In Praise of Shortened Attention Spans

Terry Teachout explains why brevity can be a virtue in art:

The latest alleged trend to set the world in a tizzy is the Crisis of Shorter Attention Spans, a dire development that has been brought about by the rise of the Internet. Or texting. Or iTunes. Or Twitter. Or whatever. I find it hard to get upset about this existential threat to Western civilization, though, perhaps because I’m part of the problem. My attention span is much shorter now than it was a decade ago—and that’s just fine with me.

Part of the “problem,” after all, turns out to be that Americans have gotten smarter, or at least quicker on the uptake. Take a look at any TV sitcom of the 1950s and ’60s and compare it to modern-day televised fare. It’s startling to see how slow-moving those old shows were. The same thing is true of live theater. The leisurely expositions of yesteryear, it turns out, aren’t necessary: You can count on contemporary audiences to get the point and see where you’re headed, and they don’t want to wait around for you to catch up with them.


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