I spend an inordinate amount of time online. Some of it is for research for my writing projects but much more of it is spent reading random stuff. I read blog posts and most of them are advertisement free. But much of what I read is surrounded by ads which is how the internet is run. I’m supposed to click through and be mesmerized by the products offered and get out my credit card and make a purchase and then life will be better all around.

That’s the theory. However, I’m not a good consumer. I have too much stuff all ready. My house is full of crap. I have a kitchen filled with baking dishes used only rarely. I have mountains of fancy computer paper and scrapbooking supplies. I have yarn here, there, and everywhere. I have CDs I rarely listen to and bookcases full of books waiting to be read. And that doesn’t include the over 400 books on my Kindle.

Mostly, I ignore the ads. I assume that most people also mostly ignore all the ads. There are loud ads that make me immediately close the page and not stay anywhere near it no matter how intriguing the article that drew me there. That’s a different issue and I have no idea why anyone would think this is a good idea. It sure makes surfing the web while at work a risky business.

There are flashing ads that try to draw my attention and that’s what I would like to explore a bit right now. These ads used to be flashing through the primary colors plus green and were highly annoying. But because they were everywhere, we simply began to not see them. Today’s ads are still flashing, usually not in such bright colors, and we still have trained our minds to not see them.

If you were really distracted by these ads, you couldn’t read the article or peruse whatever it was that brought you to the webpage in the first place, so this is a natural defense mechanism. I wonder how much of this ignoring stuff is affecting the rest of our lives.

When we train our brain to not notice that thing there that is trying, desperately, to grab our attention, how many other things do we miss when we should be paying attention? When we talk about distracted drivers, is it really being distracted or just a well practiced skill of ignoring the annoyances of the web experience?

Day after day, page after page, we ignore what is there. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I don’t even notice there is something over there at the edge of my vision. I read the article, play the game, join in the forum discussion, or whatever it is I’m doing for me.

As a nurse, I needed to see and understand some rather subtle clues to a patient’s status. I had to take note of respiratory patterns, make sure oxygenation was adequate, looks for clues of kidney failure, and then also take care of the obvious condition. I can still do all that nonsense on unsuspecting people who are not, in fact, patients. It is sometimes annoying for me to meet someone and have a brief thought traipse through my head about their overall health. At least I don’t meet people and immediately assess how difficult or easy it would be to start an IV. I’ve been out of nursing long enough for that to have stopped.

Being trained in observation was a key element of nursing school. I’m sure it is also part of other occupations. We need to interact with the world around us and to do so safely, so we need to be aware of what is going on in that world. If we noted every single thing going on around us, we would be in sensory overload and that would also be ineffective. There has to be some middle ground, some way to pay attention to the necessary while ignoring the unnecessary.

I don’t know if the internet is helping or not. I’ve certainly gotten good at ignoring what I don’t want to see on the webpages I visit. I got the new Facebook page yesterday. I was there and I refreshed the page and the new version popped up. It gave me a chance to see what had been changed. Instead of a ticker at the top, letting me know what other people were doing that was in no way related to my life, I was now greeted with a list of sponsors who had, in theory anyway, all sorts of things available for me to buy.

I’m guessing some people were stalkish enough to continually see what their “friends” were doing and following the friends to places that had nothing to do with them. I didn’t use that “feature” because when someone I know liked a picture of stranger, it really didn’t do much to bring joy and happiness to my day. I guess it was supposed to let me see friends of friends and give me a chance to meet someone else who would then make my life complete. Perhaps, because this isn’t really how I define completeness, it would explain my low friend count on Facebook.

But now, that space is filled with “sponsors” which is just another word for ads. They will be personalized, according to Facebook. I guess I have used the word “old” enough times that they are sure I need Botox or some other make the Botox people really mad cure for my aged self. I can have several of these in a row. I mostly don’t look over at the ads and when I do, I cringe.

I don’t know what type of ads people get who are always posting pictures of themselves at the bar and drinking themselves into a state of oblivion. I don’t know why I don’t get more ads about CrossFit or health stuff, unless getting rid of wrinkles is the only health thing I need to worry about.

I try to ignore the ads with some degree of success. But what is the cost of all this ignoring stuff across the web? Are we all losing our ability to see the details of life? Are we no longer training ourselves to see the subtle things that allow us to interact with kindness and acceptance? Does all this ignoring have any real life effect at all?