December 27, 2020

Selective inattention

A few weeks ago Jamie and I went to the Oregon Coast for a few days, staying at his family’s house there. Just the two of us. It was lovely and much needed. On the way home, I discovered a couple of things. One was that I am so lucky to live in a place where mask wearing is accepted and pretty much everyone follows the expectations. The other is that I am actually not that observant, something that actually distresses me. I definitely have a bad case of selective attention.

We had stopped in Astoria to run into the Co-op there for some food, with everyone in the store wearing masks. Then we went to a small locally run business to buy some smoked salmon and some fresh chowder. Entering the building, we saw signs that said only one person allowed in the shop at once, unless you were together. We waited for the one customer to leave and then we entered. The shopkeeper was behind plexiglass. I was too busy looking at the options to really pay attention. It wasn’t until we were leaving that Jamie commented about the employees not wearing masks. I was floored and shocked that I hadn’t even noticed. I guess I really wouldn’t see the gorilla walking through the video.

Paying attention is hard. We do so many things reflexively. I was in a state of trust that everyone was wearing masks. Why I thought that in rural Oregon, I am not sure. I certainly haven’t expected mask wearing in other small towns.

I do know that sometimes it is easy to forget to wear your mask when you leave the house for a walk, or forget to pull it up over your nose when you enter a store. But to not notice what the other person is doing is scary, an important reminder to pay attention.

We are also still having trouble getting people to wear masks. COV-IRT is a consortium group of researchers from across the globe working on solutions to problems caused by COVID-19. They developed “Mask Check”, an app that businesses can use to check if a person is wearing a mask correctly before entering a store or business and give reminders. This method makes sense to me because it can avoid the embarrassing human confrontations that can escalate and don’t really help anyone. The big question everyone has right now is how to change people’s behavior so that safer choices are made. Cutting down on embarrassment can help in some instances.

It is going to be a while before the vaccines get to everyone, infections are exploding in California and other areas. An increase is expected after Christmas gatherings. Mask wearing and social distancing are still the best tools while waiting, so pay better attention than I did.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, and look at people to see their mask.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

h masks+social distancing mask check