According to a 2015 Canadian study in partnership with Microsoft, humans now have a shorter attention span than goldfish: 8 seconds. In 2000, the human attention span was nearly 12 seconds. The experiment found that an increasingly digital lifestyle has helped most people multitask, but it has taken a toll on everyone's ability to focus on one thing at a time.
The 2015 study looked at the habits of 2,000 Canadians, and it divided human attention into three different categories:
- Sustained: being able to focus for long periods at a time
- Selective: maintaining focus and avoiding distraction
- Alternating: switching between tasks, or multitasking
The details of its findings weren't all that surprising: our new digital lifestyles have hampered our ability to concentrate. More specifically, the major elements that keep people distracted are constant media consumption, use of social media, the proliferation of multiple screens.
The average person gets over 300 emails and spends nearly 28 hours reading them each week. On top of that, you're likely to check your smart phone about 150 times per day. Add that to an endless amount of social networks, and you're left hopping between tasks at a high rate.
While one of the benefits cited by the study is an increased ability to multitask, it also notes an increase in general anxiety caused by the constant need to check our email, news, social networks, and text messages.
Nevertheless, people with digital lifestyles tend to process information much more quickly. Of course, how long that information stays put and how well it is used are entirely different questions.