Category Archives: attention

Perpetual Inattentional Blindness

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?

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Filed under attention, attention management, distraction, multi-tasking, technology

Suspending Disbelief

Everything we know, our strongly held beliefs, and in some cases, even what we consider to be “factual,” creates the lens through which we see and experience the world, and can contribute to a critical, reactive orientation.  This can serve us well.  For example:  Fire is hot; it can burn me if I touch it.  These strongly held beliefs can also compromise our ability to observe and to think in an expansive, generative way.

Every year, John Brockman, asks a community of academics and thought leaders, a question, and posts the responses on Edge.org.  This year’s question was:

What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?

My response:  Suspending Disbelief

Barbara McClintock was ignored and ridiculed, by the scientific community, for thirty-two years before winning a Nobel Prize in 1984, for discovering “jumping genes.” During the years of hostile treatment by her peers, McClintock didn’t publish, preferring to avoid the rejection of the scientific community. Stanley Prusiner faced significant criticism from his colleagues until his prion theory was confirmed. He, too, went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1982.

Barry Marshall challenged the medical “fact” that stomach ulcers were caused by acid and stress; and presented evidence that H. Pylori bacteria is the cause. Marshall is quoted as saying, “Everyone was against me.”

Progress in medicine was delayed while these “projective thinkers” persisted, albeit on a slower and lonelier course.

Projective thinking is a term coined by Edward de Bono to describe generative rather than reactive thinking. McClintock, Prusiner, and Marshall offered projective thinking; suspending their disbelief regarding accepted scientific views at the time.

Articulate, intelligent individuals can skillfully construct a convincing case to argue almost any point of view. This critical, reactive use of intelligence narrows our vision. In contrast, projective thinking is expansive, “open-ended” and speculative, requiring the thinker to create the context, concepts, and the objectives.

Twenty years of studying maize created a context within which McClintock could speculate. With her extensive knowledge and keen powers of observation, she deduced the significance of the changing color patterns of maize seed. This led her to propose the concept of gene regulation, which challenged the theory of the genome as a static set of instructions passed from one generation to the next.

The work McClintock first reported in 1950, the result of projective thinking, extensive research, persistence, and a willingness to suspend disbelief, wasn’t understood or accepted until many years later.

Everything we know, our strongly held beliefs, and, in some cases, even what we consider to be “factual,” creates the lens through which we see and experience the world, and can contribute to a critical, reactive orientation. This can serve us well: Fire is hot; it can burn if touched. It can also compromise our ability to observe and to think in an expansive, generative way.

When we cling rigidly to our constructs, as McClintock’s peers did, we can be blinded to what’s right in front of us. Can we support a scientific rigor that embraces generative thinking and suspension of disbelief? Sometimes science fiction does become scientific discovery.

 

 

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The Look & Feel of Conscious Computing

With a musical instrument, it’s awkward at first.  All thumbs.  Uncomfortable.   Noise.  With practice, the musician becomes self-contained vs. consumed by the instrument; co-creating music.  So it will be with personal technology.  Now, a prosthetic of mind, it will become a prosthetic of being.  A violinist with a violin.  Us with our gadgets, embodied, attending as we choose.

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Filed under attention, attention management, Conscious Computing, engaged

Dee Hock’s 1996 Quote…

Those who have heard me speak know that I often quote Dee Hock, the Founder of Visa, and one of the great business innovators of our time.

I use his quote below to describe how technology is evolving us, how we’re evolving technology and how both are evolving culture.

  • Noise becomes data when it has a cognitive pattern.
  • Data becomes information when assembled into a coherent whole, which can be related to other information.
  • Information becomes knowledge when integrated with other information in a form useful for making decisions and determining actions.
  • Knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner useful in anticipating, judging and acting.
  • Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principles, memory and projection.

Further, I map this evolution to a timeline:

1945-1965

Noise to Data

1965-1985

Data to Information

1985-2005

Information to Knowledge

2005-2025

Knowledge to Understanding

2025-2045

Understanding to Wisdom

Today, we are Knowledge Workers evolving into Understanding Workers.  Understanding Workers use technology to anticipate, judge and act.  Think about it.  This is what we’re doing with FitBit, Quantified Self, 23andMe.com, Facebook, and so many other technologies of this era.

As we move into an Era of Conscious Computing, we’ll also be moving deeper into Understanding and closer toward Wisdom.

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Filed under attention, attention management, dominant mass consciousness attention paradigm, engaged, information overload, innovation, O'Reilly Radar, technology, trends

iPads Everywhere!

O’Reilly Media hosted yet another invitation-only, mind-bending, inspiring, fun Foo Camp.

In years past, we’ve enjoyed these unconference sessions, laptops glowing, perched on laps, on tables.  Technology everywhere.  Notes being taken, emails and tweets constantly flowing.

This year, Sara Winge pointed out, “open laptops were rare in sessions.”   iPads were everywhere.  “They sit flat on laps and tables, like paper,” Caterina Fake mentioned that and the contrast to screens as barriers between people.

People appear to sit comfortably, posture and breathing less stressed while using the iPad.  Some have specifically commented to me that while they notice they have email apnea when using their laptops, they breathe easily when using their iPad.

In the slow news session moderated by Steven Levy, Jennifer 8 Lee, and Kevin Kelly, the iPad as a platform for news and magazines was one of the topics debated.

It was during that debate that I realized — Apple has done for reading what the iPod has done for music.  We tune out the world, that 24/7, always-on world, once we engage with our iPods.  The iPad is the iPod of reading.  The world around us disappears when we engage with it.

The iPad, so gorgeous, with such a natural interface, offers the same opportunity.   Particularly in the case of the brilliantly designed (by Schulze and Webb) Bonnier magazines.  The world around me disappeared when I dropped into this iPad magazine experience.

I don’t have an iPad (yet).  I’ve enjoyed noticing the impact it’s having at various high tech gatherings as well as on less techie friends, many of whom seem to be making this their primary platform.

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Conscious Computing

Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.   Our opportunity is to create personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings.  Conscious computing is post-productivity, post-communication era computing.  Personal technologies that enhance our lives.  Personal technologies that are prosthetics of our full human potential.

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Filed under attention, attention management, breathe, breathing, continuous partial attention, distraction, email apnea, health, O'Reilly Radar, O'Reilly Media, screen apnea, stress, technology

More on Intentions and Goals

Thank you for the interesting comments and insights on intentions vs. goals.   In thinking about this today, I realized —

Intentions happen in the present.  Goals are about the future.

Where does behavior change?  In the present.

Where does intention come from?   For me, goals come from the mind.  Intentions from the heart, from emotion, from feeling.

Can one choose to have an intention or must it emerge more naturally?

How does this relate to attention?  Intention is the most powerful force driving attention.

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