Ignore More

Ever since I was a very young student, I’ve been told to pay attention and focus – and was sometimes scolded for not doing so.. Both things are obviously important to succeeding in school and in later life. But I have also come to recognize how important it is to ignore some things.

I suppose “ignore” has a negative connotation, so let me clarify. You need to better allocate your limited time, attention and focus to find the most factual, practical and useful knowledge needed to make informed decisions and choices.

A simple example is screen time. Whether the screen is a big flat one on the wall or a small one in your hand, there is more information available there than anyone can view, process or use. The current information age is a time of scrolling and interruptions.  You need to be effective at ignoring information that turns out to be wrong factually or just irrelevant. If only filtering information was as easy as turning on a filtration system in your home.

In my lifetime of teaching, I know that teachers are always working with students doing research to be more intelligent and effective at filtering out the irrelevant and inaccurate.

All that sounds good and uncontroversial – but it’s not. Social media has come under increasing pressure to be better at filtering just as we have taught students, but every filtering method has been criticized. They have tried using trained humans but that is slow and not very efficient. They have tried using algorithms and technology but that isn’t always as smart as a human though it is faster and more efficient.

Bias also enter the equation. This past week Facebook and Twitter CEOs faced tough (and sometimes ill-informed) questions about how they operate. Do the platforms filter with a bias that disfavors conservatives and Republican and President Trump, or is that where the most disinformation is generated?

“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention,” wrote Nicholas Carr his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

Can we unplug from the Net and media? Of course, you can. You can hide away in a cabin on a remote mountaintop, but is that a way to live? It’s an extreme reaction.

It makes more sense to improve your filtering, but that isn’t easy. There is no course you can take or an easy list of ten things to do. You can start by knowing that you can’t read every article, tweet, email, Facebook or Twitter post.  Can you resist? You’ve probably heard the acronym FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) about the actual physically measurable “fear” people get when they see that badge that says they have unread, unseen content. It’s hard for some people to just ignore or delete without checking.

Carr’s book covers research that shows that this flood of information is more than our brain is configured to handle. TMI – Too Much Information – is literally the case. We take it in and relevant or not our brain tries to categorize and store it. It gets filled like that storage room with a lot of stuff that we don’t need. It’s easier to clean that storage space than clean your brain.

I have taken to watching the half-hour evening news rather than putting on a 24-hour news channel that repeats the same news over and over and adds in a lot of opinions. Do I miss some news? Yes, but I get the major stories and if I want to know more about a story I can easily find it online.

In the same way that tobacco companies used formulas and advertising to keep people wanting more, networks and media platforms work hard at keeping us looking.  When one streaming episode or movie ends, another one is queued up for you to continue. When you search for a certain book, video or topic, the Net will certainly suggest others. Going down that rabbit hole is very, very easy. As the title of a book by Adam Alter puts it, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

“Behavioral addiction” is what makes us be obsessed by text messages, emails, likes, and feeds and makes us binge video. We average about three hours each day on our smartphones. Back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s there was a lot of research and talk about how broadcast television was hurting kids learning.  If all that research had some validity, imagine what Millennial, Generations Y and Z, Zoomers and Generation Alpha kids are doing to their brains and learning by the amount of screen time and information they consume.

What can we do? Alter suggests that we reverse engineer behavioral addictions. Good luck with that.

And What An Interesting Rabbit Hole It Continues To Be


aliceA few days ago (January 27) marked the 151st birthday of Lewis Carroll.  An odd man who will probably always be a bit misunderstood, loved, and frowned upon. But Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is still a trip to read and every once and awhile I do like to go down that rabbit hole.

The first version of Alice’s adventures I read was a Disney version in a Little Golden Book, but I loved it and really wanted Alice as a friend, and a rabbit hole in my backyard.

Here is “Alice in Wonderland,” a 1903 British silent film directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow that was the first movie adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The silent film is memorable for its early use of special effects, including Alice’s shrinking in the Hall of Many Doors, and in her large size, stuck inside of White Rabbit’s home, reaching for help through a window. Only one copy of the original film is known to exist and parts are now lost. Thank goodness for digital.

I have the The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition that was done by Martin Gardner, probably the world’s leading authorities on Lewis Carroll. It was first published in 1959 and he was the first to decode many of the mathematical riddles and wordplay that are hidden in both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This newer edition includes the classic artwork by Sir John Tenniel, including many recently discovered Tenniel pencil sketches.


Down the Rabbit Hole

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) considers the rabbit hole in the 2010 film of Alice in Wonderland

The idea of going “down the rabbit hole” has become a metaphor for an adventure into the unknown. It comes from that usage in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. in which Alice literally follows a strange rabbit into a burrow and has an adventure in a fantastic world.

In the 1960s, it became a slang expression for a psychedelic experience, both from the book and its popularization through the song “White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane.

I have read that in gaming it can be the initial page or clue that brings a player into an alternate reality fictional world.

filmI also think of the 2005 play called Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire, which was adapted into a film (also called Rabbit Hole) in 2010. The film focuses on parents (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) who are dealing with the death of their 4-year-old son Danny. He was killed in a car accident when he ran out into the street after his dog.

The mother, Becca, can’t really deal with the loss of the child and goes down a rabbit hole when she begins meeting with Jason who is the teenage driver of the car that accidentally hit Danny. Her husband is opposed to their meetings.

Jason’s guilt and her sorrow bring them together in an unexpected way. Jason tells her about a comic book he is writing called “Rabbit Hole.” (In the play, he was a newbie sci-fi writer.) The comic book is about parallel universes. Becca reads it and understands it in a way other than physics.

In many uses of the “down the rabbit hole” metaphor, going down the hole is seen as a foolish, crazy act. The world found there is also strange, perhaps crazy, as in madness. But the visitor to this new place begins to check that world against their own known world. It is often more difficult to emerge from the hole than it was to do down it, but if they do return to their own world, they do so changed.

I often thing of my journeys online as going down a rabbit hole. As a somewhat attention-deficit type person, I often get lost for hours in my online searching, reading, watching, listening and eventual writing. Friends often wonder at the hours I spend lost in this world. I know they question the value or the return on this investment.

movie posterI saw a movie years ago that got me thinking about going down the rabbit hole in more of a physics way. (Though scientists might say the film is fringe science.) It was the documentary called What the Bleep Do We Know which in its release on DVD added the subtitle Down the Rabbit Hole” (The film is amazingly on YouTube in its entirety.)  It is an entertaining, educational, engaging way to view some of the wonders of quantum physics. It connects that to self-realization and human evolution, which is where the fringe comes in.

When you go down that particular rabbit hole into the subatomic world, the laws of physics seem to break down and, like Alice, things seem incredibly strange.

How can an electron be in more than one place at the same time?

As an Alice observer, we have the power to change what we observe.  Get to the fringey edges and you wonder if the molecular structure of water can be altered via meditation. That’s why at those edges physics entangles us in a cosmic unity that makes telepathy, telekinesis and precognition seem more credible.

If you read articles in this area, the “gap” between science and religion/spirituality looks like it has a bridge we can cross.

Like Alice, getting into the rabbit hole is almost too easy. The real challenge is to get out and be the wiser person for the journey.

Manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground (f. 45v / p. 88)Description A handwritten page of the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, illustrated by the author. Held and digitized by the British Library.
A handwritten page of the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, illustrated by the author. Held and digitized by the British Library.

from the original illustrated Alice in Wonderland   (available as text online)

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled “Orange Marmalade”, but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

“Well!” thought Alice to herself, “after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!” (Which was very likely true.)

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! “I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?” she said aloud. “I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think—” (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) “—yes, that’s about the right distance—but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?” (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)

Presently she began again. “I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think—” (she was rather glad there WAS no one listening, this time, as it didn’t sound at all the right word) “—but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma’am, is this New Zealand or Australia?” (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke—fancy curtseying as you’re falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) “And what an ignorant little girl she’ll think me for asking! No, it’ll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.”

Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. “Dinah’ll miss me very much to-night, I should think!’ (Dinah was the cat.) “I hope they’ll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah my dear! I wish you were down here with me! There are no mice in the air, I’m afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that’s very like a mouse, you know. But do cats eat bats, I wonder?” And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, “Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?” and sometimes, “Do bats eat cats?” for, you see, as she couldn’t answer either question, it didn’t much matter which way she put it. She felt that she was dozing off, and had just begun to dream that she was walking hand in hand with Dinah, and saying to her very earnestly, “Now, Dinah, tell me the truth: did you ever eat a bat?” when suddenly, thump! thump! down she came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over.