This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events is purely coincidental.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
ANALYSIS AND INVESTIGATION WING
20 DECEMBER 20XX
SERIAL NO.: 221234XX
The subject is a 21-year-old female with no history of mental illness.
Admitted to the facility on 12/10/2022.
The subject, popularly dubbed “The Woman Who Cannot Remember”, is a 21-year-old female who has, by self-admission, issues with retaining information. This is substantiated by several witnesses and a steady decline in the subject’s condition, which has led to her admission to the facility to assess and explain the phenomenon.
DAILY BEHAVIOURAL LOG
0700 – 0900 HRS
The subject’s alarm rang for 45 seconds—no sign of activity except for the occasional stirring motions. The alarm ceased, and the subject remains still.
Their arm extends to grab the mobile device on the adjacent dresser. They begin to check various social media channels. This pattern of activity is repetitive.
0900 – 1100 HRS
Sudden shift in pace of subject activity. Faster rate of actions, the subject appears to be more aware of the surroundings.
The mobile device remains in the room as the subject appears to perform several tasks. Successful completion of tasks is followed by a departure to complete the day’s activities.
Onboard the intra-institute shuttle, the subject is bent downwards towards the device for an average of 45 minutes.
Deboarding the shuttle, the subject puts the device away and proceeds towards the activity centre.
The activity centre breaks for lunch, and the subject is bent towards the device again. Repetitive finger movements indicate that the subject is scrolling. This continues for an average of 50-55 minutes each day.
The activities of the day are concluded. The same pattern of activity was observed in the 1100-1300 hours interval.
Subject seems to be in a relaxed state and begins to change the surroundings for the next day. The alarm is set, and the subject continues to use the mobile device for an average of 3 hours.
ANALYSIS OF SUBJECT BEHAVIOUR
The panel of experts in charge have made the following observations pertaining to the behaviour patterns of the subject.
With reference to the physical condition of the subject, they have prominent periorbital dark circles. Multiple medical assessments show that the subject has irregular sleep patterns and decreased duration of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. In addition, prolonged exertion negatively affects the subject’s posture. Muscle fatigue is observed as well.
Mental exams have shown decreased focus periods, a lack of concentration abilities and degrading stress management skills.
The subject has mechanical movement patterns and appears to be dazed for the most part, which can be attributed to the excessive use of the personal mobile device.
Her attention span is greatly reduced, and she struggles to retain any additional information.
The surroundings of the subject are theoretically conducive to improving their condition. The main element hindering this progress is the personal mobile device. Further correlation between the nature of the content consumed on social media and the subject’s case has not been examined in this report.
THE MTTN HERALD
VOL.12 ISSUE XX WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 27 20XX INR 12.00
Rising concerns among the population of the consequences of consuming too much content fuelled by new case at local institution
Bangalore, India The recent interest surrounding the case of “The Woman Who Cannot Remember” has sparked newfound interest in the effects of media, and in particular, short-form content, a widely successful format in recent years. To further examine this possibly precarious situation, some statistical data is in order.
The number of smartphone users in India is approximately 931 million.
This number is projected to rise to 1420 million by 2033.
The average Indian user spends 4 hours and 5 minutes on the phone, around 9% higher than the global average.
India has the highest number of Instagram reels users, averaging 230.25 million users this year alone.
In stark contrast, Netflix currently has 32.6 million paid users, a mere 14.1% of whom use Instagram.
The age of information has come to use social media as one of its main tools. The digital age brought us YouTube, where anyone could browse and eventually find videos relating to interesting or relevant content. These videos tended to be slightly longer, and despite the shift towards apps like Vine, long-form content retained its hold on the target audience. As time went on, Facebook and Instagram took hold – with Instagram overpowering Facebook when it came to the younger audience, namely Millenials and Gen Z. Then came the showstopper – TikTok. Although banned in India, TikTok and the Instagram reels section dominated several users’ consumption over the past three years. If the periods of social media were parts of a fashion show, TikTok is the designer with ten-foot-long jeans that disintegrate in a matter of minutes. It is, to put it simply, sensational. It seeks to grab attention as quickly as possible whilst degrading the attention span of its consumers.
Imagine the following series of events: you wake up one morning and decide that you would like to have a nice meal at a fancy restaurant. On the way, you are impatient – why must every process be so slow? You tap your foot and check your watch a thousand times. Your mind is slowly beginning to race as annoyance takes over. You are ushered to your seat by a waiter who talks too much for your liking. You scan the menu, too hungry to make a definite choice. So you place a large order of many dishes, several of which you do not even like. Ignoring all this, you eat endlessly. Each morsel seems delicious initially, but eventually, each granule of sugar is too sweet, and the salt is not suitable – but you have ordered all this, come all the way here – why would you stop? Thus it happens that a cycle is created – one that you made, yet one that is sly and dangerous.
Short-form content creates a butterfly effect with lasting consequences. It starts with the creator. Logistically, formatting a 30-minute-long video is less taxing than creating and editing a minute-long video. When uploaded, people are more likely to click on a video that delivers the information they’re looking for in a shorter duration. Now that the length and format of the video have been decided, audience engagement is the next issue to be tackled. To increase engagement, creators tend to sensationalise the information that is presented. Sensationalisation tends to dilute the information itself, and nuance is ignored. The issues that arise here are decreased attention spans (conditioning our minds to absorb short sequences of information) and the lack of regulation regarding the amount of content we consume. We can compare it to eating a bag of chips – eating one chip is much more complicated than eating a handful, and so on. Over-consumption of content is an easy trap to fall into. Moreover, with the convenience of a smartphone, doomscrolling is nearly impossible to avoid.
“Engagement, algorithm, advertisement, content – they circle back to the behaviours we have unconsciously adopted.”
While we are on the topic of nuance, it is notable that user intent is a significant factor in this case. For the vast majority, social media and its content is less learning opportunity and more entertainment. Thus, when it comes to delivering either, creators tend to go for the clickbait-y, dramatic style of video creation. The perfectly crafted reel has one aim – to make you scroll down for the next one. The apparent pattern we see here is that the fundamental algorithm itself means to keep you hooked. A viral video has more reach and guides you to the next one until the end of time.
This is a system designed to encourage consumerism. Engagement, algorithm, advertisement, content – they circle back to the behaviours we have unconsciously adopted. The modern age drives us to look for more or want more. It is startling that we may swallow close to 200 pieces of information daily – albeit in small chunks. Constant exposure to short-form content creates a cycle of endless mental exhaustion, It is mind-numbing, and we should ask ourselves how much of it is helpful.
The advantage of this format must be considered. For individuals who struggle with attention spans that do not conform to able-bodied norms, short-form content is practical and more valuable than a long-form video will ever be. It also levels out the playing field by providing every creator with a chance to somehow “go viral” – or to introduce users to a page they might have never discovered otherwise.
Short-form content is not oppressive. It is not an agenda pushed to make us dumber. It is a shining example of how our inventions and consumerism-focused mindset are ultimately destructive.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
(George Orwell, 1984).
Who knows? We may be the goldfish with a memory span of 3 seconds. Perhaps we will be the species that cannot remember. Maybe we will be the boot stamping on our faces – our outstretched arms gripping the smartphone.
Written by Rachana Raman for MTTN
Edited by Advaith Gurunath for MTTN
Featured Image by Eesha Mulumoodi for MTTN