Thursday, June 14, 2018

What if our attention span really is six hours (21,600 seconds) rather than the mythical 8 seconds?

There is an often-repeated (but completely baseless) claim that our attention span is only 8 seconds. I blogged about it on January 17, 2017 in a post titled Is the attention span of a marketer shorter than that of a fruit fly? But we know that people do pay attention for 18-minute TED talks (1080 seconds, or 135 times longer). What if they paid attention for another 20 times longer than that, a full six hours?

That topic humorously came up in the recent XKCD comic strip shown above. I thought cartoonist Randall Munroe was kidding – until I followed his hyperlink to an article at the New Yorker on September 26, 2017 by Jia Tolentino titled The repressive, authoritarian soul of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.’ I’m not sure you really could find six-hours of discussion about the theory claiming that children’s television show is authoritarian propaganda depicting a post-apocalytptic fascist dystopia.

But, what the heck is a tank engine? That’s explained in an article at HowStuffWorks titled What is a tank engine, as in Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s a switch (or in British a shunt) short-range steam locomotive that carries a water supply in tanks and thus doesn’t need to be followed by a tender (a coal and water car).     

It turns out there have been both newspaper and magazine articles written about Thomas. At The Register on December 10, 2009 Lester Haines discussed how Thomas the Tank Engine drives ‘conservative’ political ideology. At The Spectator on December 30, 2009 there was yet another article by Rod Liddle titled Thomas the Tank Engine is merciless and bigoted – that’s why kids love it. He said:

“Children feel most comfortable in an ordered and clearly demarcated world, a world divided into hierarchies. They have a Manichean view of good and evil and they like to see the baddies get punished, preferably in a thoroughly unpleasant manner. They may also identify with gender stereotypes which conform to the roles they have already been assigned or, more controversially, have worked out for themselves from a very early age. Children, and especially little boys, are conservative, when they are not actually fascists.”

At Slate on July 26, 2011 Jessica Roake at length alarmingly described Thomas the imperialist tank engine. And at The Guardian on July 4, 2012 Sarah Ditum bemoaned The tyrannical world of Thomas the Tank Engine. In reply, at the conservative magazine the National Review, on July 24, 2014 Charles C. W. Cooke wrote In defense of Thomas the Tank Engine. And at The Telegraph on March 28, 2016 Paul Kendall asked Why do so many liberal parents hate Thomas the Tank Engine?

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