Do Rapid-Fire Televsion Commercials and Programs Contribute to People’s Shortened Attention Spans?

From our Owatonna, MN Correspondent

As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed it’s harder for me to concentrate on things like reading a book or newspaper, or concentrating on one problem, thought, or idea for an extended period. Perhaps it’s just my senior brain showing signs of aging. Perhaps it’s due to my busy schedule and trying to multitask to make sure several projects get done in a timely manner.

But watching TV recently, I’ve noticed that more and more commercials feature what I call “flash editing.” These commercials often switch images faster than every second, so a thirty-second commercial may have twenty to forty different camera cuts. Some are so quick as to be unrecognizable if the viewer blinks at the wrong moment.

Many TV shows seem to be copying those commercial strategies. One of my favorite shows is “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” on the Food Network. Several restaurants are featured in each show. The chefs prepare two or three dishes for the camera as the host, Guy Fieri asks questions, describes the process, and evaluates what he tastes after he samples the dish.

To cram as much information and as many shots of the dishes and the preparation stages as possible into the broadcast, flash editing is used to condense preparation times from minutes or hours down to a few seconds. With the camera shots whipping back and forth from the host to the pot to the table with ingredients laid out back to the stove to customers eating to the host to the chef and back to the dish means that many shots last only a second or two.

Multiply this show or similar shows by the hours per day that the average person watches TV and I think a case can be made for this sort of programming being as responsible for our compulsion to multitask and the resultant shortening of attention spans. Discussion of the effect of social media on attention spans has increased lately too. The combination of these two mediums affecting our brains for hours per day makes me believe I need to cut back my TV and computer time for the sake of calming down my brain and stabilizing my powers of concentration. It also raises questions about what role multitasking might have in contributing to our Alzheimer’s disease and dementia epidemics. But that’s a topic for another discussion. For now, I’ll start by cutting back on watching commercials.

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