A confession. I saw Marriage Story in the cinema last week and got a bit bored. For much of the 137-minute-long, Netflix-backed drama my friend was mesmerised while I was stifling yawns – even though Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at the height of their powers. This has sparked some soul-searching: is there something wrong with my attention span? It’s a thought that has crossed my mind many times before but on every occasion I was distracted by something shiny, so never lingered on it.
Diminishing powers of concentration in the digital age have been the subject of countless studies, which have revealed such nuggets as the fact that the average adult’s attention span was 12 seconds in 2000 (which doesn’t seem very long) but is now only eight – less than a goldfish? Meanwhile, Cal Newport, a US author and computer-science professor, has argued that “focus is the new IQ”, insofar as it is the most important form of intelligence in the 21st century.
Which begs the question: how do we improve our concentration? Google suggests meditation, exercise, hydration, chewing gum and drinking tea. I think a better idea is to ditch my smartphone, or at least delete some apps. As I head to Australia for Christmas, I will not be Tiktoking, Snapchatting or Instagramming (stopping that last one might be a fib). I’ve armed myself with weighty books and downloaded shows that last 60 minutes per episode and require an investment: Succession, Pose and Watchmen. And if you see me at an outdoor cinema in Perth, falling asleep during the The Irishman – the three-and-a-half-hour epic that is my new Everest – please shake me.