Living in a Fishbowl...While Everyone is on their Phone

Rehearsal 2008

Just young dancers engaged in their craft as always

Over Thanksgiving Break, I people watched amidst the 80+ dark haired, Lebanese people cooking faux-American food with slips of pita bread and feta cheese subtly placed into every dish. I was enjoying our rendition of “My Big Fat Lebanese Thanksgiving.” I watched my uncle prank the boyfriends by yelling at them in Arabic, pointing, and laughing while they uncomfortably shifted and fumbled through their social media to distance themselves. I looked over the sea of 5’2 Lebanese people and spotted my thirteen-year-old cousin slumped over the couch with the glow of a brand new iPhone lighting her face. I meandered over and tried conversing with her but the allure and intrigue of twitter superseded that of my own conversation.

Why would I bring up this anecdote? It’s because in each example, attention spans shifted because of technology. By extension it demonstrates how culture (and as a result audiences) have changed over the course of just a few years. While Thanksgiving didn’t involve a formal performance, it did reflect how natural tendencies and instincts have changed with the growth of technology.

In 2008 Microsoft found that the average attention span was 12 seconds. This year, the study showed it’s only 8 seconds. To put that in perspective, a goldfish’s attention span is 9 seconds. Yes, that thing mom said ran away but was really flushed down the toilet can actually stay on task longer than ill-focused humans.

The derailment of human attention spans has repercussions boldly exposed in dance. Weakened attention spans make audiences unable (or unwilling) to sit still long enough to appreciate art. In response, museums are adopting pixelated online viewing of works while dance has assumed social media and television shows with snippets of performance that are digestible for an easily distracted audience.

While art’s initiative to move with the times and expose the world to art is progressive in nature, the form has become diluted to appease the masses. Dances are resorting to flashy tricks to prevent audiences from turning to their phone mid-piece. On one hand, it’s done a terrific job exposing the art form by making it accessible. But to what degree must we step back and ask if we’re selling out to please an uninformed audience?

Like my sisters’ boyfriends who distanced themselves through social media and my young cousin entertaining herself with Twitter, it becomes apparent that high interference and instant gratification dominates our culture. These days, audiences have even shorter attention spans than goldfish. To keep my family entertained, you have to throw a trick in or they’ll claim the word choreographers fear the most….”boredom.” So when does keeping the audience happy become synonymous to selling out? I feel like a dog, or better yet a goldfish, trying to please an insistent four-year old that demands I do a flip. With the way our culture is moving, I fear the future of art is being dictated by reckless toddlers, unable to sit still long enough to appreciate the art around them.

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