Rendered Fat Content


Vincent van Gogh: First Steps, after Millet (1890)
" … spanning a great chasm with my bottomless inattention."

Contemplating introducing direct dial service to the phone system, Bell Labs in the 50s sponsored a study to determine how long a phone number could be. People tend to have rather narrow memories. They might reliably remember five things consigned to memory but lose a few entries from a twenty item list. How long could a phone number become before most could no longer reliably remember it? The answer, one of the more famous and consequential answers in the annals of social science, turned out to be 'seven, plus or minus two.' This means that a phone number could be as long as nine digits without most people finding it impossible to remember. Better if it could be held to five digits, but still outward bound acceptable at nine. How long are phone numbers now? Ten digits, but ten made a little easier. Area codes almost don't count, since they tend to cluster around any individual location. Many people almost never dial another area code than their own, and many more restrict their calling to two or three adjacent ones, so the effective length of most phone numbers anchors at seven, perfectly within what the study suggested most would remember.

Some of us are more like dedicated threes on Bell Lab's scale, possessing well below average-sized iconic memories.
I have learned to make lists of items before heading out to purchase them because something about entering a store—the bigger the worse—purges all recollection of prior intent. I have not completely learned how to avoid losing those lists or how to not forget about their existence in any particular moment. I seem to retain less and less as I've aged, such that I currently manage my memory in the same way as do drooling babies. Look, bright shiny!

Here I am, the overseer of our revamping effort and I can't seem to retain recollection of what comes next or what remains to be initiated. Our Painter Kurt and I seem to increasingly engage in what might appear to be rambling conversations. We're reorienting, remembering what we've done, revisiting what we originally thought to be our intentions, recollecting what we've learned, and resurrecting accumulated puzzles so that we might determine where we are and where we're going. The Rationalists recommended never attempting to manage any project like this, for these subjective dialogues tend to translate into meandering states where course wavers and progress slows, but we're not Rationalists and can't follow such instructions, and would choose not to follow them even if we could. We represent the more intuitive spirits, the kind who feel their way through a project, ded reckoning our path forward. We can't reliably remember phone numbers, either.

Our attention spans might fall well below any national average, but we're still sentient. The defined process boys never even attempted to understand, for they focused exclusively upon reforming us into replicas of themselves, damn diversity and understanding. We were treated as stupid because our preferences nudged us in different directions, away from straight, broad, and narrow paths toward more meandering ones. We believe that we're having more fun, but whatever our defense for following our preference, we seem to accept the cost of it as well as its many benefits. My distractions sometimes turn into insights which might encourage a little course correction, some change, producing another link in what I might call a Serendipity Chain. The defined plan followers consider every diversion to be a problem, nudging the effort off course. Us intuitives find opportunity in them, chances to discover what we really should have intended to be up to all along. Our course veers, sometimes alarmingly.

I cannot seem to keep track of everything going on. I seem to snap awake at times, suddenly remembering something that I'm supposed to have been attending to. I find myself AttentionSpanning my way through and along. Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever does it very much different. We read the books, we took the training before essentially ignoring their message in practice. No, we do not have a master list or schedule. No, we did not extract a fixed bid estimate before we started. No, we did not calculate a critical path so that we could disappoint ourselves with it later. The Rationalists would insist that we're flying by the seat of our pants. I might counter that we're flying pantsless. With my infamous shallow iconic memory, I tend to continuously rediscover things for the first time. These wash over me with some degree of panic as I realize that I was probably well behind schedule before I even started.

I have some idea what I'm doing. So, thankfully, do Kurt and The Muse. We collide sometimes and awake and doze, we have more on our minds than our minds can absorb. No more detailed planning could resolve even an ounce of our current unknowing. We're learning. This old place has been trying to teach us from the minute we pulled that first baseboard, from the second we proposed repainting. My intentions are just a piece of what we're satisfying. I'm nudging along a great mystery with my notoriously narrow iconic memory, spanning a great chasm with my bottomless inattention.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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