The human race is quickly losing its ability to focus on any one thing for more than a few minutes (or seconds) at a time. In fact, there have been numerous studies that have shown that the attention spans of children, adolescents and adults are getting shorter and shorter. This is having a profound effect on how we consume education and entertainment. No wonder that the publishing industry, which has relied for centuries on humans consuming their information in books over hours and hours of reading, has been in a deep decline. People are simply losing their ability to read for long periods of time.
The motion picture industry has been drastically impacted by this phenomenon in two ways: First, audiences are drawn to action, animation and horror films where the scene changes every 15 to 30 seconds, mitigating their attention deficit; and Second, movies about people are getting crowded out by comic book superheroes, creatures and cartoon characters: The top 10 box office performers this year have been: Transformers, X-Men, Maleficent, Captain America, Spider-Man, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, Rio 2, How To Train Your Dragon and The Lego Movie. Compare that to the top 10 movies of 1990: Ghost, Back To The Future, Die Hard 2, Pretty Woman, Home Alone, Presumed Innocent, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Total Recall, Dances with Wolves and Kindergarten Cop. Not one of the films from this year is arguably about a human being, whereas 8 of the 10 films in 1990 were stories about people.
It begs the question, “Are we losing touch with our humanity?”
Film producers, distributors, and everyone else in our industry have to be concerned over this shift in consciousness. It is no wonder that high quality television series have seen such an explosion in popularity. People do not have to sit in a movie theater for two hours to get their entertainment fix when they can flip on their 50 inch flat screen TV’s and watch a 55 minute episode of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. How can stories about real people, real heroes and real events compete with flying creatures, supernatural beings and dystopian worlds?
This radical shift in attention spans has happened over just the past generation or two. The world's first known movable type printing technology was invented and developed in China by the Han Chinese printer Bi Sheng between the years 1041 and 1048. In Korea, the movable metal type printing technique was invented in the early thirteenth century during the Goryeo Dynasty. In the West, the invention of an improved movable type mechanical printing technology has been credited to the German printer Johannes Gutenberg in 1450. So, for approximately five centuries we have been consuming our entertainment and information from books. Movies have been around for just about 100 years and television for less than 60.
Emailing and texting has been with us for less than 20 years, but in that time we have been transformed. Long-form entertainment and information consumption has been replaced with the staccato rhythm of Tweets, YouTube videos and Snapchats. I myself am finding it harder and harder to sit down for two hours with a good book or a classic film without feeling the need to check my email or the 12 texts that came in on my phone.
This affects every one of us in the entertainment and educational sectors. People have changed the way they consume the content we create and we have had to change the way we make it, sell it, and ship it to them.
And, this is just the beginning.