I find myself thinking in quips and quotes and bons mots. I am unable to sustain a thought for more than about three seconds before looking for new sensory inputs. I am deathly afraid that I may lose my train of thought and not even be able to finish this blog post. I might substitute a YouTube video instead. I might just encapsulate the whole thing in a three word sentence.
Facebook is slowly robbing me of my already challenged attention span.
Think of one's typical Facebook behavior. You log on. You check what anyone said about your posts. You check a half a dozen other posts. Or a hundred. Each check takes about two to three seconds. You may find something to "Like" and even to read. You scan it. And you move on. Next!
I notice that my sentences are even getting shorter. No more dependent clauses, fewer parenthetical asides, less waxing adjectival. The reasons we are cropping ourselves seem to be two-fold. Firstly, there is an awareness that people will generally not spend the time on longer posts. They will see a clump of words and tell themselves, "I will read this later." But later may never come as the timeline keeps dumping more Stuff to read in front of us. Secondly, and admittedly Facebook was not set up to be a forum for long-winded essayists, there is a premium on Facebook for the aphorism, for crunching complex thoughts into Dorothy-Parkerisms. The net effect is that we believe we are being deeper and profounder than the average bear.
There are a few types of users. There is News Guy. News Guy shares and reposts articles from everything he is reading and, often, does not share any opinion about it. He reads, he likes, and he posts. News Guy might never share an original thought of his own. Then you have Music Guy. Music Guy posts the songs he happens to be listening to at the time. Some people only post their meals. Some post only pictures of their children. Some tell you the minutia of their daily lives. But in all cases, they are just snapshots. We present synecdochic evidence of the greater whole, implying that the tidbit we "share" is but the tip of the iceberg.
The iceberg cannot be shared.
I have tried to combine all these user-types into my posting. But I cannot escape the common denominator of their brevity and thus their affront to the attention span. Maybe it is just me, but I think that Facebook calls for this kind of usage and fosters it. After time, we get better at the short focus. The process is thus self-perpetuating. I have only been using the platform for about four or five months, but I feel its effects.
Compare, if you will, a beautifully orchestrated five-course gourmet meal and snack food. When we sit down to the meal, whose various courses have been designed to complement each other, to lead naturally along a path of gastronomic delight, culminating in a feeling of satisfaction, we are engaging in a process which requires our whole minds as well as bodies. If, however, we have spent the day popping Twinkies and their incumbent instant gratification, we will not have the wherewithal to sit through the carefully planned meal.
Speaking to the House of Lords in England, among whose ranks Facebook users are few and far between I should imagine, Susan Adele Baroness Greenfield*, an Oxford professor of synaptic pharmacology, says the experiences of social networking sites "are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity."
Perhaps this movement toward sound-biting and quipping is a good thing. Maybe the natural course of evolution will see mankind as less of a social animal and more of a socially-networked creature. Perhaps human relationships are not what they used to be. After all, our basic social structure and strictures have been in loosening mode for centuries. This could be the obvious next step.
For what it is worth, I do not think I can forgo the pleasure of the long, protected rant in favor of verbal Twinkies. I am sure they will eventually give me an ulcer.