I visited Mary Arden's farm just outside Stratford-upon-Avon last week and while I was there listened to a falconer give a talk about owls accompanied by a cute Barn Owl and a rather intimidating Eagle Owl. One of the fascinating pieces of information she shared was that a Barn Owl can hear a mouse's heartbeat from 40 feet away and detect a mouse moving in the grass from 100 feet. Now gathered around the falconer and owl were about forty of us humans with hearts much bigger than a mouse's so the question was asked 'How can an owl detect the mouse with all the other noises around her in the wild?'. The answer given was that an owl has to filter out all the extraneous sound to focus on her prey otherwise she would be driven crazy by all the other sounds she can detect.
On Saturday I was still on leave but followed a Twitter stream of comments from the Christian New Media Conference #CNMAC14 which I wasn't able to attend. I was also watching a football match while keeping an eye on Facebook and my Twitter timeline. Safari was open with several tabs including various news media outlets and sports feeds along with my blog with its attendant list of posts I follow from other bloggers. I avoided looking at my email in-box which had an 'out of office' message set up. The question I found myself reflecting on as I did all this is what stops us from going mad listening to, or seeing and reading, all this digital noise? The answer has to be filtering.
We filter out all the extraneous noise both consciously and unconsciously. I was following a hashtag Twitter stream which focused my attention on the conference, until the hashtag was hijacked for a while. I selected the digital media outlets I was interested in. My Facebook timeline is limited to a few people who I know personally in comparison to my Twitter timeline with the 873 profiles I follow. Within that timeline I can select lists of particular subjects related to my job and interests. As for the T.V., well for years I've made use of a digital recorder and watch more recorded programmes of interest than material broadcast in 'real' time. The football match I had on T.V. 'live' between Newcastle and Liverpool was boring, so I subconsciously filtered out most of what I was watching and nearly all of the vacuous nonsense being spouted by summariser Robbie Savage.
Filtering and focus are skills humans have always had to develop in order to survive and function in life, just like the Barn Owl, and that is no less true in a multi media digital age. The challenge is what we discipline ourselves to filter out and focus on. If we don't get that right then unlike the owl we'll miss out on the real meat.
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