I was at a writing conference a few months back and the key note speaker was talking about the importance of capturing, and retaining, a reader’s attention. She referred to this current crop of readers as the ‘CNN Generation’ – they have short attention spans so you need to get them interested and keep them interested with new and amazing events, page after page after page. This notion troubled me greatly. Not only was I concerned immediately with whether my writing was that gripping, but it also made me worried about my own attention span. Am I also becoming one of these people who needs to be constantly stimulated by new and different things, and can’t just relax and enjoy something that meanders all over the place before getting to its point? Anyone who reads this blog regularly would know I am a fan of meandering when I write, so if readers can’t handle this then I could well be in serious trouble.
Initially I was confident that I wasn’t one of these ‘CNN Generation’ people myself. I enjoy nothing more than delving into a lengthy novel and taking my time about it – I am in no rush. Same goes for movies – I have to be 100% focused on the film in front of me. I am one of those people who think people who text in cinemas should be lined up and shot. You paid money for a movie people, and so did I, so sit back and enjoy it – don’t worry about what you may be missing out on for an hour and a half! And I thought I was the same when it came to what people are now calling the ‘shared experience’ of TV watching. I am not one who has to be on Twitter while watching my favourite show, just to find out what other people think of it. I would rather just sit and enjoy it by myself and form my own opinions.
That said though, there are other ways in which I think I do display some CNN generation habits. I have a profound and committed relationship with YouTube – though it is a very focused relationship. I don’t just randomly surf for anything that might be entertaining – I generally search for movie related interviews and related bits and pieces (bloopers are a favourite). Though there are exceptions to that – notably this year’s viral hit The Fox (if you haven’t seen it yet, please please do – you won’t regret it) and the epic twerking fail that caused such an internet ruckus. Though, as many now know one of my sources of YouTube wondrousness Jimmy Kimmel was responsible for the latter. We don’t have late night shows like Jimmy Kimmel’s, Jimmy Fallon’s or Conan O’Brien’s in NZ (and no, I don’t think Paul Henry should even be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys) – so I use YouTube to watch the bits of their shows that I want to. And there is the rub – I wouldn’t watch their whole show, even if they screened here – I would just fast forward to the bits that I wanted to see (like this awesome Lip Sync battle between Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stephen Merchant and Fallon). So – does that mean I have a short attention span too?
I am going to go with no, and not just because it makes me feel better (though it does). I just think that now there are a plethora of ways that we can be entertained – and the internet is just one of them (wanna see Tom Hiddleston explain delayed gratification to Cookie Monster? Sure you do…). But TV is in a golden age – and one hour shows are taking the biscuit for best in show. Movies are getting longer and longer, though sure many of them do include at least one explosion per ten minutes to ensure everyone is suitably engaged. And full length books are still continuing to sell like hot cakes – though just in a more portable version. So, am I reworking my novel to add in salacious events on every page? No. I am trusting that there are readers out there like me who are happy with random digressions and diversions if it is ultimately still a pleasurable experience. So CNN can go set itself on fire while twerking, I say 😉