Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Ad Blindness

Or, Why I Could Never Be Sherlock Holmes

It seems the only time I notice there are ads on Facebook is when someone mentions them, like this:

When I came across this status update a while back, my thought process literally went along the lines of: There are ads on Facebook?  Oh, look at that.  So there are.  Huh.  As far as my eyes and brain are concerned, most of the time those ads don't even exist in my world because I choose not to be aware of them.

I do the same thing with newspaper and magazine ads.  I remember one time, right after I finished reading through the front section of the local newspaper, a friend asked me if Dillard's was having any sales.  "Dillard's?" I asked, confused.  "There weren't any stories about Dillard's.  This covers the news."  "But what about the ads?" she said.  "Oh."  I opened it back up, and, sure enough, page three was a full-page ad for Dillard's.  Plus, they had a number of other ads scattered throughout the section.  I hadn't noticed.

Recently my wife posted on Facebook that she was excited that we would be having a Super-Bowl-free Sunday on the big day, since there were other things we wanted to do and I didn't care much about the game.  I decided to leave a snarky comment just for fun saying that I'd be getting updates with my (non-existent) smart phone.  I wanted to include a link to an ad I've seen many times during games.  In it, a Black couple are out having a nice dinner and the man keeps making random responses that make no sense for the conversation or context.  The woman accuses him of watching the game on his phone, and he says that's ludicrous, something like, "What am I, some kind of summoner that I can just summon the game out of thin air?"  And he is, of course, doing just that with the phone in his lap.  But I couldn't include a link to it in my comment since I had no idea what product--or even brand/company--the commercial was advertising.  I've seen it countless times and can quote much of the dialogue to you, but I have no idea what it's an ad for besides "smart phone," so I didn't know how to go about finding it.

Not too long ago, my manager and I were talking about the signage in our library building.  I said how much I loved buildings with signs, because then I could use them to figure out where things were more easily, using the signs to guide myself so I didn't have to hunt down help.  She said that's because I'm a read/write learner and have that preference for text, which allows me to focus in on the writing I need while tuning out the rest; for her, anything more than a few signs creates too much visual noise that just overwhelms her and confuses her ability to process the information.  She's not able to be selective about what she sees and her brain tries to take it in all at once.  Huh.  That was a foreign concept to me.

I've written before about how I'm able to disappear into my head, tuning out my surroundings as partially or completely as I desire.  (Most explicitly, I think, in Loving My Headphones.)  When I want to, I can become very focused.  A big part of this is not only focusing my attention, but also my awareness and even my perceptions.  And once I get familiar with a layout/format, I can train myself to permanently filter out ads on things like Facebook and ignore the product sales pitch parts of commercials.  I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing, but it's a skill that I have.

I've been contemplating this post for a while, but was motivated to finally finish it after coming across this article: Why Even Radiologists Can Miss a Gorilla Hiding in Plain Site.

 . . . That effect is called "inattentional blindness" — which brings us back to the expert lookers, the radiologists.

Drew wondered if somehow being so well-trained in searching would make them immune to missing large, hairy gorillas. "You might expect that because they're experts, they would notice if something unusual was there," he says.

He took a picture of a man in a gorilla suit shaking his fist, and he superimposed that image on a series of slides that radiologists typically look at when they're searching for cancer. He then asked a bunch of radiologists to review the slides of lungs for cancerous nodules. He wanted to see if they would notice a gorilla the size of a matchbook glaring angrily at them from inside the slide.

But they didn't: 83 percent of the radiologists missed it, Drew says.

This wasn't because the eyes of the radiologists didn't happen to fall on the large, angry gorilla. Instead, the problem was in the way their brains had framed what they were doing. They were looking for cancer nodules, not gorillas. "They look right at it, but because they're not looking for a gorilla, they don't see that it's a gorilla," Drew says.

In other words, what we're thinking about — what we're focused on — filters the world around us so aggressively that it literally shapes what we see. So, Drew says, we need to think carefully about the instructions we give to professional searchers like radiologists or people looking for terrorist activity, because what we tell them to look for will in part determine what they see and don't see. . . .

I like to think of my "ad blindness" as an advantageous skill because it's based on choices I've made that I consider positive.  But I do have to wonder sometimes what I might be missing because of those choices and what other things I might be filtering out based on factors I haven't chosen.  We all have filters, after all.  I certainly know I could never be aware or observant enough to pull off the tricks of a Sherlock Holmes.


Of course, there are other times I use my filters for multitasking, like in this picture when I was enjoying lunch, a book, music shuffle, football, and Facebook all at the same time.

I focus the majority of my attention on one activity while letting the others wash across my consciousness, saving awareness only for predetermined cues that notify me to temporarily shift my attention to a different activity (the sound of crowd/announcer crescendo, for instance, or a red notification popping up on the computer screen).


At 2/24/2013 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that's why there is the big uproar about signs in the library...I can't identify with that either. Probably because my first job was hand-lettering signs in the periodicals dept. at KU.
I still think it's unusual that you as a man (sexist comment ahead) are able to multi-task. I've only known one other man who could pay attention to more than one thing at a time. I wonder why that is. As a result I'm most reluctant to interrupt any man who looks like he is focusing on something because I assume the interruption will be completely distracting.
You might wonder how that affects patron interaction when the people at the desk are obviously "busy" because they aren't making eye contact.

At 2/25/2013 8:22 AM, Blogger Degolar said...

I think it's partly the era we're in, that constant media consumption is more the landscape and the younger generations have grown up used to having multiple things constantly bombarding them. That's part of it, anyway--even though studies have shown that multitasking makes EVERYONE (regardless of presumed ability) less effective at the things they're doing than taking them one at a time in isolation; so I try to only do it with recreational activities and serious tasks.

I think another part of it might be the training of working the McDonald's drive-through as a late teenager. I had to learn to provide good customer service to the person in their car in front of me while taking the order of the person on the speaker while preparing the order of the car in between them, juggling all three back and forth for hours at a time.

Thought even before that I remember taking the snarky approach to a high school English expository-process essay, making my topic how to do your homework in front of the TV.

I agree that it can be a customer service issue at the library, but I do my best to use my peripheral vision for awareness, looking up anytime I notice anyone coming anywhere close to the desk and making regular visual scans around the building to look available.

At 2/26/2013 11:54 AM, Blogger Hadrian said...

Just looking at that picture makes me nervous.


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