By Derek Green
Has scrolling through our social media feeds replaced slower paced activities like reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or a face-to-face discussion with our friends and neighbours?
Not quite, but it has contributed to a shift in the way news and information is delivered, and the type of content we receive. Research shows that our attention span per media story has been reduced from 30 seconds to about 8 seconds over the last 15 years. Online, the equivalent time spent on any given story or image can be as little as half a second on visual platforms such as Instagram. While this would suggest we’re getting less (or simpler) information – which is quite possibly true – our brains are certainly being trained to digest images and words quicker, and arrive at the outcomes we crave; joy, scepticism or outrage.
And what’s been lost through all of this? The story.
Think of the content we’re seeing daily – celebrities, politicians, comedians, all vying for that tiny remaining space that’s still available in our smart-phones, our brains, our lives. The coverage represents an ‘all or nothing’ approach. Whether it’s Trump, Turnbull or Tay Tay – the people involved are either being lauded, edified, or raked across the coals, with barely a word dedicated to the space between. All comers are judged in full, for better or worse.
But is there more to a story than the extremes? Can our minds cope with ‘slow’ news with the hype and hysteria stripped back?
Let me tell you a story of my old neighbour Harold. He isn’t famous, but well known along the street. He played sport, but never for Footscray (or Australia for that matter). He was a handsome man in his day, but he wasn’t a model. He was a larrikin in his youth, but never in trouble with the police.
Harold lived across the road for more than 60 years. Every day he’d trundle down to the milk-bar, buy the Herald-Sun and a carton of milk, and stop to talk to whomever he might pass along the way – even strangers. He raised a family, worked in the community, and was an entrepreneur of sorts before the word had even been coined, developing a new pallet system for the transport industry, running businesses that employed many people in the west. He met his wife towards the end of World War II at a Footscray Drill Hall dance, the two then 18 year olds unaware they’d still be together 70-odd years later. He liked to fish, enjoyed a punt, and was happy chatting to anyone. He was there in ‘54 when Charlie Sutton and a young Ted Whitten triumphed for the Bulldog’s drought-breaking premiership, and again in 2016 when history finally repeated for the red, white and blue faithful.
Average locals, living interesting lives, with stories worth more than 8 seconds of our time.
And not a stoning or statue in sight.