Adrienne BoettingerFriday,25 January 2013

The Snap:

You’ve got 8 seconds. Not to stay on a mechanical bull at Fratty McFratFrat’s Bar but to grab someone’s attention. That’s because attention spans are 8 seconds long. Sounds crazy, right? You can pay attention for longer than…um, HELLO! Are you still reading this? If so, you’ve got a longer attention span than most. This may mean you won’t fall for messages politicians can squeeze into a sound bite like, “Democrats Hate Liberty!” or “Republicans Hate Women!” (Although lately it’s harder not to believe that second one, but I digress…) So if you can only hold people’s attention for 8 seconds, how do you get them to make informed decisions?

The Download:

Right after Newtown, the battle cry sounded “We’ve got to do something about mental health!” Even Congress echoed the call and that was when I became terrified. If the average attention span can only handle that plaintive cry which plainly says nothing, there is no way that regular Americans, let alone Congress, could handle the answers to the follow-up question of “Yes! But what?” The average Congressman, or at least below-average Senator Johnson, can’t even show up to a hearing lasting more than 8 seconds that might actually answer his question, “What did we know about Benghazi and when?”

The trouble with tough (as in real) issues is that they can’t be answered in 8 seconds. These questions require thought, debate, inquiry and gravitas. In the 24-hour noose cycle where slogans matter more than ideas or policy decisions, how is there any hope we can agree on means of gun control let alone the much more difficult issue of how to address mental health issues?

1 in 4 adults has a mental disorder. 1 in 4!! And yet states have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012. Some, like South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, are fighting back but they’re in the minority. Many who recognize this crisis believe Newtown will spur real change, but I fear the curse of short attention spans will win out.

Remember how right after Newtown, even some conservative politicians said gun control discussions had to take place? You probably don’t because the last thing you heard was the NRA and Ted Nugent saying they would pretty much fight to the death to have limitless amounts of assault weapons and bullets.

So if we’re serious about gun control, school safety, mental health, immigration reform, budget crises or other challenges, we’ve got to buckle down, turn off our smartphones, stop holding press conferences, and actually think, discuss, listen, debate, learn and decide. Something. Anything!!

If you’re wondering where this article’s title came from (do you remember without having to look back at it?), you’ve gotta watch the whole movie not just the trailer: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” And that is your levity reward if you made it all the way through.

Hat Tips:

Statistic Brain, NPR, Psychiatric News, Daily Kos, National Institute of Mental Health, The Raw Story, Image Credit: Flickr

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  1. […] the average human having the attention span of a fruit fly, it’s difficult to keep people glued to stories not involving celebrity breakups, breakdowns, […]

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