Yes, I said lengthening, because although all you ever hear about in the new-media debate is decreasing attention spans, the stuff that people actually seem to be watching is getting longer. Movies are mostly interminable, kids are happily devouring 700-page books and the defining TV genre of our time is not the 30-minute sitcom, but the 50-minute US drama. And video games are probably the best example of all.
I heard a Radio 4 debate about the future of the high arts once. It followed the predictable line about decreasing attention spans, spelling the end of serious drama, when someone butted in and made the point that an immersive, extended video game experience such as Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto or Myst is probably the ideal preparation for something like The Ring Cycle or King Lear. Games such as these have complicated narratives, that aren't usually spelled out from the beginning, and the player has to lose themselves in them for hours on end to get the full value from the game. Just like high drama.
You could even see something like YouTube as an extended experience, because the unit of enjoyment isn't the individual video, it's the hours you spend browsing from video to video, linking, commenting and even posting.
The only place where shorter media units seem like a thriving reality is on the mobile phone, where people are working like billy-oh to create games and media snacks that can fill five minutes on a bus or in a queue. But even this, I suspect, is part of the larger story of what's happening to our media choices - we're normalising our relationships with new media and settling on time-lengths and media experiences that suit us and our lives, not the broadcasters and the constraints of their infrastructure. When we're busy, we want something quick. But when we do have the time, we really like a long soak in an immersive experience.
The smarter programme creators have noticed this and are broadening the narrative reach of their creations, beyond the broadcast minutes. The US show Lost is the best example, as it scatters references and clues throughout the show, and across the internet, encouraging its audience to spend more and more time with the show and its characters. I wonder if an industry whose core, unique skill is rapid communication will be able to learn how to tell the longer story?