Mary Esterheld wrote:
>I think it would be more to the point to try to understand why young
>people have such short attention spans and try to correct that problem.
>[Is there any evidence at all to suggest that young people
>have shorter attention spans now than they once did? Or are we
>proposing changing the fundamental nature of young people? -Dave]
Speaking as someone with modest expertise in attention-span problems,
I can assure you that not having the patience to wait for someone to
get to the point isn't the same as having a short attention span.
I do not believe there is so much as a shred of evidence that young
people's attention spans are diminished, as such. However, there is
abundant evidence that our media, including music, have become progressively
more condensed to omit all the irrelevant pieces, which gives the bogus
impression that this must be done in order for [young] people to accept
them. What is considered 'irrelevant' continues to change as well.
But I believe these are just side-effects of cultural conventions moving
on, which, in turn, is a side-effect of greater competition for our
attention. We're now acculturated to things that spend our time more
efficiently, but that doesn't mean we won't while away hours (or years)
in the thrall of those things that do interest us.
Remember when movies began with a laundry list of contributors? Now
you're lucky if you can spot the name of the movie flashing by before
the story gets going. (But that's okay, because it's printed on your
ticket in case you forget.)
To give a longer example showing how conventions have changed during my
lifetime: the other day, I saw an episode of a TV show from about 1969,
which I remember as an exciting, ratings-winning show of the period. At
a critical point in this episode, some men's dialogue was clandestinely
overheard by a woman. In a single shot, we waited as the two men finished
talking, before we watched them walk off in different directions, then
the camera concentrated on the woman's reaction, then we watched as she
walked across a room to a public telephone, then we watched her fish
some change out of her pocket, then we watched as she picked up the
phone, then we watched as she dialled (on a rotary dial) a ten-digit
number, then we watched her wait for about four rings until the callee
answered, then we heard the pips to signal her to pay for the call, then
we watched as she pushed some coins into the phone's mechanism, then we
listened as she told someone else about the conversation we had already
heard, then we watched as she hung up, then we watched her walk away
down a corridor until she turned the corner at the end.
If you're feeling frustrated by that horrendous run-on sentence, you're
feeling only a part of the frustration I felt watching this interminable
shot that took about two minutes to convey a simple plot point. Today,
the whole thing would have been over in about fifteen seconds, with
editing to cut out all the stuff (walking, fishing for change, dialling
and dialling of digits, operating the phone, re-telling of dialogue we
had already heard, more walking) that burned our time without advancing
And things continue to move on: shows like 'The Robinsons', 'Arrested
Development' and '24' find new ways to cram in *more* characterization,
plot and story into *less* time. I believe this is A Good Thing, not
just on TV but in all media, even if the cost is that we neglect some
of what went before because it is now considered wasteful of time.
As an antidote to worries about how awful classical music would
sound if it were subjected to MTV-style smash-cuts to eliminate the
supposedly-needless notes, I would suggest that there isn't a better
example of getting to, and sustaining, the point in any art form
than Beethoven's Fifth.
In short: if you want to correct the alleged problem of short attention
spans, I think you'll have to eliminate all the things that compete for
attention instead, while also getting everyone re-accustomed to lower-density
media and art.
Good luck with that.:-)
By the way, for those keeping score: yes, I do listen to a lot of
classical music, but I didn't for about the first forty years of my life.
It's a fairly recent thing with me, stemming in part from my formal
studies in music over the last few years. I also consider film music
to be the 'gateway drug' that got me sufficiently interested in other
serious music to pursue those studies.
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