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« Is youth wasted on the young? | Main | Over bar the shouting »

The Haunted Fish Tank

Scientists tell us a goldfish has a memory that lasts only three seconds; how they figured that one out, I don’t know.

Did they sit and talk to a goldfish, ask it questions, while holding a stopwatch?

I am beginning to wonder if some Internet users have the attention span of a goldfish. 

I have a little thing on this blog called Statcounter. It gives me useful information on people visiting this blog.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t tell me who you are, where you live, or what you had for dinner last night. However, it does tell me how you arrived here, search keywords used and how long you stayed once you got here.

Many people arrive here via a Google search, and what I find strange is when people ask a specific question, arrive on the page that has the exact answer, and stay less than three seconds.

For example, one recent visitor got here by using these keywords “replacing tube lugged bike.” Which led him to this page. There on the screen before his very eyes, step by step instructions on how to replace a tube in a lugged frame. Length of visit: 0 seconds. Anything under three seconds registers as zero.

“What bike frame size for my height?” is a question that gets Googled many times, and will land you on this page. You would think the words “Frame Sizing” in the title would be a clue to a person that maybe they had landed on a page that might have some answers for them. Length of visit: 0 seconds.

I could go on and on, but I’ll just do one more. “Centering side pull brakes” will land you here. Simple instructions, 107 words and 2 photographs. The only way it could be any easier would be if I came round to your house and showed you how to do it. Length of visit: 0 seconds.

In my native England, we sometimes refer to the television as “The haunted fish tank.” I think that name would be more apt for the PC. The only difference is the fish are on the outside, looking in. Maybe some people really do have the attention span of a goldfish, and by the time they click from Google to here, they have forgotten what they were looking for.

The Internet is supposed to make us smarter, sometimes I wonder. The information is there, but until scientists come up with a USB cable that plugs directly into our brain, it requires that we read the information to benefit from it.

In writing this piece, I came to realize this strange aspect of human behavior is really a metaphor for life. The answer to any question, any problem we may have in life is right there within ourselves. Our intelligence, knows the answer, if we just give the grey matter time to work.

We search for answers, but then we try too hard to find the solution. Instead of slowing down and allowing ourselves to see what is often before our very eyes, we click away and continue searching elsewhere.


Footnote: This article was first posted here over 10 years ago. Since that time hundreds more articles have been written with even more answers. Plus there is now a Search tab on the top right column of this page.

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Reader Comments (10)

Maybe the person looking to replace a tube wanted a shop to do the work, not instructions on how to do it themselves.

Centering brakes? Maybe, like me, he'd already seen the page, found the method no good and moved on to find some better advice.

Frame sizing - useless to me because I haven't got a sloping top tube. I know that I could measure across level, but I can't be arsed. There's a lot of competition out there.

Also - how does your stat counter work for people who open the link in a new tab but take 10 minutes to get round to reading it? Does it register from open to close or just the actual time the tab is active?

BTW - in 50 odd years of living in England I've never heard the telly called a haunted fish tank.

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTiree

Dave - I manage the website for my brother's software business.
Looking at the stats today, I can see that over the past month, we had 4,114 visit lasting 0-30 seconds. The next bracket is 30 seconds to 2 minutes - the number of visits of that duration were 88. It continues to diminish in a linear fashion until you get to 21 at one hour plus. Not sure what the moral is here - maybe just that people flit around, often landing on pages that are not relevant to what they were hoping to find when they clicked on the link in Google.

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterStephen McAteer

I love that mental image. Haunted fish tank indeed. Although now I'm thinking of it as an insult "his head looks like a haunted fish tank - scared, but definitely empty" . Have you heard "Little Plastic Castle" by Ani Difranco? It's a funny song that seems in the same vein as your comment.

FWIW, I have posted a (metric) fucton of answers on https://bicycles.stackexchange.com over the years and even though the "ask a question" form not only says "have you looked for an existing answer", it also does a live search and suggests answers... we still get the same old questions a lot. People look at the suggested question and go "but my one is red" after 3 seconds.

You can kinda tell the more experienced users because they are better and finding the duplicate question that matches any new question. As the guy who fields the weird ones, I get it easier than most there. There just aren't that many "how do I shift a piano using my bike" or "if you ignore the UCi, how fast can a bicycle go" questions (or, bob help us all, "I have an idea for a new automatic bicycle transmission"... no, just no. Go away)

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMoz in Oz

It may be a modern browser pre-fetching URLs from the search result list. The user hasn't actually clicked on the link; the browser is fetching it just in case the user later clicks on it.

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Thurston

Not surprising results, and I agree with your assessment. I think of it like the Matrix movie when it comes to learning...the art of learning seems to be lost these days.

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLance Hull

I check in almost every day, but only hoping for a new post, I would think that you get longer viewing times on the days that you post.

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Kent

Everyone is stupid some of the time. I guess that some people are stupid all of the time.

July 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBill K

Sorry, that's not how it works. HTTP (the technical protocol used to load web pages) is stateless. That means that your web server has no idea how long someone actually has a page open. What your web server sees is "At 14:30:33 machine X loaded page A", "At 14:30:60 machine X loaded page B".

Your statistics thing is either waiting for the next click from that user (and counting the elapsed time as 'time spent on this page") or it's using some other tricks to guess the time spent on a single page (which tricks might not work for all browsers or for people having javascript deactivated).

If the person in question just opens the page and keeps it open for one hour, but does not click on any other of your pages, your stats counter will likely report it as "0 seconds". In fact that person could have spent a long time carefully reading and following your instructions, even printing them out. As long as he doesn't do anything else on your site, you just don't know how long he actually spent on the page.

That's just something in "how the web works technically", definitely not a sign on how stupid people are or how they lack attention span.

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSascha

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38896790 and the 3-second memory span is a myth, repeated to suit the slant of the article.

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

I just found this blog, and I love it. I won't find you from any more Google searches (like the other lemmings in the world), definitely in my "must-read" list now. As a newish cycler (13 months, 3k miles), I have already found lots of great info here. Thanks!!

August 9, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterscottsmith7

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