Since Twitter’s launch in 2006, an influx of moral panic has been circulating in the media in regards to digital publishing and how it’s affecting readers attention spans…
There is a general insistence that, because of social networking sites like Twitter and digital publishing’s instantaneous nature, the public are less-inclined to read a lengthy piece of text.
I wanted to address this increasingly popular misconception, because that’s all I think it is – over-hyped hysteria.
(P.S. congratulations for getting this far, you are well past the 140 character mark.)
With articles like The Daily Mail’s ‘Facebook and internet ‘can re-wire your brain and shorten attention span‘ and Forbes’ ‘Is Social Media Shortening Our Attention Span?‘ (Forbes’ answer being yes) it’s hard to differentiate between hysteria for the sake of a “good” article and the truth.
Like all moral panics, people are trying to create an issue out of nothing. Twitter is, to put it simply, used as a marketing tool by publishers to provide short snippets of longer content. When you pick up a newspaper you automatically read the header first, and if it doesn’t take your fancy you move on. The same can be said for a blurb on a book or cover stories on the front of a magazine, they all act as a summary to get the reader interested.
A Twitter feed is in some ways a digital version of the aforementioned summaries, providing readers with just the article header, a spinet of the blurb or a cover story title. Just like with print, if a reader likes what they see they then go on to read the rest. I would be shocked if anyone goes onto Twitter expecting to see the whole story in 140 characters; humans are advanced enough to know that nothing is ever that straight forward and simple.
Rather than readers attention spans becoming shorter, I see Twitter offering up a new method and challenge for digital publishing. As writers like @david_mitchell and @jackiejcollins have proven in the past, Twitter-sized publications do work. Authors post a series of 140 character instalments straight to the audience’s feed, and readers do engage. However, I highly doubt this is because they feel that they’ve finally found content that ensures they don’t doze off one paragraph in, as the media would have us believe. Rather it’s the regular instalments, new concepts and authors themselves that make Twitter stories popular.
We’ve only started scratching the surface on using Twitter as a publishing platform, whether it be used as a way of sharing snippets to drive readers to the bigger story or trying out new methods of publishing. One thing Twitter is not doing is shortening attention spans; give us a bit more credit than that, Mr. Media.