There was a recent tweet by filmmaker and professor Brandon David Wilson that was shared by director Guillermo Del Toro that sparked an interesting crystallization.


“BARRY LYNDON got a muted response in my Kubrick class. In terms of enthusiasm, the air is going out of the ballon where my students are concerned. They have almost no patience for anything “slow”. LYNDON and 2001 were real chores for them. This disturbs me.”

It’s a well documented and valid facet of discussion to dismiss millennials for their jumpy attention spans. Having sat through a half dozen Millennials in the Workplace videos in my career prep college classes, it’s clear that older generations and younger generations aren’t on the same page.

The Politicization of The Millennial Generation 

Naturally, the Progressive reaction is a half-hearted defense of millennial eccentricities. How dare older generations judge young people for wanting more for less work? It’s not like older people had to work their way through college and live through significantly more tumultuous life events like the Vietnam War and a dozen economic crashes to understand what a Millennial struggle with when they realize their Associates Degree in Art Theory won’t land a six-figure paying full-time job with benefits.

That being said, Generation X didn’t set up Millennials all that well. GenX skewed the traditionalism and order that the Reagan generation earned for Americans in favor of the lukewarm neo-liberalism of Whole Foods and Twitter. GenX mistook saying you did a good thing as equivalent to doing good things from a moral perspective (morality being non-objective anyway so who is really keeping track?). As result, divorce rates spiked, half the millennials now have PTSD, anxiety, and candidates like Bernie Sanders are gaining power because my generation doesn’t care about freedom if you don’t get overpaid by it.

Progressivism loves Millenial eccentricities because the millennials will bend over backward for them on the bread and butter social issues that have come to define the left. They’re also the first generation to prominently and seriously question base assumptions like capitalism and traditionalism since the hippies tried and failed. While this embrace can be good as millennials are one of the least judgmental and prejudicial generations in history, they’ve also proven to be overly reflexive and willing to jump onto radical ideologies their parents never would have dreamed of. Hyperbole and disdain aside, Millennials live in a world all their own. It’s quite a lovely fever dream.

The disconnect between the Millennials and the past is a very real phenomenon that most people have experienced anecdotally. As the tweet above shows something about the Millennial attention span has even progressive filmmakers concerned as they struggle to translate vital classics of cinema that young filmmakers need to study to understand the medium. Any student wanting to understand film needs to watch Stanley Kubrick films to see his ambition and mastery over the craft.

The Science of SpongeBob 

What is the cause of disconnect? If you were to take a 2011 study serious you’d believe the answer was SpongeBob Squarepants. In a 2011 University of Virginia study, 60 infants were sat down to perform one of three activities: 9 minutes of drawing, watching a slower-paced PBS cartoon Caillou or watching an episode of SpongeBob. When the infants had their impulse control and cognitive capacity tested afterward, the students watching SpongeBob all tested worse.

Having experienced my generation’s very real nostalgia for SpongeBob Squarepants, it isn’t surprising that the lot of this young generation is having attention span issues. Most of them can spout quotes verbatim with disturbing accuracy. Try walking up to one of them and saying “people talk loud when they want to act smart“. The Pavlovian response should provide a loud response of “CORRECT!”

Though anecdotally unsurprising, the study was criticized for its conclusions by other researchers. While the study showed that fast-paced entertainment did temporarily impair cognitive abilities and attention following the experiment it failed to show evidence of long-term psychological damage.

The problem with this criticism is that it ignores a basic truth about millennial life. Millennials as a whole have become trapped in a state of arrested development. Most young people still watch cartoons regularly. Most young people still have avid and enthusiast support for animated programming like Rick and Morty, Steven Universe, Avatar: The Last Airbender and SpongeBob itself which is still releasing new episodes.

Beyond that the number of millennial adolescents that aren’t cell phone/computer addicts is sparse. The whole of millennial life is a cocoon of gratification and comforts.

Improving The Attention Span 

The brain is the most powerful muscle in the human body. It’s very sensitive to chemical changes and reactive to physical phenomena. While it’s possible to reshape its habits with repetition, it’s very easy to get caught in dangerous addictive ruts.

As parents, the best thing you can do is disconnect your children as much as possible from technology. Technology is here to help us but it’s addictive. I see young children being given iPads and Nintendo Switches at a disturbingly young age. The millennial generation became addicted to Nickelodeon, AOL Online and Xbox as children and those certainly aren’t as all-encompassing as the ones we have now. There is nothing wrong with technology in moderation.

Television, iPhones, and internet unquestionably make life much better. Like anything else though they need to be taken in moderation. This is especially true during the formative years of a child’s development. The effects of short attention span can heal but only if you can add moderation into your children’s lives.

If you’re already a dysfunctional Millenial with a fried brain like me, the best thing you can do is detox. The less reliant you are on technology and the more you challenge yourself to read/study slow/difficult works of art the more they will open up to you. You’ll be uncomfortable at first but you’ll begin to enjoy it. I can tell you that getting to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in theaters this year was one of the most engrossing and powerful cinematic experiences of my life and I wouldn’t have appreciated it if I hadn’t worked at making myself more patient.