By Mary Elizabeth High
Early childhood media exposure plays a key role in the developmental process. A study published by Frederick J. Zimmerman and Dimitri A. Christakis with the American Academy of Pediatrics in November of 2007 looked at the effects of early childhood media exposure on attention span later in life. Three types of media were examined: educational, violent entertainment, and nonviolent entertainment. The study concluded that:
“Viewing of educational television before age 3 was not associated with attentional problems five years later. However, viewing of either violent or non-violent entertainment television before age 3 was significantly associated with subsequent attentional problems, and the magnitude of the association was large.”
My earliest media memory consists of watching cartoons such as “Dragon Tales” on PBS Kids while I waited for my parents to get ready for work and pack my lunch early in the morning. As I’m writing this post, I can hear the “Dragon Tales” theme song playing in the back of my mind, and from some deep cavern of my memory, the lines, “I wish, I wish, with all my heart, to fly with dragons in a land apart” resurfaces.
It’s ironic to me that, 17 years later, I can remember minute details about my favorite childhood show, but I struggle to recall information that is important and relevant to my schooling and career. It’s safe to say that, based on the example I have of myself, early childhood media exposure is deeply ingrained in our minds.
As a member of Generation Y, or “the MyPod generation,” as we are widely known, I have grown up with technology. We all have. Whereas Generation X’s first media memories consist of reading comics in the Sunday papers, ours are of television shows and computer programs.
We were born at the birth of the mobile revolution. Technology advanced as we advanced. It feels almost as if we grew together, so we remain heavily dependent on and entwined with technology. This dependence heavily impacts how Generation Y collects information and receives news.
A study published by the American Press Institute in March 2015 states that 82 percent of millennials get at least half of their news from online sources, and the average millennials report getting 74 percent of his or her news from online sources. The study says only 51 percent of millennials stay connected most of the time, and only 64 percent report that they keep up with current events.
Millennials’ attention spans are also shortening due to increased media exposure. In an article published by The Telegraph in May of 2015, Leon Watson cites a Canadian study of the human attention span, saying:
“The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds.”
So, what does this mean for Generation Z, the generation that teethes on tablets as infants, receives their first smartphones as toddlers, and creates Instagram accounts as kindergarteners?
It means the human attention span will plummet further. It means print media will all but die out with Generation X and the stubborn Generation Y members who refuse to convert fully to mobile media. It means a revolution of the way humans interact and communicate.
Generation Z will be the most informed and connected human beings to walk the Earth, but will they be able to put the wealth of information they will have at their fingertips from birth to good use? Will they be able to pay attention long enough to create change? Can they be trusted to lead us into the future? Or will they fall short, retreating into their devices, abandoning face-to-face human contact, focusing only on instantly gratifying entertainment media rather than what really matters?
One can only hope Generation Z will put down their tablets and smartphones and learn to truly connect.