Caetlin Benson-Allott, professor at Georgetown University, talks about the hidden history of ordinary things, Object Lessons, the transformative power of attention and remote controls.

Transformative Power of Attention with Caetlin Benson-Allott

When I first started researching curiosity, one of the most interesting things I found was the Boring Conference.  No joke: an honest-to-gosh, annual gathering to talk about things one would typically consider deadly dull — what organizers call “a one-day celebration of the mundane, the ordinary, the obvious and the overlooked.”

remote controlI’ve been taken with the idea of the transformative power of attention ever since — I love the idea that if we choose to be curious about something, even something otherwise considered utterly boring, it will get interesting.

Lucky for me, Georgetown professor and author of a whole book on remote controls, Caetlin Benson-Allott is also fascinated with such stuff…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #47: Transformative Power of Attention with Caetlin Benson-Allott. 

And, lucky for us all, librarians live to steward our attention, whatever its form. Arlingtonian Jennifer Rothschild will make you fall in love with your local librarian all over again.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. Oh, Those Rabbit Holes!

I’m always somewhere between delighted and humbled when I come across a curiosity-centric enterprise that is new to me.

I think: I should already know about this!

And: oh, cool! Who knew? 

Which were precisely my reactions when I stumbled across the social media presence of The Atlantic’s Object Lessons, a series on the hidden lives of ordinary things. I realized I’d read these pieces over the years, but never followed the digital breadcrumbs. Then one day, there they were.

An hour on, and I was still wriggling down rabbit holes and delighting in one improbable post after another. The pictures of cookware were what finally snagged me. Having spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the holidays and having become rather inured to the setting, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for a little culinary curiosity, a refresher course in what surrounds me.

And so Choose to be Curious, Kitchen Edition was born. For a week, I tried to look around my kitchen with fresh eyes, to appreciate anew the objects there and wonder at their stories. Whence had they come? Could their function be improved? Did I favor one over another? Why? I was always tickled by the queries that had never occurred to me before.

It was like fishing for new stories among old friends. I recommend it.

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Kitchen - consider the pilot
Have you ever stopped to consider the “things” in your kitchen? Consider the pilot. #choosetobecurious #kitchen

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