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Meghan Waitzer Headshot

Are We the Meat and Potatoes Generation?

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The meat and potatoes are the good part, and my generation doesn't want to eat the vegetables associated with it. No, we head straight for the good stuff. Nowadays with the Internet, it has become incredibly easy to skip the vegetables all together. Back in 2002, the BBC said that "the addictive nature of web browsing can leave [us] with an attention span of nine seconds -- the same as a goldfish." Our attention spans aren't that short yet, but our constant use of the Internet is not helping our case. Twitter epitomizes this by having users shorten their thoughts and ideas into 140 characters, forcing them to get right to the point. Teenagers are becoming more and more succinct, but is this a good thing? Have we lost the ability for deep thoughts, as we feel we need to cram every point we make into 140 characters?

For the more intellectual of the meat and potatoes, there's a handy little website called TED.com. Its whole purpose is to have short educational videos, as nothing on the site is longer than 20 minutes. There isn't time for a lengthy introduction, so the speakers are forced to get right to the heart of the talk and the main ideas. Clearly, this concept resonates well with us, since by June 2011, TED talks had 50 million views. Another intellectual meat and potatoes website is Yahoo! News. It's the best type of meat and potatoes -- there are pictures and headlines. One barely has to click on the headline to understand the 'news' that is being reported. At the most, one has to click and read the first three sentences to understand all of the important information. On other websites, one can just click CTRL and F to find exactly what one is looking for -- no extra reading required.

What about the entertainment meat and potatoes? Movies, television and music all have been edited down so that they are only left with the protein; just the heart and soul. When you listen to any top-40 radio station, you almost always know exactly what you are going to hear. You'll inevitably hear an auto-tuned, catchy pop song, sung by an attractive young person. The songs all follow the same format and they will all be stuck in your head for days. On the other hand, we also have television, a mainstream form of media. In an average 22-minute episode of a well-liked sitcom, there are 90 points of humor. This includes 56 chuckles and 34 extended laughs, with 45 humor points occurring in each 15 minute block. This proves what we already knew: In order to appeal to viewers, sitcoms must follow a detailed format. This leaves very little room for character development, resulting in most of the characters being stereotypes or one-dimensional. Take the characters on Two and a Half Men, for example. We know that Jake is not the brightest bulb in the box, we know that Charlie was a drunken, womanizing mess, and we know that Alan is ridiculously cheap, but that's essentially it. After nine seasons, we still don't know any of their nuances or any detailed information about their background because we wanted to get to the good stuff, the laughs. We got right to the meat and potatoes, and skipped the vegetables -- the character development.

Our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter. I know that I personally find it difficult to sit through a two-hour movie that has a lot of character development. I find myself always wondering when they'll get to the point. We now live in an age of multitasking and 140-character bits of information, and we are adapting without knowing it. An average attention span today is only five minutes, compared to the average of 12 minutes before the Internet. My dog has a longer attention span than we do! We have to be aware of this before it is too late. This generation likes to get right to the meat and potatoes, but we have to remember that the vegetables are good for us, too.