The great attention debacle.

Can’t focus on one thing at a time? Do you end up doing something else without even doing what you wanted to in the first place? Don’t you worry, because you are definitely not alone. Even writing this blog post without losing my attention is proving to be quite the challenge. I sat down at my computer with the aim of solely doing this blog post, but after not even 10 minutes I was on to job hunting expedition, researching where in Sydney you can see Kangaroos and of course keeping up to date on my Facebook stalking. I think it is fair to say that my attention drifted, and I am not sure why. My homemade theory is that we tend to focus more on our preoccupations rather than the task at hand, especially if the task is something that carries a little bit of pressure.


There are endless distractions in the physical world around us with smartphones, social media and people when sometimes all we need is ourselves to cause the distraction. Today, a lack of attention seems to be the norm, but it has not just started recently. It has been around since the very beginning.

As this weeks task involves testing the attention of someone else, I went to my trusty family who always seems to be looking at the squirrels running past the window instead of focusing on the task at hand. The dinner table at dinner time is the one time of the day where all technology or any other distractions are taken away so that as a family we can have a somewhat decent conversation. For the most part, there is conversation and all 5 of us are usually engaged somewhat. I thought the best way to test my families attention span at the dinner table was by reintroducing the assumed source of distraction- the smartphones! *cue dramatic music*


So I set out the experiment in a way that meant that everyone had to put their phones on the table next to their dinner but try to solely focus on the dinner table conversation. To make it more fair, I let everyone choose a topic of their choice so that there would be something interesting for everyone to talk about. At the end of all 5 topics, I was then going to ask each family member to openly ask what everyone had taken in from the multiple conversations.

The experiment lasted around 40 minutes and I think it is fair to say that everyone was watching the squirrels running outside at some point, including myself who seemed to be easily distracted by Facebook notifications and the constant Whatsapp notifications from a Spanish friend throughout the whole 40 minutes. Myself and my 2 brothers seemed to be the most distracted even though not one of us picked up our phones throughout the whole 40 minutes. Our comprehension of all the conversations that we had were quite limited, which surprised me at first. We were only able to recount the parts that were either funny or had some sort of personal interest. After asking my 2 brothers why they think they did not retain as much information, I found out it was because the mere presence of the phone on the table was enough of a distraction in itself. They said that even though they did not receive anything, when the phone is around, they are always expecting something from it in terms of a notification from Facebook or simply a text message.

“According to a new study reported by Associated Press last month, the age of smartphones has left humans with such a short attention span that even a goldfish can hold a thought longer. Some very focused researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others. The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.” (Makin, 2015)


Makin presents some startling research data showing that apparently the age of smartphones has reduced our actual attention span. But to be honest, I am not that surprised. Just by reflecting on my own behaviour, the smartphone is a big source of distraction for myself personally. From observing the behaviour of my family members to my own behaviour, the more interesting question I would like to ask myself is, how is this affecting our brains?

“Over the past few years researchers have done a lot of work on attention span, and how the brain is being re-sculpted by all those hours a day spent online. One of the conclusions that some of them are coming to is that the online life nurtures fluid intelligence and offline life is better at nurturing crystallizing intelligence.” (Brooks, 2015)

Basically, Brooks says that our online attention nurtures mental agility and our ability to skim ahead and “get the gist”. I agree with this as it is more apparent than ever that our online lives are overflowing with information, therefore we are training our brains to pick out the good bits or only the bits that we want to see. I would like to see where this takes us in the future because maybe it could even lead to a further reduction in our attention spans? Our brains may be shifting in a way that will mean that our memories with be getting shorter, but our brains will be able to process information quicker. It is hard to tell, but it sure is fascinating.



A new Superfood coming to a store near you: Orthorexia

Living in Australia in this day and age, food seems to be as hot as the sun. People just cannot get enough of it because hey, it makes our Instagram feeds look better. New health foods and diets are becoming an increasingly popular discussion topics in the media realm because all these “new and exciting” foods that seem to be appearing. Well actually, they have been around for ever in other parts of the world, usually in poorer and more tropical parts. Parts where these foods have no problem growing, and are in fact a huge staple in these places. Govinnage (2014) explains how the superfood Coconut oil has been used for centuries in Asia and the Pacific Islands. But now since these Superfoods such as Quinoa, Chia, Goji, Kale etc have hit the media attention, not only has the consumption of these foods become somewhat of a religion but a lot of these poorer countries cannot keep up with the demand and has caused problems. Just take a look at Pete Evans and Daniel Churchill (who was an ex Masterchef contestant). These personalities entered the media realm through a different medium other than food, but then seemed to use this as a stepping stone into a sector that they may be passionate about, but not so qualified. Everyone has their own vision of ‘perfect health’, and most of us work towards it even if it isn’t an easy path however, these personalities also have their own views on ‘perfect health’ but due to money, fame and a different set of ideologies, they see it as an opportunity to make money while at the same time, boosting their own profile.

With this sudden wave of Super-healthy-eating information through most of our media outlets, there are even new eating disorders arising. Orthorexia is the newest eating disorder that involves restricting foods that are insufficiently clean, healthy or wholesome instead of the traditional eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa which is simply the restriction of food intake altogether. This means that Orthorexia is a much more hidden disorder because the trend to “eat clean” gives the impression that you are being as healthy as possible. It really involves being obsessive and compulsive with the foods that the person chooses to eat. Often a diet or fad that is highly unsustainable. Barclay explains how a woman developed this disorder by doing body “cleanses”:- “She began doing juice cleanses, cutting out solid food entirely. At first, it was three-day cleanses, then 10-day, then 30-day. The restricted diet began to take its toll. Jordan began experiencing skin problems, then her hair began falling out and she stopped getting her period. Starved for nutrients, her body was shutting down.”

The media is overflowing with information on “the latest superfood” or “the food that will stop cancer” or “the diet that will make you look 10 years younger”. There is just simply too much information with too many opinions on “what works” because there is little scientific evidence. In fact, social media platforms such as Instagram are only going to make the prevalence of diseases such as Orthorexia worse, because with all these “foodie trends” such as #cleaneating creating a religion of eating an incredibly restrictive diet. I can only see this cult-like healthy eating behaviour to lead to many more disorders being diagnosed in the future.


Govinnage, S 2014 “Coconut oil, teff and quinoa: increased ‘superfoods’ demand hits the south in the guts”, The Guardian, September 24

Barclay, S 2015 “Orthorexia: The New Eating Disorder You’ve Never Heard Of”, Healthline, February 24

Taylor, L 2015 “Health experts slam Pete Evans’ ‘irresponsible’ paleo cookbook for kids”, SBS, March 12

If you’re in the public space using media, you’ve already signed the contract.

For this week’s task, I have taken a video of various students going about their daily business in a grassy area in the university. It is just a simple panning video with some students on their phones; some other students chatting to others and some others are eating. I recorded this short video just to give a sense of relaxed student behaviour on campus. I did not ask anyone in this video if they would let me film because I think it would be impractical to ask every single person in the video for permission . “In actuality, it would be impractical to ask every person in the frame whether they’re OK with a picture. That said, if someone clearly does not want to be photographed or if they are for their photo to be deleted after the fact, then I do think those wishes have to be respected.” (Colberg 2013)

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I think that I am not being unethical because I am not focussing on anyone in particular, plus if someone asked me to not video them then I would respect their wishes. I also did not ask because I did not want to disrupt the essence of the whole video. I wanted to capture student behaviour in its most natural form, so if I asked before taking the video then perhaps it would have disrupted the environment a little. Perhaps I could have asked after, but if someone said no to the video then it would make things complicated. Plus, I do believe that you can learn a bit about yourself from other people observing you “That said, and second, it’s the photographic community’s task to educate the public about what they’re doing. In other words, instead of posturing about what they can do, street photographers better tell the public how what they’re doing is not only mindful of the public’s concerns, but also constitutes an important and valuable artistic practice that enriches not just the practitioners’ but everybody else’s lives.” (Colberg, 2013)


I do believe that you should ask for permission if you are intending to use the video or image in a way that could be viewed as negative even if they are not your intentions. I chose these students in particular because they weren’t doing anything negative so that I couldn’t have possibly portrayed them that way.

I also made sure that there weren’t any minors in my clip because I didn’t ask for permission. If I did however record a minor, I would ask because it is highly frowned upon filming or taking photos of children that are not yours without giving reason, even if it is legal. Colberg (2013) explains how photographers have been getting into hot water from taking photos of their own nude children. One aspect of my behaviour that I am battling to find ethical is that if being in the clip goes against their religious, spiritual or personal beliefs. Or maybe they do not want to be “exposed”. It is the fact that someone else has the power to do it and not them. I will never know because I did not ask for permission, but I think that I tried to make it as ethical as possible by not portraying any one of them in a negative light and also made it quite a “general” and “natural” clip. I do think that if you are going to use media devices in a public space, you are subjecting yourself and basically resigning yourself to the fact that it is ok to be the subject of observation due to this behaviour. Public space ethnography is effective because then we can maybe get a clearer understanding as to why our behaviour might be influenced by changing media patterns. Being in the public is essentially making yourself more vulnerable so researching behaviours out in the public will lead to answers as to why media patterns are shifting these behaviours.


Jaws- Eyes covered and Ears blocked

For this weeks task, I went back to Patricia to ask her about her experiences with the cinema in her country of origin, Brazil.


When asked about a very memorable cinema-going experience she said: “Jaws is one of the only memories I have of watching a film because it was that damn scary! I closed my eyes as tight as I could and blocked my ears, so I had to ask my sister what was happening when there was a scary part.” She also said that she sat right up the back because she thought it would be embarrassing being seen looking terrified. I thought this was absolutely hilarious because being my mother, she still does exactly the same thing! We have a little tradition between myself and her to watch horror movies together at home and she still covers her eyes and ears like there’s no tomorrow and then asks me to recount what happened constantly throughout the scary parts. I also like to sit up the back of the cinema, but not because of saving my pride, but more so the fact that I feel more of the atmosphere. For me, going to the cinema is more of a 360 experience rather than just watching the screen itself. She added that she thinks her experience with ‘Jaws’ is so vivid because it was the first time she saw such great special effects. I couldn’t help but chuckle at that comment because, well, they were pretty bad.


One particular question that I was dying to ask was her thoughts on the movies being dubbed back then. She said that Dubbing to her was normal. She in fact said that she didn’t even realise that the movies were even dubbed into Portuguese. She said that she knew that the actors were not Brazilian, but to her it was not obvious that the Portuguese was in fact dubbed. I thought that was incredible because to us, it is so obvious when movies are dubbed into your own language. Generally because they are dubbed so poorly. Patricia did follow up by saying “Now I think dubbed moves are disgustingly horrible. I just can’t watch them anymore”. I guess I never considered the fact that in the days of no internet and very little international connection, dubbed movies were actually considered done very well.


Another memory that Patricia commented on was the fact that going to the cinema was quite expensive and that the closest cinema was at Copacabana which was about 40 minutes away from her suburb, which made going to the cinema quite a special occasion. This memory links well with Hagerstrand’s capability constraint. I find this memory hard to identify with because being from Sydney, I seem to be surrounded by Cinemas. I mean for me, it’s between Cronulla and Miranda which are a comfortable 20 minutes away from me, and it usually comes down to ticket prices and which seats I find more comfortable.

One aspect of her Brazilian cinema-going experience that I found incredible was the fact that the films were on continuous rotation. So if you were disorganised and got to the movie say 15 minutes late, you watch it from that point and then once it finishes, you watch the beginning when the movie starts again so you can fully understand the movie. This memory links with Hagerstrand’s coupling constraint, because for Patricia sometimes they had no idea when the movie started so they just had to turn up. Obviously in this day and age, this is not a problem because we have access to the movie timetables on our phones, computers and basically anywhere with an internet connection, hence why we are expected to be at the movie at the starting time listed.

For Patricia, the whole culture around going to the cinema was not a formal occasion, but it wasn’t casual either. She said that they dressed nicely and that she usually went on a Sunday. At least once a month but sometimes twice, so there was a sense of regularity. Whereas, for me, my cinema-going behaviours is quite casual and I can go for months and month without going to the cinema because there are many other ways to get the movie for free. Some aspects of the cinema have not changed however with Patricia commenting that popcorn was the food of choice and that she never went with her parents as a young teenage girl. I can obviously relate to this because popcorn for me is vital in the cinema experience. If you don’t have popcorn, then it is like something is missing. Now we have a lot more food choice with Choc-tops and ‘Lolly bars’, whereas Patricia said they simply just had popcorn.

A link with Hagerstrand’s authority constraint is Patricia’s answer to who could enter certain films shown. She said that they were very strict on who could watch certain films depending on the classification. She said that she had to show her student card all the time and that it was very hard to enter if you didn’t have an identification. This is something that I found quite interesting, because you would have thought that this wouldn’t have changed OR have got a little more strict. But from my experiences, it has been the complete opposite. Now, the staff hardly ever check for any proof of age, and sometimes there hasn’t even been anyone at the doors! This does change the experience a little bit for me because I do envy the feeling of a certain movie being an exclusive and special experience. It does take away that sense of exclusivity now that most age groups can enter any movie that they like. Personally, the cinema-going experience of today has definitely changed since the days of Patricia for reasons that I have explained above. There are still some similarities but, all in all, it has attained a much more casual label. With new elements such as Gold Class, perhaps the cinema culture is attempting to reinvigorate itself and bring back the classiness and exclusivity that it once had.