In a Guardian article today, Ben Goldacre wrote that clinical research into the effectiveness of many prescription drugs is often only published when the results are favourable, i.e. the pharmaceutical companies have a great deal of sway when it comes to the studies that are released to healthcare professionals. He noted that this is not common knowledge – that “these problems have been protected from public scrutiny because they’re too complex to capture in a soundbite.”
This summed up for me the nature of our contemporary media, and is a topic that I did a bit of research on for my undergrad dissertation. Ours is a media-saturated society, and though it is predominantly visual, we are also bombarded with a great deal of sonic information, especially advertising. The cost of advertising in media such as tv and radio is measured in seconds, which means that companies want to cram their whole ethos into 30 seconds or so. Hundreds of television channels means that many people constantly ‘flick’ through, watching tiny bits of programmes. We spend hours on Facebook and Twitter reading mini updates about people’s lives. Pop songs are usually no longer than three minutes. And a 2010 study cited in this article from The Onion found that many people have difficulty reading through a large chunk of text, if it is not broken up with pictures.
Collectively we have an extremely short attention span. I think that this could be leading to a reduction in our ability to listen attentively. Also, as Goldacre claimed, the public is failing to pay attention to many important issues, if they are too longwinded, if they can’t fit into 140 characters. As you might have noticed from this blog, I am on a personal mission to combat this problem by writing long, rambling posts! 🙂