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In the digital age, where the news is limited to 140 characters and conversations take place in the form of emojis, our attention span has shortened. A recent study by Microsoft Corporation has found this digital lifestyle has made it difficult for us to stay focused, with the human attention span shortening from 12 seconds to eight seconds in more than a decade.
The rise of gadget use in the 21st century means our lives have become increasingly more digital at home, work, and school. In the U.S., nearly two-thirds of Americans are smartphone owners, with many users utilizing their phones for online access, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. More than half of these smartphone users admit to using their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition, but at what cost?
In the 54-page study, Microsoft sought to understand what impact technology and today’s digital lives are having on attention spans. The researchers collected data from surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18, who played games online to determine the impact of pocket-sized devices and the increased availability of digital media and information are having on everyday life. The researchers also monitored over 100 people’s brain activity with in-lab monitoring, using electroencephalograms (EEGs).
For the survey component, the researchers sought to gauge overall attention and gauge habits and perceptions by dividing the respondents into three equal sized groups based on performance — low, medium, and high attention — representing one-third of the sample. For the neurological component, participants’ brain activity was recorded and behavior was filmed while they interacted with different media and performed several activities across devices and in different environments. EEGs were used to measure their attention levels and activities were mapped against tasks and behaviors to view how attention varied by screen, task, content type, and structure.
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