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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Short attention spans and the future of entertainment

I find myself surrounded by people who love books. Whether it’s following publishers and authors online, conversing with fellow book bloggers or frequenting book launches and events, I feel like everyone around me reads… But is this a proper representation of the general population? Or is my impression swayed by the company I keep?

Over Easter I caught up with my cousins who are in their early and mid teens. One cousin was excited about an upcoming movie adaptation of an extremely popular YA contemporary novel (I bet you can guess which one!), so I asked her what other novels she likes, prepared to bombard her with recommendations. Sadly, she said she doesn’t read frequently outside of school.

Then I was talking to my aunt about her son who isn’t really into movies. I found this an odd concept; surely everyone likes films of some genre? Then she told me he prefers watching videos on YouTube. Offhandedly, I commented that it might have something to do with a shorter attention span, as the younger generation are used to receiving their entertainment in short, immediate bursts such as with gaming, social media and YouTube. My aunt agreed that this could be the case, which concerned her a little.

This made me question my assumption that the younger generation are all avid readers. It also made me wonder about the future of movies and books. Will future generations still want to sit for a few hours at a time and watch a film if they’re not able to actively engage in it? Will teenagers still invest hours of their free time to read hundreds of pages in a novel? Or will short videos like YouTube and Vine Videos be the main form of entertainment?

With the Internet and social media constantly at our fingertips, it’s easy to understand how younger generations may lose patience with the more traditional forms of entertainment. They’re so accustom to actively engaging with their media and immediately receiving it whenever they want. Illegal film and television show downloads are a sad side effect of this. Audiences can’t, or wont, wait—sometimes only a few hours—to watch a show they love. They want to decide when and where they watch it, as they do for their other forms of entertainment like mobile games and online videos.

I’m hoping that novels can survive this change, as you can choose to read as many, or little, chapters as you like. The reader is more in control of how they engage with a novel, than with a movie. I suppose, as storytellers, this will also force us to work harder to sustain our audiences’ attention. Each scene must be impactful and meaningful, removing any superfluous content, or we’ll loose them.

Perhaps we will see a resurgence in popularity for short stories and films in the future. Or even poetry. 

What do you think? I’d love to hear from teachers, parents and of course from teenagers themselves—do you read for fun outside school? What do you see as the future of entertainment? Please let me know in the comments.

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