2005: Attention Span

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Attention Span
I didn't even realize they MADE a novelization of "Surf Ninjas." How did you-- Oh my god, it's signed by the author?!
Title text: I didn't even realize they MADE a novelization of "Surf Ninjas." How did you-- Oh my god, it's signed by the author?!


People often groan about their shrinking attention span, attributing it to an increased illiteracy. This allows for fond nostalgia about the times when they were supposedly more intelligent and focused. For instance, Nicholas Carr wrote this article to compile both anecdotes (which are more abundant) and research (which is more useful) to describe this phenomenon.

Cueball does the same here, but Megan retorts that he spent six hours reading over a pointless (if disturbingly plausible) theory about a banal show based off a series of bedtime stories made to entertain small children. Thomas The Tank Engine is a British children's series based off a series of books written by Wilbert Awdry. It follows the adventures of anthropomorphized train locomotives and other vehicles.

Cueball qualifies his statement: he has no attention span for anything good anymore. Megan, in reply, examines Cueball’s bookshelf, finding a book that cements Cueball’s status as a nerd who reads high fantasy. Cueball protests that the book is a classic, but Megan dismisses the fact.

To be fair to Cueball, many great fantasies have covers such as those in the comic (e.g. A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings, Randall's personal favorite Discworld). To be fair to Megan, this book is apparently not one of them, being thicker than it is wide (like The Complete Miss Marple by Agatha Christie), a telltale sign of needless bombast and turgid prose.

Other possibilities for the dragon book are His Majesty's Dragon from the Temeraire series or Dragonsbane from the Winterlands series.

If there was any doubt about Cueball’s dubious literary tastes before, Megan dispels them in the title text, referring to a novelization of the excoriated movie Surf Ninjas, a movie that is exactly what it sounds like. Signed novelizations of a movie named “Surf Ninjas” are not typical fodder for great minds.[citation needed]

The comic contains a hyperlink to an article with the same unfortunate content Cueball has apparently finished reading prior to this comic: The Repressive, Authoritarian Soul of “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends”. This article, the articles linked from it, further linked articles from those, links found by googling the topic, and other related web surfing on the topic could easily add up to six hours or more of reading.


[Cueball and Megan are standing together.]
Cueball: I haven't read any books in forever. I have no attention span anymore.
[Zoom in on the faces of Cueball and Megan.]
Megan: Didn't you literally just spend six hours obsessively reading about the theory that Thomas the Tank Engine is authoritarian propaganda depicting a post-apocalyptic fascist dystopia?
[Cueball still standing there. Megan begins pacing away.]
Cueball: OK
Cueball: I mean I have no attention span for anything good anymore.
Megan: Let's check out your bookshelf, shall we?
[Cueball alone.]
Cueball: What are you-
Off-panel: I see a dragon holding a sword in its teeth on the cover of a book that's thicker than it is wide.
Cueball: And? That's a classic!
Off-panel: Just saying, I don't think this is a new development.


2005 (the comic number) is also the year of the first xkcd comic.

The dragon described is very loosely similar to the legendary Pokémon Zacian, whose game had been teased at the release of this comic.

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Do you think the book being referenced is a Dragon Lance book? 04:33, 11 June 2018 (UTC)

I think with the "thicker than its wide" comment, it does sound like Dragonlance Chronicles. Also, it IS a classic 07:40, 12 June 2018 (UTC)
Also, hasn’t Randall expressed interest in the works of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman in the past. 17:50, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
Btw I hopped over to the forums to see if they had any good ideas, it didn’t yield much but one person suggested one of the Deathgate Cycle books, another suggested a Brandon Sanderson book, though none to my knowledge have Dragons on the cover, and someone else suggested it might be a D&D rulebook, though I don’t know of any of those that meet the thickness described108.162.245.118 18:32, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
Sounds like a Wheel of Time omnibus, if such a thing actually exists. 16:29, 11 June 2018 (UTC)
If you're talking about omnibus editions of a series, there are many that could easily get this thick. But I'm at a loss to think of a single book that is thicker than it is wide. Although my mass-market paperback edition of Les Misérables comes pretty close (but has nothing to do with fantasy). Shamino (talk) 15:09, 13 June 2018 (UTC)
I don't think a WoT omnibus could exist, after 5 minutes on google, I came up with 10700 pages. I think maybe Brandon Sanderson's "Oathbringer" paperback comes close. Its cover is small, and it's 1000 pages long.
I'm certain Randall's employing hyperbole. 21:18, 14 June 2018 (UTC)
Or it could be one of the alternate art covers of one of the Dark Sword books, or is that too deep a cut even for Randall? 22:46, 11 June 2018 (UTC)
I doubt he's referring to any real book, but rather making use of the fact that fantasy novels tend to be notoriously long and involving a ridiculous image (a dragon with a sword in its teeth) to show that this particular book is of dubious quality. 16:52, 15 June 2018 (UTC)

The comic contains a hyperlink to what appears to be exactly the kind of article Cueball apparently "just finished reading", or at least my mobile reader is picking up a hyperlink. I've added a small note about this; I'm not linking the article directly for personal reasons. 05:51, 11 June 2018 (UTC)

I linked it. If it's linked in the original then it should be here, too. Maybe it belongs more to the trivia section, I don't know, but it definitely has to be shown here somewhere. On a side node: did Randall ever do something like that before? Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 06:53, 11 June 2018 (UTC)
Linking other content behind the image? Yes, I think he did it several times before. The only actual comic I remember, however, is 351: Trolling. --YMS (talk) 09:17, 11 June 2018 (UTC)
Considering that the link contains a link to this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jltKnDlH_OA I believe that omission is no an option 09:51, 11 June 2018 (UTC)
1723: Meteorite Identification, 1506: xkcloud, 1572: xkcd Survey... just to name a few more. Herobrine (talk) 09:55, 11 June 2018 (UTC)
Ah, very well :) The difference between those three and this one and 351 is that in the latter the link is "hidden". The others say "Click here" either directly or in alt-text. And in xkcloud it isn't an external link. Whatever. Maybe we should consider making a category of them? Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 11:04, 11 June 2018 (UTC)

I must admit to never having watch the seminal movie Surf ninjas but wikipedia tells me there is not only a novelisation, by A L Singer (Peter Lerangis) but also the screenplay. -- Arachrah (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I once advanced the theory that Sodor is the future of Mordor after the machines won and evolved into trains. 12:46, 11 June 2018 (UTC) Jedman67

Sounds like Mieville's Railsea. 16:29, 11 June 2018 (UTC)

Dragonsbane isn't nearly long enough to meet the thickness requirement -- 17:17, 11 June 2018 (UTC)RyanR

Does anyone feel like the punchline is misplaced? Start with claim that he has no attn span any more, then she lists various overly long works he clearly does read while he protests and defends, then he concludes with punchline "no attn span for anything good." In fact, she should probably deliver the line, after discovering what he has on his bookshelf. 20:25, 11 June 2018 (UTC)

The key here was diminishing attention span with age, so he indicated "...for anything good ANYMORE." The joke is that this isn't something that changed. 22:13, 11 June 2018 (UTC)

What bumps me about this comic is that the book Megan describes to make her point sounds like it would be an excellent well-structured book, very high quality reading, akin to Lord Of The Rings (Cueball even specifies it's a classic). REALLY doesn't fit with the theme of low quality crap reading this comic is going for. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:51, 12 June 2018 (UTC)

I've read all of the books mentioned as possible matches. And none of them have dragons holding a sword in their mouth. And since the book cover sounds EXACTLY like something I would enjoy reading, I really must insist that we demand that Randall admit which book he was referring to. SiliconWolf

I wonder if the book Megan spots on the bookshelf is a sly reference to the classic (but rather staid) computer-science textbook "Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools" by Aho, et al, AKA "The Dragon book". The cover of the first edition does has both a dragon & a sword on it, althought the sword isn't in the dragon's mouth, and it is a bit thinner than it is wide. JamesCurran (talk) 20:05, 13 June 2018 (UTC)

"Thicker than it's wide - It's a classic" is probably referencing the "If it's longer than it's wide, it's a phallus" joke poem. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"It is unclear how one could possibly spend six hours reading such an article." Hmm, it appears you are unfamiliar with this concept called the "World Wide Web." See, any given article has small text snippets indicated by a special color or style called "hyperlinks". Clicking a hyperlink will take you to a different article, typically on a topic relevant to the original article or phrase linked. This hyperlinked article will again link to several more articles, and so on for each succeeding article. Clicking from link to link is an activity often referred to as "browsing cyberspace" and, if pursuing an interesting topic, a reader can easily spend several hours browsing from link to link exploring just about any given topic.

For more information about this astonishing phenomenon, please consult any 1990s guide to the vast new online arena called the world-wide web. 20:55, 19 June 2018 (UTC)

I don't know about y'all, but I just spent the last 2 hours down the Thomas the Tank rabbit hole. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Just reverted the page to before the "crap" spam. 01:30, 21 May 2022 (UTC)

My dad had a Surf Ninjas book. Then my dog ate it when we left him home alone out of his crate. Psychoticpotato (talk) 18:22, 3 June 2024 (UTC)