We know attention spans have been shrinking for decades. It has something to do with television. It’s also been often observed that sentences are getting shorter over the same period, perhaps for the same reason. Now Adam Bodle, writing in the Guardian, draws attention to the Amazing Shrinking Paragraph, the product of the Internet’s need for information speed.
If the statistics are to be believed, by the end of this sentence, I’ll have lost most of you. Because according to some estimates, the average time spent on a webpage is 15 seconds.
Fifteen seconds. This texty, Tweety, Viney world has apparently already so degraded our attention spans that we can’t concentrate on anything for longer than it takes to tie a shoelace. As a result, the editor’s greatest fear these days is not a claim of plagiarism, or a libel writ; it’s those four pitiless letters in the comments section: TL; DR (too long; did not read). And so webmasters worldwide have launched an emergency austerity programme, pruning, paring, compacting everything possible in a frantic attempt to spare our readers a few precious seconds.
People have never taken to reading stuff online. It’s not very comfortable or convenient, so they usually just scan web-pages for information. It’s also the case that newspaper writing, which is a lot of what people do read online, has long had a thing for writing in short, single-sentence paragraphs. But one wonders if this will start to have an impact on other forms of writing as we move forward.