8-Second Filters

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, August 13, 2015

8-Second Filters

What has been conventional wisdom is true: attention spans have been shrinking dramatically in recent years. 

More dramatically than most have realized.

According to the research of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8.25 seconds in 2015.

That’s around a 25% drop in just over a decade.

To put that into perspective, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. No, I did not make that up. We’re .75 seconds less attentive than “Bubbles.”

Want to know how this fleshes itself out? I mean, after all, it’s hard to figure out what 8.25 seconds of attention means in day-in, day-out life.

So here are some more facts:

* Percent of teens who forget major details of close friends and relatives: 25%

* Percent of people who forget their own birthdays from time to time: 7%

* Average number of times per hour an office worker checks their email inbox: 30

So what does this mean for, say, a church? Let’s just think about one of our major tools for outreach - our website. Here are some internet browsing statistics that may cause you to rethink everything:

* Average length watched of a single internet video: 2.7 minutes

* Percent of page views that last less than 4 seconds: 17%

* Percent of page views that lasted more than 10 minutes: 4%

* Percent of words read on web pages with 111 words or less: 49%

* Percent of words read on an average (593 words) web page: 28%

Make you want to repackage things a bit? It should. But let’s get back to our shrinking attention spans. 

Some have suggested that what is really operating is highly evolved “eight-second filters.” Generation Z, for example, has grown up in a world where options and information are virtually limitless; time of course is not. So they have developed, almost out of necessity, the ability to quickly sort through enormous amounts of data. Or they rely on sources that do that for them, such as trending information within apps. 

The good news is that once something does gain their attention and is deemed worthy of time, they can become intensely committed and focused. The very internet that forced them to evolve “eight-second filters” is the same internet that allows them to go deep on any topic they desire and to learn from a community of fellow interested parties. 

So the good news?

You can still engage people on a very deep level with truth.

The bad news?

You’ve got eight seconds to get past their filters.

James Emery White


On attention span lengths, see National Center for Biotechnology Information, as well as the U.S. National Library of Medicine, as reported by Statistic Brain Research Institute.

For internet browsing statistics, see Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder, and Matthias Mayer: “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” in the ACM Transactions on the Web, vol. 2, no. 1 (February 2008), article #5.

On “eight-second filters,” see Jeremy Finch, “What Is Generation Z, And What Does It Want?” Fast Company, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

8-Second Filters