By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
When it comes to memory and attention, goldfish get a bad rap. It is said that they can only keep a thought in their heads for such a short span that the little plastic castle must be a surprise every time they see it. In truth, research shows that goldfish can remember new information for months. Still, that wasn't enough to stop the recent stories circulating with clickbait headlines like, "You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish." The articles draw on the comparison between a measured human attention span of just eight seconds, compared to a goldfish's presumed span of nine seconds. Attention being different from memory, the source of the goldfish data is a little murky, but on the human side, the finding stems from a recent research report from Microsoft Canada aimed at advertisers. The main conclusion of the report is that, thanks to our digital lifestyle embracing many screens and instant chances to engage, our attention span is short and getting shorter. And it isn't just normal human frailty that is the concern here. Rather, it is the realization that memory as a commodity is getting scarcer. And just like polar ice, the rate at which it is disappearing is speeding up as well. The report is available for free download, and fittingly, those who don't have the attention spans to make it through a 52-page read can see the key takeaways boiled down in one quick infographic.
A good understanding of the limits of attention should be high on the priority list for litigators. After all, the jury trial model is one that is based on sustained, deep, careful attention. Average citizens who've never been trained or acclimated to the legal process are expected to sit in the courtroom over days, weeks, or even months to absorb information without interacting and without forming conclusions along the way. That's a pretty tall order on face, and the more one learns about the limits and challenges to human attention, the taller the order becomes. The recent Microsoft study puts an exclamation point on the problem, showing the effect of recent changes in our relationship to technology, and those changes have been at odds with the contemplative model of the trial. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella puts it, "We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention." In this post, I'll take a look at the Microsoft study and share some recommendations on adapting to a finite and shrinking attention span in the jury box.