I’ve recently taken to reading a lot more on-line - particularly as services such as del.icio.us have helped me to find high-quality content and more high-quality blogs come on the scene. This, of course, is the long tail of written content. One of the things I’ve noticed, though, is that as I read more and different things, I get more impatient with long articles. I hardly read non-fiction books any more, and fiction books almost never (preferring film).
I suspect I’m not the only one suffering from this decreased attention span, but the question is - is there anything we should do about it? Insofar as lots of shorter information diverts people from a few bits of longer information (reading 100/articles/week, say, rather than 2 books/week), it probably indicates that we simply don’t get as much value or entertainment from the longer stuff as we thought we did (or should). This is called revealed preference - what you prefer is shown by your actions, not by your words. So I suspect the simple answer is no.
Seth Godin certainly seems to agree with part of this theory - he has a theory that books, in many cases, have now become a ‘takeaway’ for shorter essays and other written pieces. I don’t think it’s fair to go as far as to say that they are simply fluff, but Seth nevertheless makes a good point - that many books simply expand on shorter ideas - and it is questionable, sometimes, what the marginal value of that is over consuming something completely different (everything you do has a time-driven opportunity cost).
The problem, of course, is that building up habits like this may make it harder to concentrate for sustained periods of time on reading/viewing/listening when that is necessary.
I’m interested in what your experiences are - do you suffer from decreased attention span? Is it a result of increased volumes of information, or do you think it’s something different?