Recently, I came across a 3 minute YouTube video entitled “I dare you to watch this entire video.” It challenges the viewer to watch the entire 3-minute video all the way to the end. It features a guy sitting on a table in front of a plain wall with a clock behind him. That is it, the only trick: you cannot skip ahead or open “another tab letting [the video] play in the background.” To other generations this doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, but to the present entertainment-thirsty, fast-forwarding, generation, it is.
This reminded me of a remark from my former literature professor saying that while other generations were afraid of being drafted to the war, or life-threatening epidemics, our generation was distinctively afraid of one thing: boredom.
I didn’t think much of his comment until recently, when I noticed myself scrolling through my Facebook feed and skipping past any status update longer than a sentence. Or when I sit to watch TV with my 17-year old-sister and she hurriedly reaches for her phone as soon as commercials come on, not wanting a dull moment to go by she plays YouTube videos until the main feature plays again.
We are the generation of Instagram and Twitter, for whom while a picture might still be worth 1000 words, any message longer than 140 characters won’t transmit.
We seek constant stimulus under the impression that we are excusing ourselves from dull moments, being productive, or doing more with our time–but are we really?
Studies have asserted that the information overload to which we expose ourselves to could be the cause of “cultural ADHD” as Russell Poldrack explains on a Huffington Post blog a few years ago, “There are reasons to believe that information overload affects the same neurotransmitter systems that are dysfunctional in children with ADHD.”
Ironically, we are surrendering our ability to focus in return for constant entertainment. But how much of this information are we retaining, or is even worth retaining? Presumably not much.
As a generation we seek quantity over quality. We prefer to spend hours watching 5-second Vine videos to sitting through a 2.5-hour movie. By the end of this mini binge-watch, we probably can’t recall even half of the Vines that made us laugh just minutes ago.
For my part, I have admitted to not being able to get through a full page of my textbook before reaching for my phone. I confronted this problem by working toward better strategies and less distractions. I’ve had to put my phone away, silence it, and disable notifications–ultimately it is all about self-discipline.
We must drive ourselves to do better, focus on what matters rather than on trivial information, and give priority only to what deserves it, because our fear of boredom can end up getting in the way of larger goals. The video in question concludes that “only you will know the difference…[but] to decide what you’ll do with the rest of your life, you’ll have to dare yourself.”