Attention — The Scarcest Commodity of the 21st Century

The hurry to get things done, multitasking, and mobile culture have all put people in a space where they are always skimming through everything. But do they pay enough attention to every task before moving to the next one?

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

— Albert Einstein

Thanks to technology, we now know that the average human attention span has sharply declined from 12 seconds in the year 2000, to 8 seconds presently. That is less than the 9-second attention span of your goldfish! Let that sink in.

The more shocking fact is that it keeps on decreasing rapidly every year. According to a study by Jampp, the decrease is around a startling 88% every year.

What actually is causing this enormous shift towards scarcity of attention is something to be pondered about. Let’s have a closer look into why is it so easy and convenient in today’s world to distract one.

Multitasking — The Art of Messing Up Many Things at Once

People around the globe are constantly running a race to get things done quicker. So since humans are evolving creatures, what did we come up with to pace faster in that race? Multitasking.

Multitasking is our desperate attempt to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. In this competitive world, there is a temptation to multitask everything. But we can’t multitask presence, can we?

According to Richard E. Mayer, when people attempt to complete many tasks at one time or alternate rapidly between them, errors go way up and it takes far longer — often double the time or more — to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially. This is largely because the brain is compelled to restart and refocus.

Hence we can say that multitasking people not only underperform in almost every task but also waste a lot of time in the process. This time is lost due to the creation of distractions, contributing to the diversion of attention.

According to Gloria Mark, the average knowledge worker switches tasks every three minutes, and, once distracted, a worker takes nearly a half-hour to resume the original task. What are these distractions? Let’s find out.


“The most dangerous distractions are the ones you love, but that don’t love you back.”

— Warren Buffet

Living in a society that is so competitive and complex sometimes forces people to keep their minds off work. They distract themselves, at times unintentionally, to step out of the continuous loop of the journey called life. 

Distractions keep them moderately sane in a world of chaos. It’s not like the distractions are adding to efficiency or productivity — they rather slow things down — but they give an escape from an otherwise rhythmic pattern of work.

Such distractions can be both internal and external. The internal distractions are the ones that are passively forced on people by their own bodies and include hunger, illness, fatigue, daydreaming, etc. amongst others.

External distractions include social interactions, messages, music, and all the other things that they themselves do to step out of their monotonous bubbles. How do we make our lives distraction-free for maintaining productivity and efficiency is a discussion for another day.

Why is our attention span shortening in the 20th century?

According to Professor Sune Lehmann, who worked on a recent study at the Technical University of Denmark, the allocated attention to the time in our collective minds has a certain size but the cultural items competing for that attention have become more densely packed.”

The increasing volume of content clubbed with an urge for ‘newness’ doesn’t take long to divert focus. People switch between topics within seconds. Concentration is lost with the snap of the fingers. How to control this is yet to be discovered.


With the changing times, attention is getting diverted more than ever. The advent of the internet created the biggest distraction ever. Advancement in the tech industry is adding to the pile of already existing distracting agents.

It’s not rocket science to conclude that distractions are more counterproductive than we imagine them to be. We may or may not find a solution to these interruptions, but we can definitely find ways to be more focused and productive at work in the future.

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