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Your Attention, Please
by Mad Dog


We have scan buttons on our radios, TV newscasters who have never met a headline they think deserves to be followed by a second sentence, and a host of condensed print media like Readerís Digest, Utne Reader, and USA Today.
Our attention spans are definitely getting shorter. I donít have any scientific evidence.....hey, pay attention, Iím not finished yet!

   As I was saying, I donít have any scientific evidence to back this up, though Iím sure I could if I searched online. The problem is that whenever I do I get sidetracked by web sites that spit out your prison nickname after you enter your real one, show photographs of the worldís best dental floss sculptures ranked by length of floss, mint or regular, and used or virgin, and of course the site I spend the most time visiting ó 404 Error. I never tire of that one.

   Admit it, weíre impatient. We watch TV with the remote in our hand so at the first sign of a commercial, station promo, or celebrity reality show featuring washed up so-called stars weíve never heard of, we instantly start clicking our way through the other 122 channels. If a web page takes more than five seconds to appear, our itchy finger clicks the mouse and off we go. We have scan buttons on our radios, TV newscasters who have never met a headline they think deserves to be followed by a second sentence, and a host of condensed print media like Readerís Digest, Utne Reader, and USA Today. Depth is out, highlights are in.


Britney Spears proved that she has a short attention span, so short that it took her less than 24 hours to tire of her marriage and have it annulled. Hopefully sheíll work on that attention span before she has a baby.
   Like dandruff, this problem starts at the top. President Bush admits he doesnít read a newspaper but would rather be briefed by his staff because ďitís easier to digest.Ē So are worms when a mother bird feeds them to her young, but that doesnít mean I want my dinner prepared that way. Bushís attention span is so short he couldnít focus on Osama bin Laden long enough to capture him so he turned his sights on Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately he forgot that heís not the only one with a short attention span. When he joined Diane Sawyer for an interview a mere two days after the dictatorís capture, more of us tuned in to The Simple Life to see Paris invade Arkansas than watched Bush evade Sawyer. Of course he can console himself with the knowledge that he was more popular than a Whoopi rerun, but thatís like being told youíre not as obnoxious as Gilbert Gottfried. Faint praise may be praise, but donít forget itís also faint.

   Britney Spears proved that she has a short attention span, so short that it took her less than 24 hours to tire of her marriage and have it annulled. Hopefully sheíll work on that attention span before she has a baby. This proves that our attention span is getting shorter. In the good old days of stardom ó defined as the years when you had to be over 20 years old but didnít have to bare your stomach to be considered a star ó celebrities stuck it out when they got married. Sure Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney got married, divorced, married, and divorced again, but at least they gave it some time. Weeks, at least.

   The media donít help. They really donít help by being plural and making sentences like that sound wrong. If the mediaís attention span were any shorter they wouldnít be able to finish a sentence. One week itís All Kobe Bryant All the Time, then before you can say mitochondrial DNA heís old news and Scott Petersonís the rage. Or was it Michael Jackson? Oh, I remember now, itís Child Abduction Week. No, that was last month ó this week itís earthquakes. I suspect newsrooms have a blackboard on the wall which lists the famous person, natural catastrophe, and trial of the week so reporters know what to cover at the exclusion of other news.


Face it, itís not easy holding peopleís attention for long. Thatís why anyone whoís in the news for more than 14 minutes has a publicist.
   Itís possible, though, that events actually happen in clusters. One train derails and within days we a slew of others are doing the same thing. One person dies while stowing away in an airplane wheel well and a week later someone else does it. Itís been lord knows how many years since weíve heard of that happening and it will be at least the same number until the next one. Yet they cluster. Either thereís an Anti-Chaos Theory at work or misery truly does love company. And will spare no expense to find it. Or we can blame the media. I know which I choose.

   Our short attention spans have created a generation of dilettantes. How else do you explain Jennifer Lopez shifting from singing to dancing to acting to singing to clothing designer? Not to mention her on-again off-again on-again wedding with Ben Affleck? How else would you explain Jerry Springer going from mayor to talk show host and now to casino country singer? Okay, other than the fluoride in the drinking water in Cincinnati. Yes, heís actually recorded an album. Youíd think heíd have heard William Shatnerís campy-but-not-meant-to-be album from 30 years ago and learned something from it. Or at least heard the laughter. Come to think of it, youíd expect Shatner himself learned something from having done it, but no, heís actually recording a follow-up. And lest you think Iím casting dilettante stones, if a cop followed you going down my career path heíd pull you over and give you a field sobriety test for weaving all over the place.

   Itís hard to tell whether itís our short attention span that causes dilettantes or theirs. Face it, itís not easy holding peopleís attention for long. Thatís why anyone whoís in the news for more than 14 minutes has a publicist, Madonna spends sleepless nights dreaming up plans like kissing women on an awards show so weíll hopefully forget about her movies, and reality TV shows like Mad, Mad House in which people are subjected to Wiccan, voodoo, and vampire rituals end up on the nightly schedule. Thatís also why itís a safe bet that if youíre reading this you skipped to the bottom. Hah! And you thought I wasnít paying attention.

©2004 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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