Asking whether short attention spans came first or whether short television content came first is sort of like opening the “chicken and the egg” question. It is likely not an accident that cases of ADHD became prominent at the same time observations on how short television entertainment and commercials are began to emerge. Television is not alone in its guilt of this trend. Reading material, radio programs and advertisements all follow the same model of being brief, full of transitions and catchy. This is done deliberately to engage short attention spans, but what has taken place due to this media construct is the promotion of short attention spans.
On one hand, television and media creators are responsible for encouraging this trend. After all, they tailor their brands of entertainment to short attention spans in order to captivate a broad audience. This not only validates those who naturally have a short attention span, but it also cultivates a short attention span in people who would otherwise be able to engage for significant periods of time. This is largely the equivalent of the fast food industry. Ultimately, people are responsible for the quality of their own food and media diet, but when the industry is deliberately trying to pull people in and prey on their cravings, they are not meeting their ethical responsibility.
On the other hand, the television industry has offered us a media diet to suit cravings that were already in existence. A majority of the television viewing demographic was exposed to enough education to know the basic difference between quality media and junk media, yet a majority of the television viewing population still chooses television content that was created for short attention spans. This craving for simplistic, unintelligent media is one that responsible people make the effort to control and irresponsible people indulge in. We, as the television audience, play a responsible role in dictating to the television industry what our media diet will be.