Susan Barry by Rosalie Winard

Susan R Barry Ph.D.

Eyes on the Brain

Overlooking the Obvious

Are we becoming less observant?

Posted Feb 27, 2014

A few months ago, I was rushing across Mount Holyoke College’s campus worried that I would be late for teaching a class. I wanted to check the time, but my phone was buried in my backpack, and I was carrying too many books to get my arm in a position to see my watch. Just then, the bells in the campus’ bell tower chimed, and I relaxed. It was 15 minutes before the hour. As a gesture of appreciation, I looked up at the bell tower and saw its clock face. There was the time staring right back at me. I’d been teaching at the college for 21 years, yet this was the first time I realized that I could tell the time on campus simply by looking up.

Was I uncommonly unobservant? Curious, I asked my colleagues and students if they knew of a way to tell the time while outside on campus without checking their phone or watch. Few mentioned the bell tower’s clock, and many laughed with surprise when I pointed it out. Our bell tower was built in 1897 and is located right in the center of the campus. I bet most students consulted its clock 100 years ago. Have we become so wed to our personal devices that we’ve forgotten how to look around and use external cues? Technology provides us with great information but so do our own eyes and brain.