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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 09:40 GMT
Turning into digital goldfish
Group of people looking at a website
Can't tear yourself away from those enticing web pages?
If you are spending too much time on the internet and are concerned that it is affecting your concentration, you are not alone.

The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds - the same as a goldfish.

"Our attention span gets affected by the way we do things," says Ted Selker, an expert in the online equivalent of body language at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

"If we spend our time flitting from one thing to another on the web, we can get into a habit of not concentrating," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

Quickly bored

With literally millions of websites at our fingertips, the attention span of the average web surfer is measured in seconds.

"When I'm on the internet, my attention span is shorter for each thing because there are so many things to choose from," said one American web browser.

Click here to tell us if you find the web too much of a distraction

"So instead of focusing on one thing and getting the most out of it, I find myself getting bored quickly because I know there are so many more things out there to go to."

It seems that web surfers show a maddening unwillingness to stay put on any one website.

Sticky sites

Ever on the lookout for engaging content, most online viewers spend less than 60 seconds at an average site.

If a website has stickiness, it will keep your attention glued to that site rather than let you click on another one

Pam Briggs, Nottingham University
This is a challenge to commercial websites which are desperate to attract readers and keep them there.

"People talk about this in terms of stickiness," explains psychiatrist Pam Briggs, of Nottingham University in the UK.

"If a website has stickiness, it will keep your attention glued to that site rather than let you click on another one as your competitor is just one click away."

Other digital distractions, like e-mail or instant messaging, are also vying for our attention.

"E-mails are very seductive," says Pam Briggs. "You can't leave them alone when your computer beeps to tell you have a new message, even though you are working on quite an important task."

Stay focused

And if all this was not enough, quickie movie breaks are a growing distraction. On, the shortest film is 12 seconds long, while the longest is three and a half minutes.

Give yourself a question, give yourself a goal, write it down. Follow that goal, know why you're surfing

Ted Selker, MIT's founder, Beth Hall, has seen the popularity of these shorts skyrocket over the past 10 years.

"Primarily our audience is folks that already knew about Shortspan or are interested in movies and search for the word on the web. We also get lots of folks on their coffee break at work."

If you find you are spending all night on the web, unaware of time melting away, experts have some advice for you.

"Give yourself a question, give yourself a goal, write it down. Follow that goal, know why you're surfing," says Ted Selker.

"Because if you don't know why you are doing it, you are going to be pushed around by the most exciting words in a never ending sea of information."


That is true to a degree, but some sites have many articles I can't help but read in full. In some situations, "excessive" internet use has actually increased my attention span.
Alex Heighton, United Kingdom

It occurs to me that only people who don't have this condition will get far enough in this article to respond. Not a very balanced survey
Nin, France

I clicked the link to cast my opinion here even before finishing the story. Hopefully I'll remember to go back after I press the 'submit' button, but I've got four other websites open that i'm also looking at... [insert frowny face here].
Robert Liebermann, USA

Sure the fact we spend less time looking at one site in particular mirrors our faster lives, where the selection of what is relevant is becoming more and more important? The broadening of a mind, even on a shallow level cannot be all bad, can it?
Mark Wood, London, UK

If internet users are flitting from one page to another, then they aren't broadening their minds because to understand and fully process information takes time. It also takes active reading, that is to say, thinking about what you've just read, becoming engaged by what you've just read. Otherwise there is just a jumble of words and meaningless info without full context in ones head; which likely have made no concrete impression. And then it is useless info, because there is nothing of substance to recall and make use of; rather there may be junky-info which gets in the way of more important and relevant information.
Eve, USA

I totally agree. I've personally started reading more books to regain my ability to concentrate for extended durations on one subject.
John B, USA

Okay, which should we do? I spend the first part of the morning skimming e-mails and newsletters because it's important to keep up with technology trends, but I can't spend the whole day doing it. Unfortunately, I do find my mind drifting during lectures more than it used to do.
Julie Cole, USA

I'm not aware of a decreased attention span. As others have said, it's the pattern of concentration that matters. On the web, you learn to make rapid decisions, from clues of presentation and content, as to what isn't worth reading. This means that to find information, you might briefly visit five unhelpful sites before finding a sixth that's worth spending time to read.
Ray Girvan, UK

I think the biggest turn off or click off is websites and big organisations that always want to sell you something. if these organisations stopped wanting that and thought more about good information that my reflect well on their business in the future the net could get back to what it once was good at...sharing information with the rest of mankind not buying things!!!!
Simon Othen, UK

Maybe, but think about how long we spend on each page of the sort of magazine that has the sort of content that you find on the web. And if picking up a new magazine is as easy as turning a page. Serious reading is only practicable on paper!
Ron Ellis, UK

I am always flitting through one web page to another, as a lot of websites have to much detail and I get easily bored.
Gavin Cox, United Kingdom

The reason that I don't 'stick' to a site is that either it is over designed and I don't want to watch loads of irrelevant flash/animation, or if I get bombarded with pop up adverts, I will leave. I find its more to do with tolerance level than attention span.
Matt Adams, UK

Nonsense! My attention span is as good as it ev.....
Bob Pinder, England

I don't think the web is lowering concentration spans, just changing the nature of concentration used. With the ability to multi-task, looking at many sites at the same time, web users need to be able to hold parallel strands of narrative simultaneously, not just one. In this regard, it is no worse for concentration spans than a book or theatrical production which runs several plot lines concurrently. The only issue - for all these media - is the quality of narrative which users can experience.
Nik Halton, England

I am currently mindlessly browsing the web while I have work at hand. Posting useless message on talking points that no one will read. Passively digesting information that will stay unused forever.
Sarah, UK

OK, how many people here never read the end of the article because they got distracted by the link to the comments box?
Peter, UK

I'd like to say how much I agreed with your well written and informative articl... oooooh sports link, (click)
GMcD, Scotland

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