The Hair Dryer that Got Away

Iʼm in NY and staying at a friendʼs apartment. Heʼs not there.

Iʼve had a terrific nightʼs sleep, a hot shower, and now, plan to dry my hair and head over to a conference, where Iʼll be speaking about millenials in the workplace. After my session, several videotaped interviews are planned. Iʼm 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 friendʼs 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 Iʼd 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 friendʼs office. His assistant, Lesley, is helpful. Five minutes later, thereʼs 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 theyʼre right in front of me, I fail to notice them.

When I donʼt know, it’s possible to see.

I was so struck by this example of what is called inattentional blindness.  We fail to notice things in plain sight.  The Chabris and Simons website includes some great video demos; you can see how easy it is to miss what’s right in front of you.

One of my favorite books on this topic is Sleights of Mind:  What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions.

For many of us, our evolving relationship with technology in a 24/7, mobile, always-connected world, traps us in a hyper-focus on the screen, and a blindness to the rich world around us.

Do you have a story about your own inattentional blindness?  Feel free to share it below.

Published by Linda Stone

I coined the phrases continuous partial attention, email apnea, and screen apnea. I write about attention and our relationship to technology.

8 thoughts on “The Hair Dryer that Got Away

  1. I was actually waiting to see my comment posted to your earlier post, Linda:

    Sometimes that old saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees” comes to mind. So much of it depends on how you use your mind to get past what you are seeing in the moment and to eventually look at the big picture. For some of us, living and working outside of our comfort zone helps to see what most others often cannot see inside their own circles. Lately, the question that has been haunting me more and more as I get older: Does this ability go away as one gets older and more “set” in one’s ways? Or are there those among us who manage to stay in this Perpetual Inattentional State for our entire lifetime? It goes to the heart of creativity, inventiveness and fascination.

  2. love this sentence … “When I donʼt know, it’s possible to see.”

    cultivating not-knowing, a worthy life goal.

    hope to watch the further evolution of “inattentional blindness” writing and thinking.


    gregory lent

  3. Not just hairdryers:

    “The Airbus’s stall alarm is designed to be impossible to ignore. Yet for the duration of the flight, none of the pilots will mention it, or acknowledge the possibility that the plane has indeed stalled—even though the word “Stall!” will blare through the cockpit 75 times. Throughout, Bonin will keep pulling back on the stick, the exact opposite of what he must do to recover from the stall. ”

  4. Speaking with Linda, she’d suggested the link to this blog overview, another commentary [and there’s a gesture to Linda, of course, in the reflections].

    Focused attention. Seeing in-to things.
    When you’re looking at something, how closely are you tuned?
    I was watching people watch. This is a habit.

    That is, studying people as they “study” — watching to see how people are paying attention. This couldn’t be any more in-depth or capable interpretation of the ongoing analysis of watchful friend, Linda Stone, and her studies of “attention.”

    But it’s more to an inherent curiosity that I’ve got about people and how they see things, and what they do when they see them. How they do, or do not, pay attention. With people that I work with, clients, those that I observe on the subway, walking the street, studying their eyes, for what they see, and what they do not.

    That lead me to think about context in connection — how people sense things in relationship to design. Sitting through hundreds of hours of focus sessions — or dozens of anthropological visits, you begin to get a sense of what to “look for.” The whole body is a sensing organ — watching the eyes is one channel of consideration; but what about everything else. What are the degrees of engagement, alertness, fascination, deep gaze, dream sight, disconnected focus, continuous sight? Working on launch programs — building a story, a product, a place — and watching it go live, linking into the observation of visitors, guests, audience — I ponder the question: who’s synced into the “real time” of the moment — and who is just “passing by”?

    When you really get into watching people watching people [or things], you begin to study how other creatures examine. Spiders, for example — try getting close enough to a spider that you can track the movements of that body, sensing yours. Dragonflies. Lizards. Hummingbirds. How deep, the dog’s study? The cat? But being a student of raptors, corvids and other larger intelligent birds, I cast my gaze there.

    Pondering the focused link, the attention of one engaged, what would be the most powerful visible parable? One, to note, the owl. Get close enough to watch a raptor watch — and you realize there are layers to seeing in to things. The attached imagery is incredible to watch — the liquidity, the fluency, the grace. But more so, the focus.

    And the design, of how it works…Owl coming in — from one hundred feet, one thousand frames a second — for the strike right at the camera, only a minute long. The head, the gaze never moves — and the last two or three seconds are amazing, watching the feathers ruffle and the wings swell.

    The idea of looking, a metaphor of seeing — when you look at something, how far do you look in? Looking out, is looking in — even etymologically, to look is the modern turn on an old, perhaps first millennium expression of a German dialect, lugen “to look out.”

    In my earlier days as a falconer’s “valet,” I recall looking into the eyes of the raptors that I hand-roosted (and that’s all that I was entitled to do — being a carrier of these birds. They looked out, through me, to the far lands, and to the mammals that scurried in the grass fields beyond where I stood, holding them.

    Look out. Look in. Look beyond.

    tsg | NYC

    blog is:

    1. I’d just heard about this illusion, it was metnoined on a BBC radio programme this morning. They talked about the gorilla which nobody notices, but I thought I would do the experiment anyway and see if I noticed it. I had to watch the vid twice just to make sure there really *was* a gorilla in there, because even though I was expecting it the first time, I was too busy counting passes.And I have watched it three or four times now, all before I read this part of the site, so I have no recollection of seeing any graffiti on the walls, or any of the other stuff which people on here are talking about. I guess I’ll have to watch it again now!

  5. How about this one Linda… I once spent 10 minutes trying to hunt my iphone down before leaving the house, only to realize that all that time I was on the phone. That’s the genius is that me. Loving your stuff!

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