Steven's Notebook

Look Ma - No Hands!

Gorillas and Cows

At last night’s meetup of the Software Testing Club Atlanta, John Stevenson hosted a workshop on Creative and Critical Thinking. John had a lot of good information for us, had us play games, and fostered a lot of good discussion.

One of the discussions circled around the topics of information overload and Alan Page‘s favorite gorilla, Daniel Simons’ The Monkey Business Illusion. The two are almost opposite sides of the coin – how to deal with lots of information, and how to deal with seemingly-unrelated (and thus perhaps invisible) facts/events when I’m concentrating on something.

If you’ve never seen the gorilla video, watch it now.
If you have seen it, watch this version all the way through to the end.

I raised two points last night, and I’m interested in your thoughts on them.

1. “Information Overload,” though these days often attributed to the overwhelming quanity of “stuff” available on the Internet, is not really a new problem. When I was a young boy — long before the web and the overwhelming popularity of cat videos — I would walk into the public library and gaze up at row upon row of bookshelves. There was no way I could ever read them all. I could either become “overloaded” by the volume of information available, or I could choose a single book at a time. Digital information is no different, we “simply” need to discern what’s important to us.

2. While the gorilla and the illusion of attention are interesting, there are probably times when we just don’t care. If ours is a mission-critical job, and our paycheck — or someone’s life — depend on counting basketball passes then noticing the oddity in the scene is actually a bad thing. a cow For a concrete example, consider the cows the field. To the kids in the back seat they’re something interesting to notice, perhaps an unusual sight and fun to count. Mom who’s driving the car on a crowded highway should probably not notice the cows unless one is making a mad dash toward the road.

So what do you think? Join in the conversation in comments here or over on twitter.

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