Becoming a media master: The internet’s influence on human behavior

Sometimes distractions can be dangerous.

Short form content has taken over Gen-Z. The way we consume media has completely changed as a result. 

We are told that attention spans are decreasing due to short form content such as TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube shorts. How true is this and how does modern media affect the way we live?

Almost every social media platform has short videos that are typically under a minute. 

After first being popularized with Vine, Triller and (which was bought and later rebranded as TikTok), the form of shorter content was adopted by larger platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. 

This quick content allows for information to be more accessible and easier to digest for viewers. However, this content has the potential to oversimplify more complex news or topics. This brief spread of information can lead to a one-dimensional understanding of an otherwise nuanced topic. 

After watching any video content, critical thinking and fact checking are key. Question everything. 

You may have heard about how goldfish have very short attention spans. But did you know researchers at Microsoft found that humans today have even shorter attention spans than these aquatic pets?

Humans now lose interest in about 8 seconds according to Microsoft’s 2015 research. The goldfish myth is that these animals lose interest in their surroundings after 9 seconds. However, these fish are smarter than we give them credit for. They can recall things from months or even years prior in some instances, just like us. 

In fact, a 2018 study from Thinketh Labs, an Indian technology service, reiterated that people can focus on tasks for hours at a time. Focus works best when we are working on a task that is relevant towards our day-to-day lives and feels important. 

This shows that our biological ability to concentrate remains unchanged, but focusing on one task at a time (particularly the one directly in front of you) is harder now that we have the entire world and all of its events at the tip of our fingers. It is the content we are consuming and the situation we are in that determines our attention spans. 

For example, people often concentrate on the road for hours at a time. When they add something like eating food or using a phone, they can lose concentration and switch focus back and forth from the road to their phone. 

We are constantly being flooded with information online and although much of it is useless, humans have a unique and irrational fear of missing out. Fear of missing out (FOMO) creates a feeling of anxiety that others are being rewarded and staying informed without you. This is what makes us feel the need to constantly check our phones throughout the day. 

The paradox of ‘social media’ is that these platforms are now less-social than ever. We often see the seemingly perfect lives that others are posting about and this can make us feel lonely or insignificant. The advancement of consumerism by corporate giants on social media platforms has furthered platforms into even more of a lifeless, time wasting vacuum. 

“To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace,” said the Czech-French writer Milan Kundera. 

In this overstimulating Internet Age, we never want to be bored. However, boredom has major benefits that are often overlooked by the convenience of technology. Being bored restores the brain from its exhaustive energy use and allows creativity to surge. 

“Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away,” said German philosopher Walter Benjamin. 

Digital media today faces numerous challenges: the amplification of misinformation, overstimulation, polarization and the simplification of complex news. Society in 2023 embraces content that appeals to our boredom and fear of missing out. 

To get the full picture when consuming media, remember to learn the source’s bias, identify logical fallacies, fact check and conduct further research.

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