By Anni Myllymäki
Edited by Ioana Harátau
The year 2022 was record breaking for the publishing industry. Countries such as Italy, Spain and Belgium saw double digit percentage increases in physical book sales with Italy and Spain having a nineteen percent increase and Belgium having a 12 percent increase. Overall, people are reading far more books now than they were before the pandemic, in 2019.
Back in 2015, a Time Magazine headline claimed that our attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish. According to a study done by Microsoft our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000, to eight seconds in 2015. Meaning that a goldfish’s attention span of nine seconds is longer than our attention span of eight seconds. The article blames the digital age for this phenomenon.
We now run into a paradox, if it is true that our attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish, how is it possible for us to sit down and spend time reading a book, an activity that requires a lot of attention? This becomes even more strange when you consider the fact that TikTok, the app often blamed for diminishing attention spans, is a platform where you will find a massive community of book lovers, aptly named BookTok.
At the time of writing, the #BookTok hashtag has 129.6 billion views on TikTok. It has been responsible for putting books such as The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera and many books by romance author Colleen Hoover into the bestseller charts. It has had an undeniable impact on the publishing industry and is encouraging more people to take up reading as a hobby.
There are two things to think about here, firstly, even though half of the UK public believes that their attention span is getting shorter, especially young people, this is not actually true. Even though the Microsoft study is always cited as the source for the “we have shorter attention spans than goldfish” conclusion, it actually comes from a source called Statistic Brain, which has not been shown to be a reliable source. Our attention span actually depends on the task we are carrying out, which is exactly what one would expect.
We feel like our attention spans are getting shorter not because we are less able to resist distractions but because there are simply more distractions. The Internet, TV shows and advertising have gotten better at grabbing and keeping our attention even if what we are paying attention to is not necessarily what we want to be paying attention to. They do this through the use of Persuasive Technology- technology designed to grab your attention. Examples of Persuasive Technology include likes, notifications on social media apps, product recommendations on Amazon and the gamification of exercise or learning by apps such as Duolingo or Fitbit.
According to many sources, we are more stressed now than we have ever been and it so happens that both watching short form content such as TikTok, Reels and even YouTube Shorts or reading have been shown to be coping mechanisms for stress. While people will be more likely to claim that they are addicted to watching short form content than reading books, neither are actually classified as an addiction (we’re still in the very early stages of research into this area so it is possible that this will change in the future) but simply as coping mechanisms for stress.