Virginia Heffernan Views on the Attention-Span Myth

VirginiaHeffernan Views on the Attention-Span Myth

Therehas been a hot debate on whether the human attention span isnegatively affected by technology or not. Recently Microsoft releaseda report that indicated that human attention span is getting shorteras social media technology usage increases. The report argues thathuman attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish. Peoplecannot pay attention for more than five minutes without gettingdistracted to read a text message, reply to friends comments onTwitter and Facebook or check for new emails. Back in the year 2010,the New York Times published an article by Virginia Heffernan thatoffered a counter argument on the relationship between attention spanand technology. Throughout her article, Heffernan offers facts thatsupport her argument that there is no existence of an attention spanand that the human brain is immune to negative impacts of socialtechnology.

Thesisstatement: Thehuman brain is an adaptive system that persistently restructures itsmental abilities, such as attention span to suit the environment andenhance its capacity. Therefore, Heffernan is correct to argue thathuman brain abilities are not affected by social media technologies.Instead, the human brain can adapt to the upcoming technologies toenhance its abilities such as attention span.

Heffernanarguments are based on the facts that nullify the idea of anattention span. She does not believe in the existence of an attentionspan leave alone the idea that it is getting shortened by socialmedia technologies (par 3). From her arguments, it is difficult foran attention span in the brain to find some cultural objects morefascinating than others. She argues that it is wrong to argue thatbig attention span is humankind`s moral asset. She points out thatthe modern society is encouraging children to go back to a life ofboredom characterized with lack of individualism. According toA.D.H.D. diagnosis, the first sign that a child with a shortattention span is improving is by sitting still without fidgeting orgetting distracted for at least five minutes (par 7). According tothe current debate, a long attention span is healthy and helps achild fight distractions. Contrary to this debate, back in 1920, aresearcher by the name Eliot argued that there is the need to getdistracted from distracters. For instance, fear and anxiety areovercome through distractions such as chewing or pacing up and down

Heffernan’sargument that attention span is myth is highly persuasive. Accordingto her, people believe in the myth of attention span and attributetheir lack of interest in something to technological impacts. She isvery persuasive in explaining her position that attention span is notnegatively affected by technology. Her arguments are valid becauseshe quotes past writers on the topic such as Carr. The fact that herarticle was published in the New York Times shows that it is based onfacts and tangible evidence.

Besidesegos, Heffernan utilizes logic to make her arguments more persuasiveand convincing. In her article, she refers to past studies done onthe brain to validate her argument. She uses the work by Jonah Lehrerto show that technology might have positive effects on attention spancontrary to the claimed negative effects (par 8). Throughout thearticle, it is easy to tell that Heffernan is disagreeing with theargument that technology shortens attention span. Heffernan hasclearly and validly brought out her counter arguments without anysign of biases.

Isupport Heffernan`s argument that our brain is an adaptive systemthat adapts to the social technologies to enhance its abilities,including &quotattention span&quot (par 4). I believe thatattention span can best be described as a human virtue. People chooseto have self-respect, be honest, care for others to name but a fewvirtues. These virtues are acquired and nurtured through practice.Similar to virtues, attention span can either be nurtured orneglected. If neglected, an attention becomes poor, or what is beingreferred to as short. On the other hand, an attention span can benurtured through practices such as reading, playing internet games,chess games among others. However, such activities do not determine aperson’s attention span. I strongly believe that social mediatechnologies should be used innovatively to enhance human braincapacities such as the attention span.


Fromher article, Heffernan is persuasive enough to validate her argumentsthat attention span is a myth that some people have chosen tobelieve. The human brain can reorganize its components to changingenvironment and enhance its capacity. Just like human virtues arenurtured, the human attention span can be enhanced through activitiessuch as reading, playing games such as chess. The social technologieshave no ability to define or determine a person`s attention span.Instead of living in the fear of the impacts of social mediatechnologies on our brains, we should utilize the technologies toimprove our brains` capabilities including attention span.


HeffernanVirginia. TheAttention-Span Myth.The New York Times, Nov 19 2010. Available at: