Have you noticed that TV commercials are getting shorter? They've shrunk from one minute to 30 seconds and increasingly to 15 seconds. If you haven't noticed, it may be because you've been conditioned to "think fast" -- or sometimes, to not think -- by electronic media.
The trend is summed up, fittingly, in the business shorthand known as K.I.S.S.: "keep it short and simple." Rapid bursts of words and imagery are digested easily. In the case of the briefest TV ads, no critical thinking is required. That's good for selling potato chips, but not for conveying complex information that requires a longer attention span. Studies show that students who watch TV and play video games for more than two hours a day were significantly more likely to have trouble paying attention in school. That doesn't bode well for following a movie plot for more than 90 minutes.
Also, modern electronic entertainment largely discourages socialization. You can play a handheld video game in the privacy of your room while listening to your personalized playlist on your iPod. Shared experiences are often competitive, not communal. "Audience" members are gaming rivals.
But don't roll the closing credits on movie houses just yet. Traditional moviegoing may make a comeback, updated for modern demographics. For instance, art houses that feature classic, independent and international films have been a fixture on the scene for years. Now, fee-based film clubs catering to the same tastes have cropped in cities from Chicago to New Haven, Conn.
A few chains provide child care services for parents. Some have gone retro with movie-theme decor (like restrooms that conjure the shower scene from "Psycho"). A few chains have resurrected the dinner-and-a-movie date by offering both: Meals are surreptitiously served throughout a first-run film. Diners and waitstaff communicate in writing to minimize distractions.
One move that's hitting roadblocks: blocking cell phone reception. First, it's currently illegal, because it would jam emergency calls to audience members who provide essential services. But most theater chains make an effort to remind audiences about silencing cell phones and other electronic gadgets so everyone enjoy the film without distractions.
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