Friday, July 1, 2011

Before Twitter, Flicker

Children are said to have short attention spans, but I’ve seen quite small children intensely concentrating on a single thing for extended periods of times. They do so if what they are doing actually holds their attention. I’ve seen them, for example, intensely observing a big bug lying on its back and moving its feet. I’ve seen such things hold their attention for an hour—and then lead to all kinds of related, you might almost call them scientific, activities. I’ve watched them carefully taking things apart with tweezers or painting intricate designs on an egg. Brigitte was a Montessori teacher in the Long Ago. I’m sure that she will back me when I say that in the ideal education of the quite young child, the right materials will produce intense and perfectly voluntary concentration.

Just yesterday I sat at a beach and watched sparrows and seagulls on the sand. They behaved just like children do. Stimuli attracted their attention; they responded at once; but they also showed strong concentration when the right circumstances held them to the task.

The notion of short attention span no doubt arose because children don’t behave artificially, meaning the way adults wish them to behave. And this has produced—and I making a leap here—the endless flicker on television. Some pop-psych great must have pronounced that to hold people’s interest, and especially children’s, you must constantly move things to rivet their attention.

Last Wednesday I watched the PBS Newshour. Toward the tail of it came a program by Miles O’Brian titled “How Making Stuff Helps Make Science More Appealing to Kids.” Up to that point the programming had been normal, but inside this feature segment—and perhaps because it was intended in part for kids—a new editorial mode of presentation suddenly introduced much more rapid cuts between the images. They started changing rapidly, half-a-second or more frequently, presumably to signal “fun” to the viewer. And Science is fun, don’t you know. Why, if we don’t flicker, they might (horrors) click off and go read some literature.

Advertising has gone the same route—flickering to the viewer by way of arresting the rational functions and holding more easily reached emotions. Amusingly enough, if the ads are intended for the elderly, the flicker stops. And the most pleasing ads want to sell me anti-depression drugs. These almost crawl. Only the side-effects, which invariable at some point promise me death in extreme cases, are murmured rapidly, softly, and almost beneath apprehension while the depressed person looks out over lovely, unmoving, flickerless landscapes and almost, but not quite, smiles. The smiles will only come after the purchase.

Before Twitter we already had Flicker. And we have it because its easier to sell to animals than people. I’ve watched many a bird yesterday rabidly rushing at a bit of rubber or dark bit of sand only to spit it out again. But they, at least, were smart enough to spit.

No comments:

Post a Comment