The next time you hear that we have less attention span than goldfish..

Don't give the presenter any more of your attention

So I'm at a sales enablement day for a major martech platform and looking forward to the presentation from one of their senior digital strategists, when the goldfish appears on screen

And then the argument is made that in this digital, multi-channel ,multi-media world, we now have less of an attention span than a goldfish. It's now less than 9 seconds, apparently.

But have you ever wondered how we know this and where this fascinating statistic came from?

Lets deal with the latter first

It seems that this comes from a Microsoft Consumer Insights white paper , but the actual goldfish comparison comes from a source called Statistic Brain .

They in turn reference a 2008 paper from Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder, and Matthias Mayer: “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” in the ACM Transactions on the Web, vol. 2, no. 1 (February 2008) that doesn’t actually test attention spans, but instead conducts a “web usage study with twenty-five participants” that examines online browsing behavior. It essentially looks at stay times on particular web pages. 

If we assume that attention span might be defined as the amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted this study does not look at that. In fact the study doesn't really relate to the often cited 5 levels of attention humans have

- Focused Attention
- Sustained Attention
- Selective Attention
- Alternating Attention
- Divided Attention

And what about this amazing reference to the attention span of a goldfish? To be honest I spent 20 minutes looking for online articles about this without success ( wow I did more than 9 seconds!)

Also, if the digital age is impacting on our attention span, how is it that my nephew can spend over 2 hours focused on playing Call of Duty?