My Attention Span Iz...

Some of you may be familiar with the term “twitch gaming.” These are the kinds of video games designed to test your reflexes more than anything else, typically because they take advantage of a faster pace than usual. For example, Tetris may be more about strategy at the lower levels, but it’s much more about quick thinking and reflexes when you hit the higher levels. It’s about your reaction time and this is in line with our increasingly short attention spans.

A lot of this has to do with the Internet generation, because we have grown accustomed to instant gratification. In the past, regular letter mail would take several days to get to your friend in the next city over. These days, you can send an email and expect a response within the same day. Taking this even further, you can engage in an instant messaging conversation and literally have an instant response.

Many people engage in multiple IM conversation simultaneously, almost developing a “nervous tic”-like behavior by clicking through the different windows. We want our responses and we want them now. This has also led to an increased level of multitasking, dividing our attention over several different areas at the same time. We’re not staying focused on a single goal. We’re too easily distracted.

In many ways, it seems that more and more people are engaging in what I have come to call “twitch working.” Similar in many ways to twitch gaming, twitch working is when all of your work-related tasks become more about an instant reaction than a thoughtful and contemplative response. Instead of taking the time to think things through, you just react to the issue as quickly as possible.

It’s ironic, really, because proper Twitter etiquette (as well as IM and SMS etiquette) dictates that you should provide a response the instant you find a free moment. Is this always the best idea? Probably not, because your initial reaction may be misinformed, guided by erratic emotions, and ultimately something that you may regret down the road.

Do you find that much of your work is reactionary rather than strategically planned? Do you have the time to think before you respond?