There have been numerous articles posted over the last several years about the shrinking attention spans of the average person, and a recent set of statistics from the Statistic Brain Research Institute suggests that the average person now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Millennials are purportedly easily distracted, easily bored, and lack the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Naturally, this also affects their engagement with books, and the words “Give it time” are practically a kiss of death.
Once upon a time I was a patient reader. I didn’t mind if a story took a while to develop, and I seldom put down a book from disinterest. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. My expectations as a reader have changed, and I don’t have the patience anymore to hope that a book gets better or to wait for the story to get interesting. I want to be immediately engaged. I want a clear sense that it’s going somewhere, and that it isn’t just 300 pages of random stuff with no story. In Victorian times, authors such as Dickens got paid by the word. They also largely published in serial form, which meant that readers were only digesting small chunks of the story at one time. That isn’t the case anymore, and there is no excuse for long, rambling tangents, or needlessly bloating a story to make it a trilogy or to fill a word count.
I don’t want to wait 200 pages for the author to get to the point. As brutal as it sounds, I have a lot of other books on my shelves that I’m absolutely dying to read, and why should a book be something I have to stick it out through? I’m not suggesting that if the first page isn’t awesome I won’t keep reading, but I do need it to get to the point and fast. Give me a teaser or make something happen that piques my interest and my curiosity and then I’ll be more likely to trust that there will be a payoff in the end.
We blame television, the internet and social media for shortening attention spans, and to an extent this is true, but I think these mediums have also made us a more discerning audience. Television, movies and even internet content are about telling a good story, and the tellers know that they have a very short window to capture our attention. Perhaps, instead of condemning them for “ruining” readers, we should be thinking about how to tell a story that will attract their attention and keep it longer than your goldfish.