With the emergence of Netflix and Spotify, the content created by the artists became more available than ever. Now having a subscription to these services provides us with the experience of enjoying our favorite artists without leaving the living room for the price cheaper than a single ticket to cinema or concert. Then we go on Twitter to connect with the thoughts of those artists. We can see them live in flesh on YouTube. That is great…or is it so?
The creation of ever-available media content creates an unpredicted and arguably unfavorable feedback loop: the public now has much more opportunity to shape and choose the content; thus, the creators tailor their content according to the popular preferences. Those preferences and their impact on the culture will be further discussed as well as the effects of the same preferences on political and social issues.
We watch TV shows and movies on our couches, while eating, while talking with someone. We can always pause the movie or switch to another one when we get bored. Briefly, we don’t focus all our attention on what we watch, we don’t want to. That is why we prefer TV shows that are no longer than around 25 minutes, or movies that are longer than one and a half hours. And during that time, the viewer has to be constantly entertained so that his attention does not go elsewhere. Thus, the creators of shows or movies are setting a time limit and including more action, they try to end every episode with a cliff-hanger. The most recent example of a movie not getting much attention because of its length and lack of action is The Irishman. It did not get the popularity it deserved despite its cast and Scorsese as a director because, in my opinion, it did not apply to the standards of new media. The movies in classical understanding are meant for theatres, for the experience of full involvement. If the trend continues, the best directors would become forced into retirement.
The same argument applies for music. Recent trap songs are usually no longer than two minutes. All they have, in general, is catchy beats and repetitive lyrics. Now only few will listen to some storytelling masterpiece like Eminem’s Stan, because to appreciate it one needs to actually follow the lyrics. What used to be a common expectation of quality from TV and music is now an interest of relatively few aficionados. Mozart is meant for concert halls, he dies on Spotify.
Decreased attention span also has its effects on political and social movements. It is true that people nowadays are more connected than ever. Several tweets can gather thousands of supporters for or against a certain cause within a very short period of time. But for how long do people actually follow that cause? The supporters disperse as fast as they collect, they disassemble as soon as there is another big thing. Thus, the social movements have been reduced to a mere trend on the internet. People don’t stay committed and united for long even on important issues because they are just not trendy. There are a lot of trends to follow, so people commit to none. For example, Hong Kong protests. They once were important news and everyone tried to show their support for the issue. But then the pandemic happened, and then Black Lives Matter movement, and everyone seems to have forgotten about Hong Kong protests. The problem is, they are still there. The issue is not resolved. But everyone forgot about it after the next big thing happened. It is a matter of time for the same to happen to BLM protests. The problem will not be solved but people will have an artificial sense of completion just because of the spark of interest they have shown.
Where does this obsession with short term trends lead? What will happen to art? Are we going to let it become a series of short doses of entertainment devoid of meaning? And for how long are we going to let political issues slip away like this? If nothing is done to seriously support political movements in equally large numbers but for a prolonged period of time, until the issue is really solved, this tendency of attention deficit could become a powerful tool that totalitarian regimes can and will equip.