Thursday, December 21, 2006

Selective Hearing

I firmly believe that we are, at this very moment, experiencing an evolutionary event, one that will change the way we think, the way we process information, our very existence....
Well, maybe not, but it's astonishing some of the reports that have come out recently about kids sleeping through fire alarms.

Related situations surround us everyday. My brother, who is a sheriff in Rockdale County, has seen many examples of officers who, with lights and sirens blaring, will not be able to get around drivers because they simply do not see or hear them. He has to use the air horn (which are like those installed in trains) in order to be recognized some of the time.

I realize that sometimes I don't hear people because of my ADD... okay, I don't hear people a lot of the time... but there's a reason for this, and it's the same reason that children sleep through fire alarms.
All sense data that we recieve goes into our brains and are converted to nerve electric messages (or something like that). Everything we hear is converted by the ear and brain and processed. However, there is a very basic difference between the way that anyone born since about 1975 (give or take a decade) processes information from their elders. In this era of noise pollution, with TV, radio, cell phones, constant noise... our brains have to figure out what to process and what to ignore and discard as background noise. Our brains multitask on many different levels. Right now I am listening to the news while doing this, and with most children, they can have a TV on, the computer, radio (okay, IPod), while IM'ing their friends, and all while doing their homework.

The fundamental ability that everyone from my generation on down is learning to do is to filter out unwanted information in an effort to make sense of so much data being shoved into us every day. This becomes selective hearing. We hear what we want to hear. Now, the side effect of this is that children often do not hear their parents because, since usually what parents have to say to children is usually not wanted by the child, they simply ignore it.

Of course, this is exacerbated by the inability of the parent to discipline their child. By yelling at the child, he or she simply ignores the yelling, or for that matter, any noise that is that loud. The child does not want to get up, he learns to ignore the yelling parent that wants them to get up. Thus the fire alarm going off neglects to send the brain the information that you need to get up and get out because the brain as already decided that anything that loud must be discarded as unnecessary information.
This is, of course, why my mom finishes every sentence with "did'ja hear me?" I don't pay attention because I'm thinking about other things, and so my head discards unneeded information, like anything my mom says. Now, that is a lack of self discipline, or an effect of ADD, and I'm wrong for ignoring her sometimes, but you have to understand that with so much information flooding our minds every second, it comes to the point that we have to discard some things while digesting the more important information.

Thus the Sounds of Silence are no more. Because I've actually seen it when, at a concert, that everything goes quiet, and someone has to start screaming, because the silence is frightening to people. A lack of noise, a lack of information, is unnerving to most people my age or younger. It would be like Linus without his blanket. Noise, be it TV or music or whatever, is an essential part of our society. We have to process information constantly, even if it is just background noise.

So, selective hearing is simply an evolutionary adjustment to the changing environment in which we live. It is a method of survival. With children, though, it leads to ignoring parents, sleeping through fire alarms, and leading to a lack of discipline or self control.

Next time you have a chance, try Earobics, which is an education web site that sells software to help children process information in the midst of background noise and distractions. Talk about a hard game... try the advanced online games on the site (check in Game Goo)... it was hard for me to do!
So finally we have an answer to the classic question... If a tree falls in the forest, even if there were people around, they would be too busy listening to their IPods to notice.

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