• Kathy Coudle-King

Is it over yet?!

Week 3 of Shut-In: Argh! When will it end?! We want to know, and we want to know NOW.


My generation and the one following me has no patience for this situation. The millennials and Gen Xers say, “Okay, boomer,” but one thing we share is our short attention span.


I blame it on TV. Over the decades actual show time has been reduced due to increased commercial time. Today, a typical sitcom on network TV runs about 22 minutes with 8 minutes of commercials. An hour-long show contains, on average, 14 mins. and 15 seconds of commercials. Of course, the show is divided up by commercial breaks, so a sitcom requires you to pay attention for about 13 minutes before it’s interrupted by a commercial, and even the commercials have gotten shorter; they're jamming in more 30 and 15-second spots. (The exceptions are the drug ads, during which you can make popcorn, pee, and walk your dog). TV has trained our brains and not for the better.


When DVRs came along, we could fast forward through the commercials, but it hasn’t seemed to help increase our attention span. According to Pew Research (2019), 27% of Americans didn’t read one book last year. Not even part of a book. Why? “It’s boring.”

Story isn’t dead yet, though. Roughly half of all Americans listened to an audio book last year, up from 44% previously. They listen, of course, while they’re doing something else, typically driving.


When we were selecting plays for the next season at the community theatre, I cautioned – (mea culpa) – against older plays which are divided into three acts. Audiences won’t sit for them. In response to Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer prize-winning play Long Day’s Journey into Night, contemporary audiences say, “Does the journey have to be so long?”


See, people are terrified of being “bored.” Terrified. Like they might dissolve into a puddle.

People don’t want to waste their time because they have important things to do like scroll, swipe, and “like” on social media. There’s an explosion of information out there and they’re simply trying to consume it all – no matter if it’s valuable or not. In fact, they’ll multi-task while they do it: Hit the drive thru for fast food or toss ingredients into Instapot. For dessert they’ll spoon up instant pudding (which is the greatest tragedy of all: No “skin” on top b/c you only get that with cooked pudding. "Oh, what a world!")


When’s the last time you saw people just wait in a waiting room? Were they reading a book? Knitting, maybe? Talking to each other? The majority were probably scrolling on their phone. Okay, so you might argue that people are making good use of their time. Are we, though? Doesn’t knowing how to simply “be” have value, too?


Honestly, I get it. I do, because my brain’s had the same training yours has. I was a child of ‘70s sitcoms, too. What was I saying? Oh, yeah, short attention span.


There are many reasons why this pandemic is so hard on us, but I posit one of them is our short attention span. We move on quickly to the next news headline. We are over scheduled, and our children are over scheduled, and we simply do not have time for a pandemic. Puh-lease. It has gotten so old already.


But it’s not over. Note even close to over. So, here we are with so much time on our hands and increasing anxiety levels.


Those who are managing better than others (economics aside) are the ones who can play video games for hours, or board games that go into the night. They’re folks who can be satisfied working on a puzzle, reading a book, making a quilt, writing, painting a room, making music, taking a long (solitary) walk – baking bread and letting it rise.


Not Naan

Speaking of, I’ve tried to make bread twice and both times I’ve been frustrated by the “rise time”. Really? 2 hours, then knead, and let it rest for a whole other hour? Why the hell is it so tired? I’m the one doing the work! (I bought a loaf of rye and called it good.)


Look, I need to wrap this up because studies show people prefer blogs that are 300-600 words and I am well over. If something positive comes out of this shit show, maybe some of us will retrain our attention span. Learn how to simply be still without a cellphone in our hand. Wow. Wouldn’t that be something? What a new world it'd be then.


Writing prompt: Children often complain they’re bored. Do you remember being bored as a child? Did your boredom every get you or someone you know into mischief?

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Frances Perkins

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