Fake News and Shorter Attention Spans

At its best the internet feels like sailing on a sea of energy coming out of so many brilliant photographers, writers, filmmakers, podcasters, comedians, journalists, and all manner of creatives. 

But at its worst, the internet is a tsunami of hashtags and cat videos.  

Innumerable micro-bits of words, images, and video flood the internet. And the moment you pause to focus a single one, it washes on by. 

It’s not that I don’t think digital communication spaces like this are relevant and useful. If I didn’t then I wouldn’t be here. It’s just that, like you, I struggle to reconcile the shear volume and convenience of information with my heart’s intention to soak in the enlightening bath of a single topic for an extended period. 

Most of us want to find a way to live in this technological world with mental clarity and peace. But the more our attention chronically darts from this to that, the harder it becomes to understand things, change our minds, or open up to self-transcendent experience. I worry that it’s just not possible to have your inner world expanded while mindlessly flicking through a stream of Facebook posts. 

For many tech-savvy minds (myself included), long-form pieces—such as essays or documentaries—that were once standard in mass media, now feel like the droning on of an old professor. And it seems that the vintage vehicles of media, like print, still hold better space for an extended dive into a topic—at least at this point in human history. I personally find a hardcover book to be one of the most peaceful, mind-opening universes to explore. Staring into a glowing block of glass and silicone is just not the same. 

It’s easy to blame the tech itself, and I’m not here to do that. We as its arbiters can decide how the internet should emerge in our lives. But I'm increasingly wary of my technology use. And I think it's unwise to start believing that the current media trend—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—is necessarily the final word on how our new digital media landscape will (or should) look. Given the rise of fake news, our shorter attention spans, increased anxiety among young people, and potential unknown side effects of this type of media, I think we have some digital soul-searching to do.