I am reading Sally Hogshead’s book, Fascinate.  A book stylized for advertising and marketing, it has remarkable information for those of us that communicate regularly.

On her blog, she writes this about one of the more controversial statements she makes, concerning our shrinking attention span:

A hundred years ago, our attention span averaged twenty minutes: one minute for each year of age, up until age twenty. Things were slower on the farm, with fewer distractions beyond crop rotation and bird migration. But today? Ah, well, a little different.

“The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds — the same as a goldfish.” ~ BBC News

Hold on — Nine seconds? That’s all we get before people’s brains make a decision whether to stay focused, or relocate to a new topic? No wonder we’re experiencing the symptoms of attention deficit disorder: short attention span, distractibility, and tendency to be bored. In an ADD world, people leapfrog to the next conversation, the next idea, the next website. (Hello, multi-tasking!)

In our chaotic world, our minds and our lives have become so cluttered that we rarely focus on just one thing at any given time. We’ve thrown open the doors to the short-attention-span theater, and now the show parades around us at a rate of five thousand marketing messages per day, faster than FedEx, louder than Kanye West, bigger than Disney World. Our attention spans are shrinking at a rate inverse to the growing number of distractions.

Now, “getting attention” is no longer enough. Children get attention when they scream in the candy aisle. Don’t Walk signs get our attention when they flash on and off. Marketers get attention when we offer a discount coupon, or buy a TV ad on the Super Bowl, or advertise a two-for-one sale. Yet while bells and whistles and gimmicks might work (maybe), they rarely lead to lasting emotional connection, or long-term behavior change. Interest is not enough. Neither is awareness, intent to purchase, or having share-of-mind, or being top-of-mind, or any of the other jargon thrown into PowerPoint slides. It’s not even enough to make a better product, or have a more important message, if nobody cares.


“It’s not even enough to make a better product, or have a more important message, if nobody cares.”

When I read this, I thought of a quote from the book Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. His thoughts are of his times visiting churches, and his immediate perceptions of those belief systems. His words sound a bit like what Hogshead wrote above. Here they are:

Here are the things I didn’t like about the churches I went to. First: I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus. I was a salesman for a while, and we were taught that you are supposed to point out all the benefits of a product when you are selling it. That is how I felt about some of the preachers I heard speak. They were always pointing out the benefits of Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It’s not that there aren’t benefits, there are, but did they have to talk about spirituality like it’s a vacuum cleaner. I never felt like Jesus was a product. I wanted Him to be a person. Not only that, but they were always pointing out how great the specific church was. The bulletin read like a brochure for Amway. They were always saying how life-changing some conference was going to be. Life-changing? What does that mean? It sounded very suspicious. I wish they would just tell it to me straight rather than trying to sell me on everything. I felt like I got bombarded with commercials all week and then went to church and got even more.

I wonder if his words are true for those who live in my particular county in Arkansas, where 55% of those here do not attend any church.

We live in a highly sensitive, highly suspicious environment. Here are my questions for you:

  1. If we are true to the Great Commission, and true to the call of making disciples, then how do we combine a world suspicious of our beliefs, and our styles, with a message that may take a bit longer than 9 seconds to communicate? Because if our world is compacting, and we make judgment calls within ten seconds, how do we communicate grace and mercy in a cultural environment that increasingly has no time for long stories?
  2. Can we simply “form church” to relate to people with little time to invest?
  3. Should we bring people into “our way,” all the while rebuking a world that forms decisions so fast?
  4. And how do you make someone care, when they are being shaped, by our culture, to make a decision so fast?

I would love your thoughts.


2 thoughts on “Goldfish

  1. it is so hard to think what it would be like if i hadnt been reared in a christian home and what it is like to think like a main stream american. i do have friends that were not brought up the way i was and kindness always seems to get people’s attention. i think we have to find out what everyone is missing and what we are missing as christians as well. people need support, they want to be loved and listened to and shown that they matter. and that is not easy and that takes time, so much more time than a sermon or a few minutes of praise. people need the most what we lack the most in our society….time. i have never personally felt that someone was trying to sell me jesus, but i am already sold on him. his teachings will never age and just because our society has a decreasing attention span doesnt mean that we have to shorten the message. but what would jesus say? i hate it when i dont know…people will continue to respond or not respond, but whether they turn to God or not, they will turn to something and find themselves empty. just because society changes doesnt mean that the needs of people will ever change. so i guess we just have to focus on what we do know. and leave the short attention span for God to handle.

  2. I agree with Hannah. I think we need to invest time in other people. Show them that they are worth more than our 9 second attention span. I’ve been reading a lot about the multi-tasking/tv/web/social media effects on attention. It’s very disturbing and makes me want to take a few steps back to retrain my brain on how to focus. We’re losing the ability to focus. In a conversation, it’s not unusual for one or both parties to check their phone every couple of minutes because they need that constant attention shift. I don’t think there’s any way you can shorten the message enough to penetrate and make a difference if you try to stay within the 9 seconds of attention you are given. But there’s a difference in the message being presented and being lived. If you show love, listen, give, do, make a difference for people, you are no longer fighting the attention shift. You will get through. We need to be a people of doers and not just hearers only.

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