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The Magic of Being a Tourist

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

Usually in traffic, I am the horrible monster next to you with the bass booming and the scratchy metal music blasting out the car windows, but today I rode in external silence. I qualify with "external" because, thanks to the multiple cups of coffee I downed before leaving work in an attempt to make myself do something besides Netflix this evening, my mind was bubbling and murmuring, the ideas flying by the way shiny spaceships always seem to in movies about Utopian futures.

One that went by slowly enough for me to grab it and play with it was a memory. A memory of a quote from a book that I love very much: Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. The book mimics Socratic dialog, and attempts to explain Why Things Are The Way They Are. As someone who knows the basics of evolutionary biology and far less about the Bible, it was an exciting and comfortable read for me. The quote is the teacher talking to his student:

“I’m sure you’ve noticed that only tourists really look at local landmarks. For all practical purposes, these landmarks are invisible to the natives, simply because they’re always there in plain sight.”

And then it hit me. Only the tourists see the landmarks. When you become too accustomed to something, no matter how incredible, you cease to notice it. There's even a psychology term for it: latent inhibition.

In general, latent inhibition is a good thing. It lets you concentrate on tasks without being distracted by all the familiar noises around, but keeps you alert to anything new in your vicinity. On the other hand, having low latent inhibition (LLI) means that you will notice all the details, all the time, and work to figure out why they are the way they are.

So, being a tourist is like having LLI for a second. And personally, I love that feeling.

Maybe they're in this big lake!

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