Saturday 30 May 2020

Attention span: zero

 A lot has already been said about the police video aimed at tourists (with an emphasis on foreign language students), which has now been taken down on the instructions of the Ministry of Home Affairs. (It has since been re-uploaded on YouTube by John Bundy and I am sharing it below).

The arguments for and against the video have been many, but the most salient criticism, I think, is that it was simply too long-winded. If the police had taken the advice of a PR & Marketing agency before unleashing it onto the public, the first thing they would have been told would be that it was simply too long.

Research has shown that all the technology we have at our fingertips, the abundance of media outlets at every turn and the sheer information overload has made us impatient and unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes.  A news item goes viral and is the talk of the town for a couple of days and then it vanishes into thin air, as if it never was, because it is eclipsed by something else which is more sensational, more “newsworthy”, more juicy, which grabs our attention. The bombardment is incessant.

Remember Martin the homeless guy? How the rumor was spread that he was of Maltese origin? Oh yeah, him, we mutter vaguely (I bet most people have already forgotten).  I often think about Martin when I see one of his pictures taken by photographer Donal Moloney come up on my newsfeed. It reminds me how transient news is, and how equally fleeting our ability to feel compassion has become (especially if, as it turns out, he was not Maltese after all. Only misguided patriotic “ownership” of him, apparently, made him worthy of our attention). We say ‘jahasra’ , perhaps click like or share, but then keep scrolling.  Always another piece of information, always another story.

Remember the Erin Tanti case, the death of Lisa-Marie Zahra and all the panic which arose over inappropriate relationships and self-harming, which gripped the nation? It all seems so long ago, doesn’t it, but it wasn’t really; it has just been buried by an avalanche of relentless news which keeps coming at us every second.

Recently there were flurries of angst and omg! shock! on hearing about a man who was killed by a car bomb, the father who was wrongly imprisoned after false allegations, the teacher who made a child kneel in the courtyard and so many other human interest stories which are here today, gone tomorrow, as our brain tries to absorb everything that is thrown at it from all directions.

Focussing is especially hard at this very moment when everyone seems to be oblivious to everything except what is happening over in Brazil as countries battle it out over a football.

We wonder why children are so distracted and unable to sit still without fidgeting in classrooms (blithely throwing around labels so that we can ‘explain’ their behaviour) and yet we seem to not realize that we too have become fidgety and restless. People skim a headline but don’t read the full article, they zap from channel to channel unable to find anything they like on TV, we freak out if we have to wait in a queue or if we do not get what we want RIGHT NOW, and (in many cases) we are simultaneously conducting our lives while our fingers constantly play around with our smartphones to check what everyone else is doing on FB.

It is within this context that the police department, no matter how well-intentioned that video might have been, needs to realize that next time (if there is a next time) any public service announcements they wish to produce must be kept short and to the point…and preferably tailored through slick editing to the kind of young audience they wish to reach. An audience which has grown up with rapid images, sophisticated graphics and high-end PlayStation games.

It is a generation which is blasé and not easily impressed and which would have torn this video to shreds with mockery and memes.



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