In 1997, Michael H. Goldhaber predicted that the global economy was shifting from a material-based economy to one based on the capacity of human attention. This theory has proven to be more and more accurate in the last 20 years with the emergence of social media platforms and news networks all competing for the attention of billions of active users.
There are many implications to this shift, and one major topic of discussion has been that of the individual’s average attention span. The average human attention span is now just over eight seconds, decreasing by nearly 25% between 2000 and 2015. In fact, we’re now lagging the goldfish in terms of our ability to focus on tasks or objects, with a 9 second attention span. Given this trend isn’t reversing any time soon, it may be wise for businesses and professionals to remember the adage “first impressions last”.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States economy and other global economies were based primarily on material production. In the 21st century, the robber barons of railroad, banks and oil, including JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie, have been replaced by a new form of great wealth, in the form of familiar companies like Facebook, Google, Tiktok, and so on.
But what do they all have in common, once again? They manage and profit from information by competing for your attention. Their businesses are designed in such a way to ensure you remain within their sphere of influence for as long as possible. The greater the duration, the greater their advertising profits. The bombardment of information that these devices constantly feed their users with is designed to magnetize the user to that app or device. Ever pulled a teenager away from their cellphone? There’s a direct correlation with growth in these data-based businesses and decreasing rates of the average attention span.
With this eight-second attention span, it’s clear that immediate impressions count the most. Given that the most successful businesses in the global economy all rely on battling for the attention of their users knowing it’s on the decline, there could be an important lesson to learn for the average professional or business. If you accept that the average attention span is very short, it will pay to plan and design the very first impression carefully, in order to pay handsome dividends in the future.
The question is, what can you do to enhance your chances of increasing prospects, positive responses, and memorability when people come across you not only in-person, but online? Whether it’s your business or professional life, you should design your activities around this fact. Whether it’s the home page of your website, your email signature or the way you answer the phone, make a good impression in the first 8 seconds and you’re halfway there!