Operation DeFam

2020-11-14

in Psychology

In Jurassic Park, the t-rex isn’t able to see people unless they are moving. Something similar really happens in our own brains: once we expect to see something in a certain place and arrangement with other things we effectively stop seeing it. We’re habituated and it becomes part of the background.

In life generally I appreciate the value of defamiliarization — the benefits which can arise from breaking up the expected order. That can be as basic as changing how you light things. Looking at my room for the first time using just a bright flashlight and no room lights, I saw so many cobwebs in the stucco that I immediately had to vacuum the ceiling. Try using just a flashlight in any dark and familiar room and you’ll start to see it differently as you are reminded of things which have become so familiar they’re forgotten.

Going a step further, we can maintain a dynamic living situation by insisting on moving things around. My standard rule is that unless something is a genuinely useful special-case item which gets brought out every few years to save the day then anything which you own which you haven’t touched for six months you probably don’t need. One way to bring all this out and think it over is to reorganize your space. Swap the bed for the bookcase and see how waking up in the morning feels.

A move-in-place is another tactic. When we had a gap between flatmates I was able to use the largest room for the equivalent of doing a defrag operation on a hard drive. I opened every box and container, laid everything out, and then decided what should be kept, archived, or gotten rid of and how the kept things should be organized.

An experiment which I invented yesterday is the “use desk.” Previously, I kept on my desk a mixture of materials for reference, tools I use daily, tools which seem appealing to keep on hand, and decorative objects. As I was cleaning my clear glass desktop, it occurred to me that I would have more usable space and fewer distractions with a rule that only things I am actually currently using for work should be on the desk. I’m going to try it for a few weeks and will report back on the effect.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Milan November 14, 2020 at 3:45 pm

Now that I am obsessed with Alie Ward’s podcast, I should include a link to the relevant episode.

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