THE BLOG

Why You Probably Won't Finish Reading This Article

03/11/2015 05:59 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2015
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American attention spans are next to none. As in we don't have any.

This isn't an accusation against Americans or their intelligence, especially considering that I fall within that category. No, this is just a valid observation I've had from studying abroad in London.

In addition to the minimal homework assignments and stronger emphasis on weekly readings, a recognizable feature of British classrooms is that British students have more focus than American ones. In my classes at City University in London, I am one of the few students who always has a laptop out, surfing the net during lecture. The other students who keep their eyes glued to their laptop screens also tend to be American. Compare this to my lecture halls at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles -- where every student has their Mac out with various windows open for notes, emails and online shopping -- you would think it was a different world.

I can't wrap my head around how my British counterparts are diligently writing down notes and listening completely to what the lecturer has to say. I haven't been able to do that since before -- well, I can't actually remember.

Before you read any further, I should confess that it took me way longer to write this than it needed too. I kept getting distracted by all the other things available to me on my computer and iPhone. I've clicked through the countless tabs on my Firefox browser, liked some photos on Facebook, I'm eyeing the latest Netflix episode of "The Good Wife" that's open in another browser, and I'm contemplating re-arranging the playlists on my iTunes.

This problem isn't just mine. According to a 2014 study on attention spans, researchers concluded that Americans can't stay focused on one thing for too long. And it's only getting worse. In 2000, before personal electronics really started to boom, the average person could focus on one task without being distracted for about 12 seconds. Fifteen years later, that number has dropped to 8 seconds. The study also concluded that we switch browsers rather quickly, we are obsessed with logging into our email and, best but not least, goldfish have a longer attention span than us.

It might be because U.S. college students are increasingly overworked, and many of our obsessive Internet habits are tied to our converging work and school lives. Furthermore, in my experience, British classes are shorter than American ones. This term my five classes add up to 10 hours spent at school each week. Last semester in the U.S., five classes accounted for 18 hours in the classroom. This means that ideally less time spent in class equals less time being tempted by all the distractions. But this still fact from across the pond doesn't help American students take more notes in class.

Our lack of focus, particularly among us digital natives, is making some U.S. colleges invest in lengthening our attention spans. California State University recently embraced an app that encourages students to keep their phones out of sight by incentivizing them with food. We know college students love free food, but it's still to be determined if they love it more than scrolling through their Instagram feed during the GE lecture.

So if you're still reading this, it's not too late. This article is my SOS. Please send help. But not just for me, but also send help for the thousands of other U.S. students dealing with impaired attention spans. It's been proven that students of other cultures are able to get through midterms, exams and the routine 50-minute lecture without all these distractions impeding their progress. Maybe we start by choosing to hone in on one task at a time, instead of switching around and not completing anything at all. Maybe we need to fully log-out of our Twitter and Netflix accounts while we write our papers.

Whatever the solution, something needs to happen. Because while you're reading your friend's latest punny Facebook status, some student next to you in your study abroad class is actually learning what's going to be on the final. In spite of everything else, that should be a worthwhile incentive in and of itself.