The Internet and Its Incredible Shrinking Attention Span

Ann All

The good news about today's Internet is that folks have access to more information than ever before, and plenty of cool social networking tools make it possible for them to easily share it with others. And the bad news? Well, it's pretty much the same thing.


We've blogged before on some of the negative effects of relying too heavily on the Internet for information, as has IT Business Edge blogger Ken-Hardin. With the increasing ease of putting information out there, we have to worry about the motivation of the folks doing so.


And it may be getting easier to mislead folks all the time, thanks to the way the spuds raised on PCs and video games absorb information, according to a recent InfoWorld article.


As the article relates, this generation of so-called digital natives -- the same one that has made YouTube, MySpace and yes, Twitter, a hit -- vastly prefers visuals over text and often won't even bother to read text. In contrast, we older geezers -- including those of us who had TV but not cable as kids -- are digital "immigrants" rather than "natives" who tend to use visuals as a text supplement rather than the other way around.


It's worth noting that the shortened attention span isn't strictly a digital phenomenon. USA Today ushered in an era of articles that don't require readers to turn the page to finish, supplemented with lots of pretty pictures. Now USA Today publisher Gannett is finding it harder to turn a profit as many of its readers find they can get lots of pictures and not so much text online. But we digress.


What does this mean for companies? It means they are going to have to figure out how to communicate with employees and customers who, to co-opt a phrase from Apple, "think different."


Get a good Web designer who knows how to appeal to folks on both sides of the immigrant/native digital divide. Figure out how to make video work for you on the Internet. Stay on top of trends like video chat. Let employees avail themselves of tools like IM. Consider new communications tools such as streaming video to employees' PCs or handhelds, a service Cisco rolled out late last year.


Be careful, though, not to get so enamored of all the cool social networking tools that you forget about your business objectives.

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