It’s occurred to me more than once as I scan historical references, novels, even old movies, that the attention span of the average entertainment consumer has shifted quite a bit. Perhaps the most noticeable changes began as far back as after television becoming more prevalent. But the biggest changes I’ve seen have been since the introduction of the Internet. Already-short emails with plenty of white space became tightened to text or Twitter length. Combined with abbreviations and emoticons that help express emotion with a single image, we rarely have to pay attention to anything for very long.
As I write this, I’m reminded of my childhood when the “old folks” used to talk about how things aren’t like they used to be—with a tone indicating things have hardly gotten better. I guess mine isn’t the first generation to pass judgement on those silly young’uns who don’t know what they’re missing.
Remember when books could have the characters revealing themselves to the readers for a hundred pages or more before anything “happened”? Or when “action” movies didn’t start with an explosion? Suspense didn’t start with a death?
A young adult book I’m reading right now brought all of this to my mind. It’s called Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. It brings to light a little-known episode of Second World War history when thousands of German refugees fled a Russian onslaught, hoping to escape by ships at the German coast that promised safety. I won’t reveal more of the story than that—it’s a fascinating event I wasn’t familiar with.
I’d rather talk about the structure of this novel. It’s told from the viewpoint of four different characters. At first I had the typical confusion with more than one or two characters, trying to keep straight whose point of view I was in. It helped that each chapter was clearly marked with the character’s name. The hindrance to me was that the chapters were so brief I had trouble learning enough about each character to grab hold of something to tie me to each voice.
I haven’t read a YA novel in a while, but this one left me wondering if the one- and two-page chapters are catering to the short attention spans being cultivated in this upcoming generation. Thus renewed my worries over our shrinking attention spans.
Thankfully, I have just enough contact with younger generations to know there are still brilliant minds out there, waiting to take the place of the older folks. I’m not worried. But I can’t help thinking this is something they’ll have to accommodate! Who knows, maybe all this juggling is an asset.
I’d better sign off for today. I have a feeling my age is showing!