I’m No Goldfish

Yesterday, I read an article about goldfish. The author claimed that the human attention span has equalled a goldfish’s.


So now my attention span is just about 9 seconds. That’s one piece of trivia I can relate to. I forget to finish a lot of my tasks, and I don’t read past the headlines in most of the pieces I see online. And thanks to Buzzfeed’s listicle culture, most articles nowadays follow the same format. So I don’t need to read past the heading of each paragraph. As someone who writes for a living, I can sympathize with the writer’s hard work, but I still I don’t read that huge chunk of content myself.

It’s obvious. People take articles for granted now. No one expects a random online surfer to read through an entire piece about how the economic bubble is bubbling. And so, most writers, too, focus only on the headlines and a paragraph or two in between. (Just in case.)

And the article I read yesterday also said people don’t read longer posts because they’re mobile most of the time, looking for instant answers. And the author also says we jump from one tab to another.

Sure, I do that. If I can’t find what I’m looking for in a website, I close the tab and move on. Any writer beating about the bush would drive readers away. After all, there are plenty of sites out there littered with information.

Why do we do that, though? I wouldn’t go to another site if I get what I want from the site I’m looking at. That’s more of a case of what’s in the article than a case of my attention span.

So I disagree with the author. Our attention span isn’t that limited. Plenty of people read a thousand-word article and still stay on in the same page. I’ve done it and I can attest that even impatient readers will sit through an article if it’s gripping enough.

Attention span and content are two different things. If I’m boring, I’ve lost my reader. If my title doesn’t resonate with the reader, they won’t read more. If my writing is too convoluted, I’ve lost my reader. If I make the reader refer a dictionary for every second word, I should know they’re not coming back.


It’s got nothing to do with the goldfish and its attention span. I don’t often credit people enough, but humans are cleverer than fish. We have the capacity to assess before we process, and process before we prosecute. Goldfish can’t do that.


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