We tend to think of ourselves as "highly evolved," but while our mental world and all the technology we cook up with it has certainly evolved very speedily over the last, say, 100 to 150 years, our body and the back of our brain is still far behind. I think this fact goes a long way towards explaining how confused we are as a species, mostly clumsily crashing our way through life on this planet...
One day, watching some poor band of musicians trying in vain to compete with a couple of television screens just off to the side, I was once again troubled by the fact that I seemed unable to ignore the (stoopit) TVs. My gaze repeatedly switched to the screens, and away from the performance of the real, living, breathing bioforms that I was trying to watch.
Finally, it occurred to me that the reason we are virtually unable to ignore a flickering television, our eyes drawn to it unwillingly again and again, is due to the part of our brain, still very much active, that is always on the alert for any activity in our peripheral vision -- because it might be a wild animal in the brush, measuring us up for a snack.
So I was mightily interested when I came across the same thought applied to a different sense, in, ironically, a blog on a subject that almost could not be more contemporary or "highly evolved," that of digital musicmaking.
The post in Create Digital Music is titled, "Windows Sound Glitches Explained, Plus Glitches and the Fight-or-Flight Response" (11/2/07, by Peter Kirn).
"Your ears and mind are incredibly sensitive to tiny details of sound. Result: if your operating system can’t keep up with sound output for any reason, you’ll get a noticeable “glitch” in the sound — and that’s a big deal. "Microsoft has a great post on their Vista Team Blog today from Steve Ball --
'My colleague on the Windows Sound team, Larry Osterman, also pointed out to me recently that humans are actually “hard-wired” to be disturbed by audio glitches. In an exchange about this topic, Larry observed that audio glitches are more obvious than video glitches because the ear’s tuned to notice high frequency transients — his visceral example of this idea is an image of a stick snapping in the woods behind you as an audio event that wakes you up before a bear wanders into your path.'"So, it's not that we are so dreadfully unfocused and ADD -- although we most certainly are -- it's more because the base of our brain is still executing a seldom-needed Primary Directive. Unless you live in a big, dirty city, in which case it's just doin' its equally contemporary job.