Tag Archives: inattentional blindness

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.

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Filed under attention, attention management, continuous partial attention, distraction, information overload, technology