On the History of Media and the "Attention Span"

If you have an interest in cultural media history, if you like Sesame Street and music videos, or if you have found the recent discussions about whether the internet makes you stupid or smart to be worth your scarce attention, you might be interested in my newly published work: “New Media, Young Audiences, and Discourses of Attention: From Sesame Street to ‘Snack Culture’” Media Culture & Society 32.4 (July 2010), 582-596. In this essay I trace the history of the “attention span” as it pertains to media from the early days of Sesame Street to the present, charting the process whereby media crafted to suit short attention spans of the young came to be blamed for shrinking the collective attention span of whole generations and societies. The main materials I studied are popular press discourses, like discussions in the New York Times and Time magazine. I’m generally critical/skeptical of claims that media are a danger to the young and that movies, TV, and the internet do us cognitive harm, though my main concern is to analyze discourses rather than pass judgement. Ultimately I argue that concerns over media’s harmful effects reveal widely shared anxieties over new media’s social implications. If like me you don’t have free access to Sage journals and don't want to wait for your hardworking ILL people to catch up with the speed of academic publishing, please email me mznewman37/gmail and I’ll happily send you a pdf. Happy reading!


Related: when I was working on this article two years ago, I blogged about some Sesame Street research that wasn't relevant to the argument about attention. Here's that old post, in which I discuss reception of the show in terms of racial identity.

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