Short Attention Span Alarming
Is it convenient to forget “mistakes” in nation of scanners?
It is why Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam insists he’s going to “stick it out in office” after the discovery of a yearbook photo where he wore blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson in 1984. It’s why Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax says he won’t resign after sexual assault allegations by two women. It’s why Senator Bob Menendez was re-elected in New Jersey, even after his highly publicized trial on corruption charges.
Or why, here at home, Lynn Cawthorne won’t resign his seat on the Caddo Parish Commission, despite a federal grand jury that just recently added 18 money laundering-related charges to a superseding indictment returned just last month alleging that he misappropriated funds intended for a children’s lunch program.
Part of the reason that so many elected officials develop “amnesia” or “businessas-usual” demeanor during such troubling times is that resigning in shame isn’t really a thing anymore – especially when the odds are so good that everyone will forget about your scandal in the first place.
And the reason may be this: We have a shorter attention span than goldfish.
Yes, in fact, the reported average attention span for the ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds. But for us humans, according to a study from Microsoft Corporation, we generally now lose concentration after eight seconds, which is why we bounce from one controversy and outrage to the next, whether real or contrived, uncontrollably scrolling from one social media post to the next.
It’s why we’ve become a nation of scanners – not readers; only screening incoming email messages or Facebook posts for relevance and importance, and then we moving on – without really reading anything at all.
It’s why only about one-half of you are reading these words right now because most Americans never read past the large print of the headlines. And if accountability is the “glue” that holds our communities together, then when we stop paying attention to what matters, are we surprised when nothing seems to matter at all?
We do know too many have stopped paying attention to moral values by being silent, while others choose to mock traditions and customs – such as building a stable family unit that is committed to the precepts of the Bible, or protecting and defending life, especially the most vulnerable.
We know also that too many of us say “to each his own,” or “that’s none of my business,” or “it’s not my place to judge,” when this just means our children (and their children) will increasingly grow up in a culture where right or wrong is not so much an absolute, as much as it is a decision about what makes us feel good, or is convenient for us.
You know, there’s an old saying, “Tell me to what you pay attention, and I will tell you who you are.” So, who are we, I mean, as a city or state? What do we pay attention to? The inane, or the important?
Does the skin color of a political candidate, or their age, matter most? Or should we be more concerned about whether or not they are qualified and competent? Whether they have the attention span needed to concentrate on the details of large-scale, organizational change in the first place? Should we worry more about whether they are persistent enough to see those changes through to completion, or whether or not they take great selfies?
Many questions, I know. But with so many elections on the ballot this year, take your time in answering … and you’ll probably need more than eight seconds.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.