They do it to gain sympathy, or to just get out in front of real bullying that could actually come from other students. I'm not pointing it out for shock value. If they're doing this, it's because they know it's a valid social strategy in 2019. The bigger point is that it's an example of how impossible it must be for grown-ups to stay on top of these trends enough to actually help. ("I did the Fortnite dance and she's still crying!")
The reality is that we have very little data about the long-term effects of constantly connected social media on the human brain or the culture at large. It hasn't existed long enough. The kids graduating next year didn't even have iPhones when they started school, and Instagram wasn't universal until they were teenagers. In the time it takes to study the effects, the entire landscape will have changed. And yet ...
There's No Evidence That Attention Spans Have Gotten Shorter
I put this one at the end because statistically, most people don't finish long internet articles, so it's both ironic and pointless, like much of my existence.
There was a viral headline a couple of years ago that the average human attention span had shrunk to just eight seconds, which meant we had less of an attention span than the average goldfish. The source of the claim, ironically, turned out to be a random website that had seemingly pulled that number out of its asshole and which nobody bothered to fact-check. (Hint: There's no such thing as an "average attention span," considering it's different for every task and situation.)
As for whether attention spans have gotten shorter with time, that's kind of impossible to measure. If a kid in 1975 was happy to stare at a wall for an hour, is it because she had a longer attention span, or because she didn't have anything better to do? If you gave her a smartphone, would she be able to resist looking at it for any longer than you can today?
"But aren't we also in an ADHD epidemic now?" Not really. The number of kids diagnosed has gone up over the decades, but that's only because we've gotten better at identifying it. It should also be noted that attention spans vary across the population, just like height and everything else. An attention span that's so short as to be a disadvantage isn't a specific disease; it just means you're at the far end of the scale.
Also, people with wandering minds (if not attention issues) tend to be more creative and/or intelligent. Their brains are trying to get as much done as possible and seize opportunities to multitask -- our brains crave novelty. The problem is your brain can't actually multitask. It can only switch rapidly from one task to another, and the human brain is apparently not built for that. That rapid switching, among other things, stimulates stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) and contributes to that ever-present feeling that you're on a spiritual treadmill, frantically pursuing something that's forever just out of your grasp. The thing that will finally make you happy.
So there you go, just fix that and you'll be good. Here's Part 1 of the list if you missed it yesterday.
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