Goldfish Go Figure

Zara’s mind was off the lesson about as often as it was on it. The teacher’s voice faded in and out of intelligibility. That didn’t make for a very effective understanding of the topic being taught. Somewhere in the midst of staring out the window and wondering if there were unicorns in Australia, she decided that perhaps paying attention would be a good idea if she wanted to get a decent grade in subsequent quizzes.

Human Behaviour. What a subject to teach in school. It had only been part of the curriculum for a complete academic year; this was its second. It had been a response to issues about the ineffectiveness of the school curriculum, since the complaints were that children were not learning enough things that were relevant to humans themselves. The syllabus had been designed by professional, practicing psychologists, whom, it had been rumoured, had been hard-pressed to find topics to put in it, as they believed that everything known about human behaviour was entirely relevant to teach to high school students.

Today’s particular Human Behaviour lesson was on attention spans.

“And, as of 2013,” the teacher, Mr Bright, was saying, “The attention span of the average human dropped from twelve seconds to eight seconds, which is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish.”

“Pardon me?” Zara asked without thinking. Occasionally, things like this happened. Her brain and mouth lost connection, and the former decided to act without permission. Well, at least this time, her brain had intervened in the last minute, preventing her from blurting out “What?” instead.

“Did you not hear what I said?” asked Mr Bright.

“I mean, I heard, but I just…” began Zara, trying to defend herself.

“No excuses! You simply weren’t paying enough attention.”

There was silence in the classroom. Then there was an uncertain giggle. That broke the silence and the mutters began. Nevertheless, it seemed Mr Bright was still a bit dim to the whole situation.

“Quiet!” he barked at the students. “Why are you all whispering?” he asked paradoxically. (How, for instance, were they supposed to audibly answer the question, if they were meant to be being quiet at the same time?)

“You…you just said I wasn’t paying enough attention,” Zara offered tentatively.

“Yes…and so?” Mr Bright, in the minds of many of his students that day lost the right to his name.

“Well, according to the lesson, I am not very capable of paying attention to the lesson; it’s been scientifically proven, as your notes say.”

The poor teacher was dumbfounded. For a few seconds, he couldn’t offer anything intelligible, and his mind whirred to find something to sway that would save his gradually depreciating face.

“Yes, but you need to understand the rest: our attention spans are only so low because of the emergence of social media. It’s your fault, really – all your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You kids can’t be seen without your iPads, iPods and iPhones for ten minutes.”

The sound of an object vibrating against wood was heard. Most eyes followed the direction of the source of the sound. On the teacher’s table, Mr Bright’s iPhone, which had been put on vibrate, lit up. He had a Whatsapp message. Only about two seconds later, another message lit up the screen – and then another, and then another.

One student cheekily dared to ask, “Does Whatsapp count as social media?” And when warning eyes turned on him, he shrank back and defended himself: “It was just a question!”

Zara’s mind, however, in the midst of all this, was still working. “Wait,” she said. “Then how long was the attention span of a human before social media?”

Mr Bright was looking greatly irritated, shamed and exasperated. “You people are not understanding this lesson at all! What I referred to is called transient attention.”

“And how long was it before?”

“I already mentioned it! It was about twelve seconds. However, the prolonged kind, which is called selective sustained attention, is about twenty minutes at maximum.”

Now, he was saving his face, looking proud of himself for finally being able to competently answer a question.

Zara wasn’t going to let him go off scott-free, though. She glanced at her watch. “This lesson has been going on for thirty minutes now.”

“Your point is?”

“Well…given that we are having an eighty-minute lesson to teach us about how we are not very capable of paying attention for more than twenty of them at a go, I think someone has to re-evaluate the whole education system in here. Otherwise, the contradiction lies in the fact that the system is teaching us exactly why the system isn’t very smart.”

Author’s note: I merely thought it would be fun to write about this topic in prosaic form. I also thought it would be way more fun to end it here and see how the reader’s mind continues it. If you’d like to share the product of your imagination, I’d be happy to see how you think the story would continue in the comments. 😉 Also, this is my way of measuring the amount of trouble I get into. LOL


12 thoughts on “Goldfish Go Figure

  1. I often wonder if the attention span of a child and an adult differs or adults have just learned to sustain attention because its necessary? I really like your write-ups.

  2. I really don’t know about general attention spans but I do know this if the topic is boring i’d probably give a zero attention. I will be absent yet present and vice versa.
    Interesting topic to write about though. Good work

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