Of what value is our education in the era of falling attention span?

Friday October 09 2020

Today we have a generation that can be working multiple things all at the same time. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


We live in a fast-paced world that has conditioned our brains for quick, concise actions. We have so much to do and so little time to do it in. We are either coming or going, or rushing around. We are a busy generation and so time has become our most valuable asset.

Time is a key factor in determining the attraction and engagement value of education.

When I was younger, if I was writing a letter, I would pen it in one sitting, seal the envelope, put a stamp on it and take it to the post office to be delivered to the recipient. I did one thing at a time, focused on it and finished it.

I trained and conditioned my mind to think of the big picture and the results. When I wanted to research or study about a topic, I went to the library. To find the answer to a question I would have to read through several books. The process of study became as valuable in the development of my mental tenacity as finding the answer itself.

Now picture what life is today. If you want the answer to any question all you need to do is to Google it. The process has been shortened. The answer comes immediately, after sifting through hundreds of millions of possibilities. What is the result of this? Our minds have been slowly conditioned for speed. Answers must come in micro seconds otherwise we get frustrated that the internet is slow. The level of mental tolerance we have is getting shorter by the day due to the fast pace of life.

According to a study by Microsoft, the average attention span — that is, how long you can concentrate on something before being distracted — is down from 12 seconds in 2000, to eight seconds currently. That is less than the nine-second attention span of your average goldfish.


Long haul thinkers

My generation stayed the course and were long haul thinkers. Today we have a generation that can be working on a word document, have an excel spreadsheet open, and chatting on Facebook and WhatsApp, all at the same time. And guess what? They are doing everything well. The speeding up of things has conditioned their minds to become natural multitaskers and to get bored with routine.

Managers who have been trained to use analogue methods cannot effectively lead people who have been brought up on Instagram. This is where the rebirth of education comes in, and why the personal development industry is going to be big.

As people begin to realise that their days of relevance are numbered, they will want to recreate themselves. One of the areas of study that we have focused on for some years has been relevance management and mentoring.

The great paradox of our times is that the more complex things get, the simpler they become. Because we were raised in the complexities of spending a week or more to research to find answers to a problem, we think that those who do it in micro seconds have not done a good job.

As leaders, we need to realign ourselves to our times. Civilisation is the art of taking advantage of the resources available. We do not want to be the generation that is educated but uncivilised.

Wale Akinyemi is the convenor of The Street University ( and chief transformation officer of PowerTalks [email protected]