Attention spans are getting shorter, thanks to clutter.
In 1960, the typical stay for a book on the New York Times bestseller list was 22 weeks. In 2006, it was two. Forty years ago, it was typical for three novels a year to reach #1. Last year, it was 23.
Advise and Consent won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. It’s 640 pages long. On Bullshit was a bestseller in 2005; it’s 68 pages long.
Commercials used to be a minute long, sometimes two. Then someone came up with the brilliant idea of running two per minute, then four. Now there are radio ads that are less than three seconds long.
It’s not an accident that things are moving faster and getting smaller. There’s just too much to choose from. With a million or more books available at a click, why should I invest the time to read all 640 pages of Advise and Consent when I can get the idea after 50 pages?
Audible.com offers more than 30,000 titles. If an audiobook isn’t spectacular, minute to minute, it’s easier to ditch it and get another one than it is to slog through it. After all, it’s just bits on my iPod.
Of course, this phenomenon isn’t limited to intellectual property. Craigslist.org is a free classified-ad listing service. A glance at their San Francisco listings shows more than 33,000 ads for housing. That means that if an apartment doesn’t sound perfect after just a sentence or two, it’s easy to glance down at the next ad.
If you’re exhausted, it’s no wonder. You’ve been running around all day.