January 9th , 2007 . It was a momentous moment , a historical one . In his trademark crisp speech Steve Jobs said , even he- the legend of innovation – was waiting for it for over two and a half years ! To a continuous applause he announced a device that will change the paradigm of communication and entertainment forever . A revolutionary device that combined an ipod , a phone and an internet communicator – namely -the iphone .
The world has indeed not been the same ever since . The advent of the iphone and the generation of smartphones that followed –transformed not just the devices and the paradigm – but us – the human race . The smartphones became the single click access to world’s largest library of literature , music , movies, even porn – the haven of shopping – from humble groceries to the swankiest luxury products . The hub of instant food ordering , instant news, instant messaging and instant social media updates and ofcourse amazingly addictive games . Every time you had to wait for something- even if for a minute whether its at the traffic light or the hospital – people will pull out their mobiles . Even when sitting together for dinner – you would see family members busy texting / scrolling on their own phones. Whether in restaurants or in movie halls or in queues at the train station, airports or even on trips to the mountains and to the monuments – smartphones have made their presence ubiquitous .
Human attention is a very scarce and valuable thing . And over the last few decades , Psychologists have proven that when our attention in focussed on one thing – we tend to miss other very obvious things. Try talking to someone and balancing your books together .
In a Ig Nobel Prize winning experiment in 1999– which is arguably the most famous psychological experiment of our times, psychologists – Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris – came up with a term inattentional blindness . The experiment was called The Invisible Gorilla . In the experiment , a basketball game was screened. 2 basketball teams wore white and black colours. The participants were divided into 2 groups – one group was asked to count the number of passes made by the white team and the other group had to do the same for the black team . Both groups performed reasonably well on this metric . But bang in the middle of the game ,a person in gorilla dress – walks right through the screen, pounds its chest and then walks away . How many percentage of the participants do you think spotted the gorilla? Less than 30%. How did people miss something as big as a gorilla right in the middle of the screen ? This experiment and its many variations have been repeated by researchers ever since . The conclusion is the same – because when people are concentrating on counting the passes – they tend to be blind to what is happening around them even if there are gorillas dancing right in front of them. Attention is finite and mental resources limited .But being unaware of the limitations – we rarely see the world as it is .The vivid visual experiences belie a striking mental blindness .
How many of these gorillas do we miss everyday because we are distracted by something else ? A beautiful flower blooming to its full glory , a cool waft of breeze , birds chirping , your mother making the most delicious laddoos – are some of the gorillas that we miss when we are just updating our social media or ordering on Zomato.
The already scant human attention is reduced further by the constantly buzzing mobile phones . Instant social media updates , news , emails , whatsapp messages – the endless notifications keep the phone buzzing all day – compelling us to interrupt whatever we are doing and check the mobile every few seconds . We feel compelled to respond, taking attention away from whatever we were doing before – even if it was driving at the speed of 100kmph on a highway – causing multiple unfortunate accidents .
I work for a FMCG major . In big modern retail stores – the aisle counters are the priciest assets – as they trigger impulse buying . Retailers often stock cigarettes , chewing gums and chocolates there .While waiting for their billing to happen – people get tempted and buy these items – which is why these counters are so valued . But come the smartphone revolution – the sale of chewing gum has gone down 20% – as now, when people are in queue and awaiting their billing – they just pull out the phone and don’t even notice the counters or the products .In zoos and parks, parents are buzzing away at their mobiles instead of enjoying the time with their children .Studies show both the sense of connection as well as the happiness is reduced significantly in such instances .
Personally , I felt the constantly buzzing mobile was like the perfect distracting device . It derailed my productivity at work and also prevented me from noticing the gorillas( big things) in my life – my joyful children, enjoying a deep conversation with my mother, enjoying a hot cup of tea with my husband , listening to an Om Swami lecture with full attention. So ,I decided to concentrate and not let the mobile take away my limited attention . Its easier said than done .
But the meditation in the Black Lotus App on building mindfulness and building focus enabled me to do just that .Focussing intensely when needed and being mindful at all times .Alongside a few practical tips of keeping the mobile on silent when in meetings or at night , having fixed slots to respond to messages and emails and minimizing inane communication- I tried giving attention to and savoring the wonderful things in life that do need attention . A better concentration , higher productivity and better sleep – and noticing the multiple other gorillas that I was missing on in life – unlocked for me new sources of happiness . My meditation became more enjoyable as did my morning cup of tea. In my conversations I felt more connected and joyful rather than being restless and distracted. It’s still a long way to go for me , but it’s a start. I hope you too find the joy of seeing some of the invisible gorillas of life .