What Was I Doing, Again?

I’ve been pondering (in short bursts) the effect of modern life on our concentration. When I was a kid, I’d spend a whole afternoon reading. Now, a minute seems like a long time if I’m not shifting between emails, phone calls, making notes on a contract and drafting a submission list for a new project. Looking around on the train, everyone’s checking messages and Facebook while reading short articles in the paper.
We spend a lot of time wondering how to attract someone to a book, programme or film, but it feels like an even bigger challenge to keep their attention. Does writing need to change, in response?
TV has long been viewed in relatively short periods, broken up by commercial breaks and trailers. We’re also used to thinking of it as a background to making a cup of tea, having a conversation and playing a game on our tablet. Television is the medium where the drama is slow enough to dot all the I’s and cross the T’s; lots of redundancy so we don’t miss too much. If you do, the catch-up services are good enough (and will soon be even better) that you can relax and have another look. Or, conversely, watch it in a glorious binge.
It’s harder not to be fully immersed in a film, since a screen that large is kind of hard to miss (although some people manage it – you see the annoying lit screens of their mobiles as they text).
Some books can still make me miss my stop, and I wonder if that’s what it takes now to keep someone riveted to the page: cliff-hangers, plot twists, vivid characterisation, outrageous wit – and perhaps the pacing, too, as if writing in sprints can mesh with a reader whose concentrating in sprints.
I’d hate to suggest to writers that they change their style, but perhaps it’s worth bearing this tendency in mind.DSC_0261ap (2)

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