Welcome to the ADHD nation, where Adderall has replaced Flinstones vitamins, and TikTok is reshaping our neural networks.
I remember when Titanic came out in 1997. It was three hours and fourteen minutes. I felt like I was watching the characters age in real-time, all the way through the ship’s sinking. Over three hours. And that was before reclining lounge chairs, stadium seating, or food and drink service. I vividly remember trying to get the blood flow back into my ass as I wriggled around in my wafer-thin, tattered vinyl theatre seat.
Just before that release, Fargo, The Scream, and Trainspotting clocked in at an hour and a half. It seemed as though Titanic ushered in a wave of three-plus hour ass-cramping epics like Magnolia, Lord of the Rings, and Gangs of New York.
Enter the internet, stage left, followed by YouTube. The average length of YouTube content has varied over time, especially by genre — but let’s call it about ten minutes.
By today’s standards, ten minutes is an eternity. Most TikTok videos are under one minute, and the average user spends ninety-five minutes a day consuming content on the platform. It makes sense that YouTube shorts are showing 135% year-over-year growth.
It’s been three years since Quibi, the short-form video streaming service, was ridiculed from inception to shutdown in less than a year. Meanwhile, in China, the birthplace of TikTok, scripted short-form drama has been catching fire. ReelShort is owned by COL Group, a digital publisher based in Beijing. And like its Chinese counterpart, TikTok, it is now spreading faster than COVID.
The website’s home page looks a lot like Netflix. And by “looks like,” I mean, I thought I accidentally landed on Netflix. But it’s all shot in portrait; there’s not a single recognizable actor there, and each episode is about a minute and a half. Like any respectable drug dealer, the first tastes are free, and you hit a paywall around episode six.
Even copy content is getting shorter. When blogs were getting big, page-one results on Google were usually over 2,300 words. A few years ago, it dropped to 1,447 words.
Was Quibi’s timing just a tad off? Or maybe it was another cultural misalignment by a Hollywood big-shot trying to bridge into a tech venture. Whatever happened, the tide has turned. We are successfully physiologically shaping a generation’s brain with powerful dopamine surges. Literally rewiring hundreds of millions of Americans to look elsewhere when that runtime hits 1:25.
Will there be an inflection point when the tide turns back the other way? My bet is not soon. But that’s a topic for another day, as I likely lost 90% of readers 1,000 characters into this post.