Published On: Tue, Jun 7th, 2016

Span of attention

Jacob Gelt DekkerThe outcome of the US-presidential elections in November will be determined by "span of attention" of the electorate.

Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders put it so eloquently when he stated in a TV debate, " The American people are sick and tired of hearing about Secretary Clinton's emails." He was right, the span of attention of State Department, versus using a private email server, expired a long time ago. Donald Trump's rehashing of Bill Clinton's-Monica Lewinski sex scandals is a tired, old and expired story.

A lot of young people in Calfornia may be voting for Bernie Sanders this week, but by the time of the national elections in November, they will be back in school and have no time and interest in political trivia; their span of attention will have expired.

The brevity of Twitter-Facebook posts set the new standard for modern communication in the world; the span of attention is as long as a posting on FB. As flippant as a puff of cigarette tobacco once was, as short is today's glance at a mobile phone screen.

People are easily distracted by the excess of information which bombards them every second of the day. Scientists quote as "the span of attention" anywhere from eight seconds to five minutes. Supposedly, healthy teenagers and adults in a lecture room setting are unable to focus attention on one thing for more than twenty minutes. Others claim that we live in a new information era characterized mostly by attention deficits. A new disease for teenagers was introduced as, "Attention Deficit Disorder," which, as an illness, is often medicated.

" Johnson murderer," and "It is the economy, stupid" or "Read my lips, no new taxes" were some of the most successful political slogans of the 60-'s and 70-s, often expressed in refrains at demonstrations and mass rallies, but they no longer do the job.

The span of attention does not allow political statements to be carried over into lengthy public debates. Note that a popularity contest is not a likeability contest, as Jeb Bush pointed out last month at a celebrity lunch in the Netherlands. Ben Carson was likable, but he didn’t even come close to winning third in any popularity contest among the Republican candidates, after December. Likeability alone is a recipe for defeat.

Jeb Bush had no idea that becoming President required winning several dozen popularity contests. He didn’t think he needed to be popular. So he failed.

Suggesting that the outcome of the US-President's election could be medicated, may be a station too far. Nevertheless, the strategy of campaigning nowadays has changed dramatically. Throwing mud, and waiting for what will stick, demonizing one's opponent, contempt, and bullying in a popularity contest style has become the new norm. One word that sticks could turn the tie.

Only one slogan seems to stick, in spite of all new trends, " You are fired!"

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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