Friday, May 24, 2024

Improving attention span


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The special article “Social Media; Fleeting Attention; Issues Discussed and Abandoned” (ST May 10 2024) by Patricia Mukhim made interesting reading. There is evidence to suggest that attention spans have been affected by internet use and social media. But it is essential to recognize that this topic is complex, and the internet can vary among individuals. Studies have indeed linked social media usage to reduced attention spans. People often check their phones frequently throughout the day with estimates ranging from 49 to 80 times daily. Mobile phones, in particular, contribute to distraction. Many individuals struggle to stop checking their phones even when they should be focusing on other tasks. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram, designed for short-form content, may further contribute to shorter attention spans among high school students.
While there is a widespread perception that attention spans are shrinking due to digital distractions, long-term studies are still lacking. We do not have conclusive evidence that definitively links social media to this phenomenon. Microsoft Corporation reported that the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since the year 2000, coinciding with the surge in mobile technology. Contrary to stereotypes, all age groups struggle with phone-related distractions. Middle-aged individuals also find it challenging to focus when faced with mobile notifications. The emergence of “goldfish generation” which refers to a group of people who grew up with smartphones and other digital technology has only complicated matters. The implication is that this exposure to technology results in a shorter attention span and poorer memory that our collective ability to concentrate has diminished due to digital distractions. While there is evidence suggesting a connection between social media and attention spans, it is essential to approach this topic with nuance. Factors like individual differences, technology use patterns, and other environmental influences play a role. As we navigate the digital age, understanding these dynamics can help us find a balance between connectivity and maintaining focus.
Strategies that can help attention span : Improving attention span involves a combination of lifestyle adjustments and cognitive practices. Some strategies to enhance focus and concentration like mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help improve attention. Regular practice enhances self-awareness and reduces mental clutter. Using mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm can help to an extent. Chunking information or tasks into smaller segments makes them more manageable. Focusing on one chunk at a time prevents overwhelm and improves attention. For example, if a person is studying it helps to break down the material into smaller sections and tackling them sequentially. Adequate sleep is crucial for cognitive function. Lack of sleep impairs attention, memory and decision-making.
We should be aiming for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night. Regular physical activity improves blood flow to the brain, enhances neuro-transmitter function, and boosts attention. Even a short walk or light exercise can make a difference. Balanced nutrition supports brain health. Including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like fish), antioxidants (such as berries) and whole grains also helps. It is important to stay hydrated throughout the day since dehydration affects cognitive performance.
Contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking reduces attention span. Our brains are not designed to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. Therefore, we should limit multi-tasking but instead focus on one task at a time to improve concentration. There is a need to create a distraction-free environment by turning off notifications, closing unnecessary tabs, and creating a quiet workspace by using tools like white noise apps or noise-cancelling headphones if needed. The practice of Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in short bursts (usually 25 minutes) followed by a 5-minute break and after four cycles, taking a longer break (15-30 minutes), helps maintain focus and prevents mental fatigue. The use of visual aids such as diagrams, charts, and mind maps to enhance understanding and retention and also creating visual representations of complex information to engage our brains is another aspect.
There is a need to challenge our brains by engaging in activities that require mental effort, such as puzzles, crosswords, or learning a new language. Novel experiences stimulate neural pathways and improve attention. Improving attention span is a gradual process. We can experiment with these strategies and find what works best for us.
Yours etc;
VK Lyngdoh,
Via email

Wanted a scientific temper

A boy asked an idol maker whether Durga riding on a lion and fighting with Mahisasur was true, in Satyajit Ray’s film “Joy Baba Felunath” (“The Elephant God”). The idol maker told the boy how he could even ask such a question since it was written by the sages. This made the boy conclude that every character, be it Mahisasur or Hanuman or Tarzan or Phantom, was real!
An unscientific temper tends to erase the line between real and fictional characters. It is a matter of grave concern that some politicians and academics are trying to erase that line when they say the Puspak Vimaan, mentioned in the Ramayana were modern aeroplanes, Rama’s arrows were present-day missiles, the Kauravas were test-tube babies, or Ravana had 24 types of present-day aircraft and guided missile technology.
This is like accepting Harry Potter’s broomstick, which is used for transportation, as a new scientific discovery! While the author of Harry Potter, JK Rowling thought outside the box and wrote about some fictional gadgets and machines that captivated the readers of her books, it would be ludicrous to say that now Britons use broomsticks for transport.
JK Rowling can get a Nobel Prize in literature for her Harry Potter books that captivate the imagination of children across the globe. But imagine how funny it would be to recommend her for a Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing broomstick vehicles!
According to American psychologist Stanley Milgram, obedience is one of the prerequisites for a social organisation. But it can also come to a sticky end making humans vulnerable to tyranny. Indeed, mass obedience is fertile ground for tyranny. So, our obedience must be combined with a spirit of inquiry for the survival of democracy. In fact a spirit of inquiry is an antidote to tyranny. The king in Satyajit Ray’s Hirak Rajar Deshe rightly said, “The more they learn, the less they obey.”
The Constitution of India says that it is a fundamental duty of every citizen of our country to develop a spirit of inquiry. According to Article 51A (h), “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”
It is reported that the Ayush ministry is sponsoring a workshop on “garbh sanskar”, hosted by the University of Patanjali on May 9. The college said in a note on the workshop, “This is evident from the mythological stories of Abhimanyu and Prahlad on how garbh sanskar had a positive effect on the foetus.”
Medical experts, including a section of ayurveda physicians, described it as an attempt to mix mythology with science. It may not be out of place to mention that Ramdev and Balakrishna had last month apologised in the Supreme Court for publishing misleading advertisements prompting specific products from Patanjali Ayurveda for certain health disorders.
In the Mahabharata, Abhimanyu learned how to break through the chakravyuha formation while he was in the womb. G. L. Krishna, an ayurveda physician and scholar at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, rightly said, “Myths shouldn’t be summoned as proof of ancient medical achievements or knowledge.”
He further clarified, “Understanding and interpretation of sounds requires cognitive processes that develop in infancy and childhood. To believe that a foetus can understand complex war details is a fantasy that neither ayurveda nor science endorses. It’s much like the Prime Minister’s suggestion some years ago that Ganesha’s elephant head implied that ancient India had plastic surgery.”
Yours etc.,
Sujit De,



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