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BBC 6 minute English-Goldfish, brains and phones

BBC 6 minute English-Goldfish, brains and phones

BBC 6 minute English-Goldfish, brains and phones


Transcript of the podcast

Note: This is not a word for word transcript

Neil: Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English – the programme where we bring you an interesting topic and six items of vocabulary. I’m Neil

Catherine: And I’m Catherine. Now, this programme is six minutes long

Neil: Yes. It’s 6 Minute English

Catherine: And we have a challenge for everyone – can you stay focused for the full six minutes

Neil: Sounds easy? Maybe not, because today we’re talking about our attention spans: are they shrinking

Catherine: That’s right, so we’re asking today: is the length of time we can focus on something – that’s our attention span – actually getting shorter? Now, one study says that – in fact, it claims the human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish

Neil: Can that be true? Smartphones, the internet, social media – these all certainly do take up a lot of our attention. But how much? How long do we look at our mobile phones for in a day, on average? Is it

a) around 30 minutes

b) around two and a half hours, or

c) over three hours

Catherine: I tend to be quite busy, but I know some people are really addicted to their mobile phones so I’m going to say around two and a half hours – that’s answer b

Neil: OK, so, a report released by Microsoft said the average human attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. Since then it’s fallen to just eight seconds

Catherine: Right, and that’s a massive change in a very short time. Now, the year 2000 was just before the boom in digital media and smartphones, so many think they’re to blame for all these distractions – now, distractions are things which take away our focus or attention

Neil: Yes. And we mentioned goldfish earlier – goldfish reportedly have an attention span of nine seconds. That’s one more than phone-obsessed humans with a mere eight seconds

Catherine: And there’s a phrase in English – we say ‘to have the attention span of a goldfish’. Or ‘the memory of a goldfish’. So these poor… poor gold goldfish, Neil

Neil: Yes, they get a bad press, don’t they? That’s a phrase which means ‘criticism’ – especially criticism in the media and especially in newspapers – or the ‘press’, as we call it

Catherine: So – is it really true than humans are now even more easily distracted than fish

Neil: Well, BBC radio programme More or Less recently investigated this claim

Catherine: That’s right. And they found out a couple of things. Firstly – they couldn’t find evidence of the research that Microsoft quoted in their report. In other words, the programme couldn’t find scientific evidence that our attention spans are in fact shrinking

Neil: And secondly – the psychologist they spoke to said there are problems with the idea of measuring attention spans in the first place. It’s a term that’s widely used, but it’s not very scientific

Catherine: Sounds fishy

Neil: Yes. Fishy means ‘suspicious’, by the way. Sorry, goldfish. Again

Catherine: So, are we humans in fact more easily distracted than before? More or Less asked Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychologist at the Open University, if human beings are less able to focus these days

INSERT Dr Gemma Briggs, Psychology lecturer, Open University

It’s all down to the individual; it’s all down to how you choose to apply your attention. So attention-switching ability may well have developed in recent years, in the age of the smartphone and the internet. But because someone’s distracted by their smartphone or wanting to quickly Google something, it doesn’t mean that they then don’t have the ability to control and sustain their attention when they carry out another task

Neil: So she says we’re not necessarily more easily distracted. Instead, we may actually be better at switching our attention quickly between different tasks

Catherine: That’s right. She’s really saying we can multitask better than before. And that means we can focus on many different tasks, each for a shorter period of time

Neil: She said: “It’s all down to how you choose to apply your attention.” Let’s just highlight that phrase down to. Here, it means ‘depends on’. It all depends on how you choose to apply your attention

Catherine: So – maybe our attention spans aren’t getting shorter, we just choose to look at our phones a lot more

Neil: Which reminds me today’s question. I asked you how long on average we spend looking at our phones, and you said

Catherine: Well, my attention span is not that short that I can’t remember that I said two and a half hours

Neil: And the answer – if you believe the research – is 2.42 hours per day so, pretty good guess there, Catherine

Catherine: Thank you

Neil: That comes from Chicago-based research firm Dscout. And what about this: the group they surveyed touched their mobiles over 2,600 times a day. Do you touch your phone 2,600 times a day, Catherine

Catherine: I try not to, what about you

Neil: It’s probably more than that to be honest. Now, I’m sure everyone wants to get back to touching their phones – or maybe they’re even touching them now as they listen – but either way, let’s have a review of today’s phrases

Catherine: OK, so first we had attention span – that’s the length of time we can focus on something. And mine is definitely shorter than it used to be… Neil? Neil

Neil: Sorry – I just got distracted there by a message on my phone. Apologies

Catherine: That’s alright. So, next up we had a bad press. Goldfish get a bad press. Social media gets a bad press. And this means they all get criticism in the media

Neil: And we had fishy. If something’s fishy, it’s suspicious

Catherine: And we had multitask. To multitask is to do several things at once

Neil: Then we had down to. Here it means ‘depends on’, though it can mean other things in other contexts. You could say, it’s all down to the context

Catherine: And that’s our quick review, and our programme for today. So, did you stay focused all the way through? Or were you distracted

Neil: If you’re looking for distractions – may I recommend our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube pages

Both: Goodbye

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