Hard looks


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What is the difference between looking at something and taking a hard look at it, or between hearing something and listening intently?

-Alan Watts, Not what should be but what is, 1969

The human eye has no zoom function and yet I find myself, all the time, squinting at things as if I had such an ability. That’s me trying to focus on things, greatly influenced by years of science fiction. I always liked Steve Austin’s bionic eye whenever The Six Million Dollar Man was on TV.

Squinting is a waste of time when what you need to do is move closer to the thing you’re trying to see. Or I guess  you could take out your phone and shove it at whatever you’re wanting a close-up of. But you’re still going to have to bring it closer to your eye to see the detail in the image.

The same goes for trying to focus your hearing. The Bionic Woman had the high-tech ear and could pull in the smallest sounds from great distances. But I don’t. I can’t. I have to turn up the volume or move closer to the source of the sounds. Anything else is me going through the motions of hearing and seeing better while causing the opposite.

I  guess on one level it’d be nice to have these abilities but you’d have more things that would start to fail once the warranty runs out. It’s funny that I’ve engaged in these useless behaviors without noticing for most of my life. The other day I was at the store looking for a particular brand and size of chili powder. You all know how grocery store shelves are stocked. The spice section is rows and rows of similar-looking bottles of varying sizes and here I go trying to scan the shelves and zoom to get the label on the chili powder to pop out at me. Then I caught myself, and Alan Watts’s words came to mind. So I moved closer to inspect the chili powder section for what I was looking for. As it turns out, it wasn’t there. I don’t know how long it’ll take to break this habit. But at least I’m aware that I do it.