It wouldn’t give anyone a heart attack if I said that we live in a digital age. With so much information at our fingertips, content is expected to be engaging, but short and precise. You’ve probably heard that the average attention span has dropped by some significant amount in the past decade.1 It is almost considered rude to publish something that causes someone to scroll too far. The truth is, our brains are not trained to maintain focus like they used to be.
A friend once related to me an anecdote with Steve Jobs. Some pitiable sap had sent him an email, a somewhat lengthy treatise in itself consisting of points, counterpoints, and meticulous explanations. Without inspection, Steve promptly replied with a single word: "Shorter."
The nature of the internet is brevity. Old-timers can remember an age before the internet, when people were invariably forced to enlighten themselves through careful and prolonged study of the written word…poor bastards. Daily, plonked into my RSS reader, there is a colorful amalgam of tutorials, tips, roundups, and general musings ready for my consumption. Some of these articles are even prefaced with a section labeled tl;dr; I’m sure those experienced interlocutors felt that their contributions were too demanding for some readers.
First of all, I encourage you to do something: breathe. Remove yourself from the bombardment of baubles and read something longer every day. Our brains need constant exercise, and it’s not a workout unless you feel the pump. Train yourself to hold attention. There is value in guzzling 10 concepts in 10 minutes, but it is inestimably rewarding to calmly savor the golden prose of an author you enjoy. Forgive them a superfluous word or two.
Secondly, there is something we do online that can be left undisturbed by our lithe attention spans. In fact, it has the often-tapped potential to captivate users as they quarter the vast fields of web plantations. Games. They sit protected, like a sequestered artist working away in her studio.
It is then unfortunate that only short HTML5 games are ubiquitous. For years game developers have been deterred by the limited capabilities of modern browsers, but this troublesome drawback is quickly becoming inconsequential. If you are a developer, don’t let the statistics concerning attention spans attenuate your resolve to create elaborate, astronomical online games. The time is ripe for longer games, and our brains are propitiously primed to welcome them. You’d certainly have my attention.