I first saw The Invisible Gorilla video in 1980-something (’87? 88?).  Alan Kay showed it to a crowd of Apple employees in a jam-packed auditorium, just prior to a talk by Tim Gallwey.

Experiencing the video was a knock on the side of the head.  Being chosen by Tim Gallwey to play catch with him on stage, in front of my colleagues, was utterly terrifying.  Then, there it was.  When he tossed the ball, asking me to notice the shape of the holes, I, a legally blind without glasses human, easily caught the ball.   Our game of catch was flowing perfectly, until my mind interrupted with an internal broadcast:  “Linda, you are catching a ball onstage, in front of 500 people.”  I dropped the ball.

My cognitive science background sent me to the literature, and, one of my favorite resources today, in the study of attention, is the work of Chabris and Simons, on “selective attention,” or, “inattentional blindness.”  Scholarpedia defines this as the failure to notice a fully-visible, but unexpected object because attention is engaged on another task, event, or object.

Then it hit me.  Our relationships with our SmartPhones, and this wicked habit that many of us have, of walking or driving while texting or talking, holds us in a state of perpetual inattentional blindness.

On a trip to New York City in fall, 2010, the real cost of perpetual inattentional blindness came through loud and clear.

Diary, September 2010

I’m in NY and staying at a friend’s apartment.  He’s not there. I’ve had a terrific night’s sleep, a hot shower, and now, plan to dry my hair and head over to a conference, where I’ll be speaking about millenials in the workplace.

After my session, several videotaped interviews are planned.  I’m figuring out what to wear. I brought several things to choose from so I could feel comfortable in front of the cameras.  I even called my friend’s assistant in advance, “Do I need to bring a hair dryer or is there one in the apartment?”  Caught without a hair dryer on a previous visit, I knew I’d need a hair dryer for camera-ready hair.  She assured me I would find one in the apartment.

I check the hall closet for a hair dryer.  Then I check another closet.  And another.  One more.  OMG, no hair dryer!  I start catastrophizing as I imagine my fine, unruly hair without a dryer.  I go through the closets again.  Every closet.  Panicked, I call my friend’s office.  His assistant, Lesley, is helpful.

Five minutes later, there’s a knock on the door.  Someone in the building has a new hair dryer for me.  Relief. I notice the box is purple and looks familiar.  I return to the hall closet.  The box matches a box in the closet. I had been looking for a hair dryer.  What good is a box?

Laughing as I dry my hair, I wonder, how much is life like this every day?  How many things am I looking for with such vigilance, and such absolute certainty, that, even when they’re right in front of me, I fail to notice them. What does happiness look like?  What does love look like?  When I have “I don’t know,” mind, anything is possible.

Can you recall moments of inattentional blindness? How do you cultivate an open state?