Our collective attention span is shrinking—and you can blame social media

Twitter trending topics lose luster more quickly, book readership is down and … and … and… hey, did you see that new baby otter video?

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“Social acceleration” is real, it’s being led by social media networking, and it’s ruining our attention spans.

That’s according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Denmark, which defines social acceleration as “the increasing rates of change within collective attention.”

The study, just published in Nature Communications, finds our collective attention span is narrowing. This phenomenon is affecting everything from book readership to web searches to movie popularity.

For their findings, the researchers studied Twitter data from 2013 to 2016, book readership from Google Books going back 100 years, movie ticket sales going back 40 years, and citations of scientific publications from the last 25 years. In addition, they gathered years of data from Google Trends, Reddit and Wikipedia.

They found empirical evidence of ever-steeper gradients and shorter bursts of collective attention, given to discrete cultural “items,” and rapid exhaustion of limited-attention resources.

When looking into the global daily top 50 hashtags on Twitter, for example, the researchers found that peaks have become increasingly steep and frequent.

In 2013, a Twitter hashtag stayed in the top 50 for an average of 17.5 hours, which gradually decreased to 11.9 hours by 2016.

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