How does it feel inside your head? Turn your attention inwards. Maybe you’re daydreaming, allowing your mind to wander. Or maybe it feels sharp and alert. Maybe your thoughts are forging freely ahead, a sign that you have achieved the fabled state of “flow”. More likely, however, your brain feels like a browser with too many tabs open. From the widespread reports of a post-pandemic “brain fog” and the books on “deep work” and “stolen focus” topping bestseller lists, to the soaring diagnoses of ADHD in adults and children, it seems we are increasingly concerned by our ability to pay attention.
Early last year, the Centre for Attention Studies at King’s College London found that 49% of 2,000 adults surveyed felt their attention span was shorter than it used to be. Almost as many (47%) agreed that “‘deep thinking’ has become a thing of the past”. These are generalisations and impossible to quantify – we have no consistent measure of attention or deep thinking, let alone of contrasting those through history with today’s. But the response proves that we at least perceive there’s a problem.