Kaitlin’s Column: May I have your attention?

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Kaitlin Ryan

Growing up can be scary. You watch yourself change, transition through life and even develop body aches. This week, Kaitlin gives some words of wisdom as an ancient 22-year-old.

Kaitlin Ryan, Arts & Life Editor

A goldfish’s attention span is eight seconds long, and according to a pre-pandemic Ceros article from Jan. 2020, our attention spans are not, in fact, as short as your first pet’s. 

I can’t help but feel like that information still may not be true for everyone.

I always used to poke fun at my now 14-year-old brother for “juggling his devices,” as my family calls it. That is, watching a video on his phone, while playing Nintendo Switch in his lap and listening to the television in the background. I would scoff: “kids today,” like a wise old man. 

Recently, I think I resonate more with the multiple screen side of the non-existent argument than the one judging. I was watching Netflix the other day — a show I was genuinely interested in paying attention to — and could not physically help but go on my phone nearly the entire time. Checking my phone on commercial breaks is second nature. I don’t even think twice before allowing my mind to go blank and scroll through content that my brain will never even process. 

That is what bothers me the most, is that I hardly process what I see as I scroll through social media. I would tell myself that I am wasting my time and getting nothing out of the experience, but my brain has been conditioned to think differently. According to Bustle, receiving a notification triggers our neurotransmitters to release dopamine or the brain’s reward chemical. However, the notifications also trigger a release of cortisol, the stress hormone, too. 

So here I am, addicted to my phone, constantly feeling quick bursts of stress mingled with delight and being hyper-aware of the fact that my attention span is faltering. There is a positive in all of this, though.

The deterioration of our attention spans has allowed us to focus on the things that actually matter to us. Going through the motions by sitting in class and studying for a  test is painful because we know that it does not bring us joy. It could be argued that we have become selfish, but is that always a terrible thing?

When I am working, editing a video, talking to my close friends or finishing up a project I am passionate about, I give it my undivided attention. I can even leave my phone in the other room and save the dopamine/cortisol rush for later. 

I think in the past year we have all learned what is important to us and what is not. Life’s tedious requirements and their technicalities do not concern us anymore, because now we know that our lives are ours to live. I feel perfectly fine editing a video I made for no reason at all for the fun of it instead of doing homework. Genuinely, I know what will make me feel fulfilled. Hint: it is not the former. 

My friends and I will always joke how we wish we could just throw our phones into the middle of the interstate. We all recognize how much time we waste on our devices. My dad says that society would be better if phones stopped evolving after the flip phone: just the essentials, nothing else. 

I remember the excitement I felt recording videos on my dad’s Razor flip phone. The novelty wore off by the time the iPhone allowed you to shoot cinematographic masterpieces.

So, we may not be the most attentive generation, but we certainly could be the most self-aware. I mean, we are forced to be. We stare at ourselves in the Snapchat camera all day.