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You've been sentenced

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I expect most everyone has experienced this: You make what you believe to be a striking change to your appearance -- trying a drastic haircut or dramatic new hair color, switching from glasses to contacts, swapping sober browns and muted pastels for vivid oranges and eye-numbing pinks -- only to discover that no one seems to notice ...

... thus making what briefly seemed like a courageous transformation into something that feels more like an embarrassing waste of time, which is what I was talking to my husband and daughter about (attempts at trying something new that misfire or never quite gel) that compelled Geoff to launch into a story:

"These two men were out camping in the desert when, just an hour or two after they'd called it a night, one man awakened and looked around, then woke up his friend and asked him to describe what he saw, at which point the friend pondered for a moment before saying, 'Astronomically speaking, I see that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of other planets; and meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow, and ...'"

Celeste interrupted with, "I've heard this before -- the first guy had some ..." she started to say, but stopped herself, and even though I could tell it was hard for her to hold back on blurting the punch line (first man dismisses all the profound observations his friend is making as he looks at the sky rather than noticing the obvious -- that their tent has been stolen), she managed to let him finish so he could make his point about how we all miss stuff that's happening right under our noses (or in that particular case, above their noses) because we're so easily distracted by a condition called, "sustained inattentional blindness":

Coined by a man named Rezso Balint way back in 1907, sustained inattentional blindness is the "well-known phenomenon where we fail to notice what's happening in our surroundings because we're allowing ourselves to be absorbed in the inspection of something else," which is a highfalutin way of saying we can't see the forest for the trees (or are so intent on seeing the one thing that we fail to notice the even larger thing that's dancing around, waving its arms, right in front of us), and for those of you who want to experience sustained inattentional blindness, you can do so by going online so you can watch a video where you're instructed to count the number of times the team dressed in white passes the ball while ignoring the passes of the team dressed in black (some variations of the video include a challenge by the lecturer suggesting men tended to count the passes more accurately than women) and at the end of the video, it's revealed that ...

... well, I won't say what's revealed, but it's a perfect example of how easily people can be lured into focusing their attention away from something that's happening right under their noses -- kind of like a newspaper column that's only one sentence.

Reach Karin Fuller at karinfuller@cnpapers.com.


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