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Friday, September 15, 2006

Attention Deficit Disorder 2.0

Just Like Cotton... by slight clutter from flickr (CC-NC-ND)I've noticed a worrisome pattern about website discovery services like digg, reddit and StumbleUpon. They almost invariably return stories that are readable in a very short time, with minimum of concentration, and they are usually funny trivia, American politics (typically from "liberal" point of view) or technology news.

Just take a look at reddit top 10 right now:

  1. video of 500kV switch opening (9 sec) - an amusing video, digestible in literally 9 seconds.
  2. FCC orders media ownership study destroyed... guess what its conclusions were? - news on politics, "big media and FCC are evil", digestible in 1 minute
  3. Unbelievable microscopic art - cute trivia, digestible in 30 seconds
  4. Default Password List - a list with high omg factor, very few will actually use it, digestible in 5 seconds
  5. Don't trash broken stuff; send it back - "how to get something for nothing" story, digestible in 1 minute, very few people will do it, most just read it for fun
  6. The Stormtrooper Effect and The Inverse Ninja Law - another funny stuff digestible in 1 minute
  7. Won't Deploy? Can't Deploy.There are no more troops to send to Iraq. - politics, "Bush and war in Iraq are evil", digestible in 1 minute
  8. A 82 year old widow rented a rotary dial telephone for 42 years, paying AT&T more than $14,000 in the process - funny trivia, digestible in 30 seconds
  9. Right-wingers Reject Senate Report and Invent New Saddam- Al-Queda Myth - politics, "Bush and right wing bloggers are evil", digestible in 1 minute
  10. LETTER: Powell Blasts Bush Plan To Authorize Torture - politics, "Bush and war in Iraq are evil", digestible in 1 minute
So 4 times American politics and 6 times humor. On digg you get less politics and more technology news, but the pattern is similar - when you use such services, you are switching your brain from one subject to another almost every half a minute. And these services are immensely popular, millions of people are getting their brain into state of very rapid subject switching every day and spending hours in it. The switching rate is way higher than it was with press or television, which are already promoting short attention spans.

Now how likely is such treatment to increase attention deficit problems after long term usage ? I have no idea, but a few studies already show that there is a global decrease in attention spans, so it is not totally unlikely.

And the real question - should you keep using digg/reddit/StumbleUpon ? Are you sure how it influences your mental abilities ? Are you worried at least a little bit ?


bob said...

Check out - on the mainpage only one post is about politics and it is also humorous (Nie licz na Romana) ;-).

evan said...

Yeah, the quality of links and comments on reddit/digg is low and follows very obvious fads. Far better is making a network of people whose judgement you respect.

taw said...

evan: Sure, quality would be better, but it's hard to get quantity such way, and it takes a lot of work to build such a network. So it's not a perfect solution.

So far I've found that is way better than

partyblog said...

We all struggle with focusing our minds. Controlling your mind and emotions is one of the most important skills in life.
Despite its great importance, there are no courses for and very little time is spent in schools teaching organizational skills, time management, motivation, goal setting, and other mind focusing skills. Without even trying to help kids learn to focus, the schools are then quick to label kids who struggle in this area as mentally “disordered”.

There are many ways to teach people how to control and focus their mind, and one way is to take a drug that helps in this effort. Since the government has so much invested in the idea that drugs are bad, doctors are only allowed to prescribe them to people who are physically handicapped and have no other hope. Thus, when schools help those who are the least capable of paying attention, they label those kids as having an inferior defective brain. Then those kids get the drugs that help. Since those drugs help and the child’s performance improves, the kid himself becomes invested in the idea that his brain is inferior.

I am not against drugs and I do not deny that difficulty in focusing can be a major problem, especially in a boring useless class with a bad teacher. But my point is that we should not label those who struggle to focus their attention as mentally inferior. Instead we should look at that problem the same way we might look at another problem like shyness.

Check out this analogy:

*When a shy person goes to a party they have trouble meeting people, but if they drink alcohol the drug will help them adjust to the situation. There are many things one can do to help them overcome shyness so that they become better equipped at thriving in a party atmosphere.

*When an ADD person goes to a school they have trouble paying attention, but if they take Ritalin the drug will help them adjust to the situation. There are many things one can do to help them overcome ADD so that they become better equipped at thriving in a classroom atmosphere.

Just as we would never label a shy person mentally disordered, we should also not label the kids who struggle with paying attention as having a defective brain.

Written by Dave Levine. More Essays at