On attention spans

What medium do we want to become most like?

On attention spans
Photo by NEOM / Unsplash

As social media has become more deeply integrated into our lives, it’s changing the way we write. At first, social networks were treated as a distribution mechanism for long-form articles and other content—anything published would be broken down into more digestible tweets and social posts.

Now, the situation has almost reversed: many publishers write first for social media, testing to identify what pithy insights resonate, and then expand into long-form content around those one-liners. As an example, consider this manifesto by Marc Andreesen. In form, it’s a 5,000-word essay. In function, it’s just a loose collection of tweets and hot takes.

Ezra Klein has said that we become like any medium we use most often. If we spend our days on Twitter, we start to think in tweets. If we spend our days reading long-form journalism or fiction, we will nurture an attention span that is longer and more patient for a narrative to slowly take shape. The question we ought to ask ourselves is what medium do we want to become most like?