span of 12 seconds in 2000. Fifteen years later, that number has fallen to 8 seconds, a full second less than a goldfish.

I was actually thinking about this subject last night while talking to a friend who has consciously chosen not to buy a TV or even sign up for Netflix! The audacity! Or perhaps I should say the sagacity! His argument was that he found it hard to concentrate on something for two full hours that wasn’t capturing his attention. And this from a man who can sit down and read for hours on end, and whose “living room” is actually closer to a library than a room in which you hang out with friends and sip on deliciously delicious libations. I think my friend would make Alberto Manguel proud.

So, after a grueling day of work, that same friend inspired me to sit down  and open up a book, even though my eyelids felt like they were glued shut. It’s a work of non-fiction about math. It’s got formulas. It’s got big words I can’t pronounce. It’s written by a professor whose IQ is probably somewhere near the height of the CN Tower. The book is Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking. By all rights, I should have put the thing down after 7.9 seconds (being a good Canadian and all, eh?) and fallen asleep. But guess what? It’s riveting. It’s electric. It’s full of interesting anecdotes and theories and insights about things I had never considered. Ultimately, I had to drag myself away from the book and turn off the light.

Why, then, do so many of us (especially those wily North-of-49ers) have such a tough time concentrating for more than eight seconds, let alone minutes or hours on end to read a book?

As per Microsoft’s study:

“Canadians with more digital lifestyles (those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts, or earlier adopters of technology) struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed.”

It’s easy to point the finger at technology, social media, New Age brain farts, Microsoft et al, but the truth is that it comes down to us as individuals and where we put our priorities. The fact that our attention spans are falling is our own fault. No matter how many D’s you add to ADD (or whatever it’s called these days), the ability to concentrate on one task at hand for a little longer than eight seconds falls on us.

Read the full article on the Microsoft report here.


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