Opinion: Musings on the Coast

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Attention Span

It is a bit hard to write a normal column after the U.S. Supreme Court decided guns have more rights than women. Worse, the two rulings seem the beginning in the Court-forced rollback of hard-gained rights of all kinds. The Court has an agenda, and it feels like war. It puts Laguna politics into perspective. We are a tiny bubble and our disputes, although often passionate, are hardly worth mentioning within the greater context of nationally important issues.

Be that as it may, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon on streaming platforms: more and more TV shows have English subtitles for English-speaking programs. At first, I thought it was a programming error done on my TV handset, and I found it distracting—more than distracting; it was irritating.

Then I talked to my daughter Gabby, who lives in Los Angeles. She found those TV shows with subtitles more interesting than those without. When asked why, she answered that by watching, listening, and reading, she stopped multi-tasking on other devices. Meaning, of course, she stopped scrolling on her cell phone, computer, or iPad. She could not, she said, scroll and watch, hear, and read the TV program. She quit trying and watched the TV program alone.

It made the programs more enmeshing for her and therefore more interesting.

In this, there is a recognition by TV programmers that multi-tasking, especially among younger people, is so prevalent, you need to engage more of their brains to keep attentions spans from wandering.

After Gabby said that, I began watching with a different perspective and indeed, I found I too was more engaged when I went with the flow, read the subtitles, and let the experience engulf me—rather than consider it irritating.

It got me thinking. I am not addicted, I keep telling myself, to social media. Yet I must now admit, I’m addicted to YouTube. At home when I wake up, I watch it constantly—but, and this is the big but, if the YouTube posting is longer than about three minutes, I’m not interested. Too much time. I want quick.

This also explains why articles in magazines and other traditional sources of information delivery have become shorter. When I first started writing for Coast Magazine some 25 years ago, the articles where about 1,500 words long. For The Laguna Beach Independent, editor Daniel Langhorne, wants us to keep the length to 600 words or even less, maybe one-third of what earlier was “normal.”

The lesson: the attention span for all of us has fallen. It is partly a result of so much information being forced upon us, and so constantly. You can’t get away from it. You are pounded on all sides. Think TikTok and 10-second postings. Think Instagram and either fast-scrolling photos or short videos.

The TV networks now have figured out our their dilemma and how to fix it: engage more of our minds, and it works.

What’s next? I wish I knew.

Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer emeritus of Laguna Forward PAC.

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