The paragraph may be coming to an end, and I only have two of them to use to tell this story. As long-time readers of 2paragraphs know, 80% of readers won’t go past the second paragraph. Soon, two paragraphs may be too long. This isn’t really surprising: it turns out that humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish.The average time spent on a webpage is a measly fifteen seconds, and as the Guardian‘s Andy Bodle reports, our decreasing attention span means that articles in newspapers and online are getting shorter and punchier. The Associated Press wants its reporters to write articles no longer than 500 words. The honorable paragraph, that hardy stalwart of prose, may become concision’s greatest victim. The paragraph, warns Bodle, “will go the same way as the harpsichord, the fob watch and the returned phone call.”
While paragraphs in newspapers have always been shorter than in other types of prose, chiefly due to how pages are divided into columns, the biggest threat to the paragraph is, you guessed it, the Internet. “Reading on a laptop screen or phone is slower and more fatiguing, and it’s harder to keep your place; inserting regular, clear breaks (complete lines rather than indentations) is one way to create a smoother reading experience.” Bodle points out that writers have been breaking text into sections since the 3rd century BC, using paragraphos or pilcrows “to signal a change of speaker, topic or scene.” With the paragraph facing extinction after more than two thousand years, Bodle fears that writing will suffer “Time was when you came across a paragraph of one sentence, you knew it contained powerful stuff (in the writer’s view, at least). A short paragraph, coming after many long ones, could deliver a real punch.”
We heartily agree.