Guess the New Average Attention Span

A Microsoft study shows that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds in the past 20 years.

I call horse-doodie on that.

When you’re talking to the person your most deeply in love with, do you find your attention waning after 12 seconds?

When you’re watching your toddler at the playground, do you find your attention wanders before they even get to the slide?

When an irate customer calls you, do you find you’re getting bored after 12 seconds?

Of course not. That’s because those things are relevant to you. Microsoft has got it all wrong. They’re measuring the wrong metric.

They should be measuring improved ability to filter for relevance.

One amazing thing that’s happened to us in the past 20 years is our ability to filter out irrelevance. Our attention is just fine when the relevance is high. When the relevance is low, 8 seconds is a lifetime. So when you have a never-ending feed of instagram pix or facebook posts, you fly through the things that have no apparent relevance, but we’ll spend time on the things that draw our attention.

If someone placed a 2 inch beam on the ground and asked you to walk across it, most people could do so with minimal effort. Their focus is on getting across the beam and proving their circus-like coordination. That’s what’s relevant. But when you raise the beam even a few feet off the ground, our focus changes. What becomes relevant is avoiding a sprained ankle. That’s where our focus goes and our attention shifts to getting out of the situation. We focus on what’s relevant.

Short and easy attention grabbing messaging is important because we need the relevance to get through the filter, but once you’ve got people’s attention with something that’s relevant to them, you’ve got them for far longer than 20 seconds.

Now let’s apply this to how a new member feels when you send them an email with 50 links in it. You don’t make it past the filter. It’s way too much work to find relevance and therefore it doesn’t get their attention. And even worse, if you keep doing this, you’re ability to get through with even more important messages, like renewal messages, drops to zero.

Start with something that gets their attention, like a question. And lead them to something that’s relevant, based on how they answer the question.

That’s called “intelligent engagement”.

That attention span garbage is great for people who need a reason why no one is engaging with them.

Focus on getting through the filter, not reducing the quality of the content.

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