Digital Tunnel Vision – A Cognitive Optical Illusion

Studies indicate that those who get their information from a digital screen tend to perceive reality in finite concrete details, seeing the trees but not the forest, while those who get their information from non-digital sources, mainly the printed page, tend to see the abstract context, the big picture, the forest and then the trees.

The researchers asked two groups to read the same story, one on a printed page and the other on a digital screen of the same size.  It proved out that those on the digital devices could recall the smallest details, while those on the non-digital devices considered the story in a broader philosophical or sociological context.


The study observes:

“The ever-increasing demands that individuals encounter in their use of digital technologies may cause them to ‘retreat’ to the less cognitively demanding lower end of the concrete-abstract continuum.”

The fear is that limiting intake of information to digital devices might create a simplistic tunnel vision, a cognitive optical illusion, reducing the human capacity for contemplation, deep thought or see both sides of an idea or argument.

The digital tunnel group tends to see the the details, the trees but not the forest, focusing on the how while the non-digital group sees the big picture, the forest but not the trees, focusing on why. 


It is suggested that this has implications for website design, requiring a balance so that both the forest and the trees are presented.  Some sites might want to focus directly on the concrete object or service, and attempt place it in a broader context (trees to forest) while others might start with a broad perspective and then focus on details (forest to trees).

Sites by content and purpose generally have a bias towards a detail (trees/forest) and others on a broader scope (forest/trees).  Consider these subjects addressed in the galleries of the Top 10 Los Angeles Website Design Agencies.


The following list focuses on how to obtain an article or service, and might balance by seeking to compensate with details that emphasize why use the service or product:

Neonatal care.

Cancer treatment

Learning centers.


Bankruptcy assistance.

Drug rehab.

Criminal defense.



Guest ranch.

Assisted living,




This group tends to focus on why and could compensate with how details.

Youth beverages.

Healthy eating.



Sports nutrition.


Emotional health.

Social development.

Good deeds.

Creative motivation.

Career college.

Charm center.




It’s a fractal-like concept.







Thinking Inside the Box – Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

When Alice went down the rabbit hole she discovered an inside-out world where beliefs considered stable like space, place, time, past, present and memory became elastic.

The author, Lewis Carroll, was an accomplished mathematician and logician, so he structured the bizarre universe of Wonderland on two rational principles:

  1. There is an internal logic that is consistent.  Although absurd, once he established the mutability of time, place, past and present, the story develops within this paradigm.

    Although Alice says, these things are “curious and curiouser”, they reflect much of what we are learning today through the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and the recognition that Newton’s laws don’t always apply to particle physics and cosmology.  In these states, things turn “spooky”.

  2. Alice in Wonderland does not postulate impossibles, like a square circle, but speaks of improbables like cats growing on trees, highly improbable, but who knows?

Would we be more creative if we played with an idea outside the stable normal concepts of space, place, time, past, present and memory?

Considering the repetitive advice to “think outside the box” maybe we should rethink the box and how we fit into it.

Did Alice become larger or the room smaller?



Take for example the Mad Hatter in the image above, who was trapped in a never-ending tea party where he was sentenced to death for singing to the Queen of Hearts but he escaped because Time froze him at 6:00 PM forever.  


In another incident the Mad Hatter is in trouble with the law and probably not guilty but the White Queen explains that sometimes subjects are punished before they commit a crime, not after, and sometimes they are sentenced for crimes they never committed.


Then there is the incident of the jam.  As a benefit for working for the Queen, Alice gets, “. . . jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”  

In a just published book by two Stanford Professors, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, they use design techniques, described as constantly reframing the problems encountered to arrive at a destination not initially clear.  They avoid the impossibles and consider the improbables.  Just like Alice.









Websites that cater to the ageing such as hospices, retirement plans and travel often feature handsome elderly couples trying to look 40ish:

These wbsites smack of false advertising and hide the positive aspects of getting old.

Photos with the reality of ageing might generate more credibility:



The website can be upbeat inserting positive messages like this which Oliver Sachs wrote just before dying:

One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too.  One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too.  One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts.  One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty.  At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age.  I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60.  I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of,  but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

Or the Holstee Manifesto: