It’s Hard Paying Attention to the Gadgets

Three stats I saw last week got me thinking about our rising inability to pay attention to anything.

Empty Conference Room
(Photo credit: Tom Quinn/Flickr Creative Commons.)

One, while on conference calls, 60% of us report to multitasking and generally not paying attention unless we’re the ones doing the talking. (Nobody is paying attention to your conference call.)

Two, there were those stats about the abysmally low engagement rates for brands in Facebook. (Why brands are un-friending Facebook.)

“Red Bull’s main Facebook page has 44m fans. Maybe a lot, but by generating just 330,000 interactions last month, the brand managed less than 1 monthly interaction for every 100 fans…. Meanwhile, Coca Cola’s main page has a whopping 84m fans globally, but scored an engagement per fan 20-times lower than Red Bull’s. MAC, one of the digitally most sophisticated brands in high-end beauty averaged just one monthly interaction for every 500 fans. Same story with a top digital performer in the beer category- Heineken, earning just 1 interaction for every 180 fans.”

If you look at just those two stats, side by side, you might conclude that corporations produce really boring content, and when we’re at work talking about our corporations, we’re boring too. But I also saw this third data point: People reading on Kindles are much less likely to remember the plot of a story than readers who read the story in a paperback book. Digital readers experience comparable levels of “empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence” that are similar to physical-book readers, but there’s something about “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle [that] does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”

I don’t exactly to know what to make of that. (To tell you the truth, I don’t even know what all those words mean.) But it does suggest that current digital reading experiences are less memorable, at least in some ways, because they ask less of some of our senses — the movement of eyes across the page, or the work the brain needs to do to place words in a specific place on a rectangle of white paper. When you consider the capabilities of digital reading devices such as phones, laptops, tablets and Kindles — which can integrate sound and motion and even limited touch interaction — it’s odd that paper still tantalizes certain parts of the brain better. I wonder if that edge will hold when we start reading stories inside a pair of VR goggles.

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