A Teen's Experience With Tech: Are Shortened Attention Spans A Good Thing?

The world we live in now is not the same as the one my parents grew up in. That’s fairly obvious, as life generally changes generation to generation. But from my (entirely unscientific, Gen-Z-perspective) observations, there seems to be a distinct difference in the upbringing of children in the past 15 or so years. For one, the world is constantly changing. New gadgets and technological creations come out all the time, making life easier and people more interconnected. The one constant in terms of tech in recent years is that our reliance on devices and innovations is consistently on the increase.

Teens, in particular, are now spending night and day in front of their screens, whether completing schoolwork, gaming, relaxing, socializing… you name it. And it’s practically common knowledge at this point that all of this screen time is lowering our attention spans. According to findings from Statistic Brain's "Distraction Experiment," people on average could maintain focus for 12 seconds at a time in 2000, while in 2013 that number had dropped to 8 seconds. While the accuracy of this statistic is debated, it may not actually matter whether our attention spans are shorter now than they were before smart devices were readily available in our homes, schools, and workplaces.

Research conducted by Microsoft Canada reported that the attention spans of tech users may be getting shorter, but we are also getting faster at interpreting information since we are in the habit of sorting through so much of it at once. This suggests that lower attention spans are not necessarily detrimental to learning, even for kids.

I was fortunate enough to have just missed the era of growing up with smart technology all around me. Many American children today interact with Alexas and play on iPads from early ages and are adapted to a technological environment by the time they reach elementary school. When they get a bit older, kids get their own phones, laptops, tablets, etc. on which they do everything from watching T.V. to socializing to completing schoolwork. So obviously, a lot of screen time has been added to the modern child's routine. And there are definitely adverse effects of all of this technology. But maybe lowered attention span isn't one of the bad ones...

Instead of fighting what may seem like the negative effects of technology, schools might want to adapt to this technological age in a new way; in addition to merely updating their classrooms to the latest computers, educators should work to shape curriculum to the new way in which kids are learning (keep in mind that this research applies to screen users of all ages, not just the young and impressionable). After all, our brains do rewire themselves over the years based on our changing habits.

So maybe the fact that I, a Gen Z student, have a lower attention span than I had a decade ago isn’t a bad thing. Either way, I don't really don't have a choice. Maybe I don't need to use my computer for school and for work, or my phone for entertainment and communication, but it really makes life so much easier. On quite the opposite spectrum of going off the grid and abandoning all technology, I typically listen to music while typing on my laptop. I might watch T.V. while responding to emails. I even sometimes FaceTime friends on my laptop while texting other friends on my phone -- I don't even consider it rude, I'm just multitasking, keeping up with everything all at once. Sure, that might be a sign of a short attention span, but perhaps it's just efficient. As Microsoft Research puts it, those who thrive in a multiscreen environment are merely alternating their attention effectively.