Fly on the Wall—Eyes Up Here

Authority, Royalty, and Attention Span

In a timeless instant, simultaneous and thereby immeasurable, a Queen passed away and a King occupies the throne.  This instant transfer in power serves as a reminder that, lest we forget the centuries of history that have culminated in our clickbait culture, aversion to even a moment’s pause weighs heavily on many institutions.  Ambiguity breeds discontent in politics as well as in schooling and maybe, just maybe, in life itself.

Royal succession’s clockwork procession may serve as a reminder that our brief and newt-like attention spans are the product of a human tendency to avoid limbo—lest chaos ensue.  A case can be made that protocol, in our case taking the form of a relatively rigid study schedule, is all that prevents us from regressing into illiteracy and an intellectual form of what kids today call goblin mode.  We’re better than mental sloths but the fact’s in our acts, right?  While attention spans and deferral to authority often go hand in hand, think of how much effort elementary school teachers give to keeping the class in order.  Being there and paying attention do not go hand in hand, see?  Maybe that’s why there’s that meme noting that the past is past and the future to come while the gift is in the present and that’s where it gets its name.  Or something like that; it’s not like I was taking notes for an exam.

Where power is concerned, the grace of a period of pause is often seen as less than noble.  In our studies we are wise to likewise avoid gaps between, lest our lesser impulses seize the day.  Priorities are key too.  In 1987, my Grandpa gave my siblings and I a shiny new coin: the loonie! Newly minted, it led me to ask what would happen with those drab old dollar bills.  They would slowly be phased out of circulation as no more were made, was the answer.  After all, smooth transitions in money mean nothing can stop the flow of things as they are.  Like housing costs lashed to a white whale of profit and invisible hands in the marketplace, literal money is seen as impervious to quick, dare one say revolutionary, changes.  Appearances are everything, and where a Royal family must seem stable in one way, the magical mystery tour of capitalist currency must maintain confidence in quite another.  There will always be death and taxes, goes the proverb.

Just as having a singular ruler on a throne is core to monarchist ideals, so too do we have to, in many moments, put our studies ahead of other masses of time-passing options clamouring for succession in our hierarchy of interests.  At AU, our individualized studies mean we are at once taskmaster and pupil, sovereign and subject.

Eyes up here, a phrase used by primary school teachers to encourage kids to play the part of a rapt student body, regardless of their inner states of mind, serves to remind us that attention and deference to protocol are part and parcel with performance as well as results.  It’s like if you sit at your desk with nary an internet browser open then sooner or later you might get some actual AU coursework accomplished.  Discipline is for our own good if we are to become sovereign over our domain.  To comply with our best desires and become academically successful we have to think like bosses over our more vulgar tendencies.

Attention span is not easy in these times, yet, ironically, it’s never been easy to allow ambiguity to carry the day—as the instant ascent of King Charles shows us.  A study notes that, contrary to the whopping nine second attention span of a garden variety goldfish (the kind easily replaced in a jiffy if it dies and upset children are to be placated), humans today tend toward only an eight second attention span (Ebstein, online).  Try writing a good essay answer in that time, let alone a good exam response.  What’s disturbing and bucks the trend of limited attention being kith and kin with life itself, be one a royal ascendant or a royal stable-shoveller, is that as recently as the year 2000 we ostensibly possessed a swarthy twelve second attention span.  But wait, there’s more: “males (33 percent) had a better attention span than females (31 percent).  On a positive note, the researchers found the ability to multitask has significantly improved” (Borreli, online).  Make of that what you will but perhaps bear in mind that to really dig into a unit in our coursework we have to give it all of our reading eyes and interpreting mind.  Short of a podcast, not many household tasks can easily cohabitate with the act of reading and thinking.

From the instantaneous moment of transfer from Queen to King we may conclude that our personal realm can shift focus just as quickly.  There is never, and I do mean never, a wrong time to conduct our studies.  Except, perhaps, if we are in the minds of another beloved commitment.  Candles lit, wine poured, and dinner about to be served with the love of your life? Not the time to bring a textbook to the table or scrawl a few epiphanies onto a sheet of paper stashed under the tablecloth.  Protocol can make life smoother, and transitions can as well; having our weeks and hours outlined with some sort of agenda can help ourselves and our families understand what our goals are.

Likewise, to avoid any conflict over who is next to wear the royal garb, monarchies like to have a swift shift so as to get on with their work, but, equally important, to avoid averting conflict that could become an existential threat to their institution itself.  Like falling behind in our coursework and clawing our way back over week after stressful week, the best defence against difficulty is a good offence and a good plan.  And hey, if the news cycle can teach us one thing, it’s that the moment an event happens it is already almost old news; remember the day before the Queen died and almost a dozen innocent civilians in Saskatchewan were stabbed to death by deranged maniacs?

Borreli, L.  (2015).  ‘Human Attention Span Shortens to 8 Seconds Due to Digital Technology: 3 Ways to Stay Focussed’.  Medical Daily.  Retrieved from
Ebstein, J.  (2021).  ‘Our attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s.  Here’s what we can do about it.’ Orlando Sentinel.