Implicit attention

When I awoke on Sunday, a random fact (probably a dream remnant) claimed front seat in my thoughts:

Zez Confrey is the composer of “Kitten on the Keys”.

Remarkable that I should have known this in the first place — though I do have one spirited performance of the piece on my iTunes (by Alan Feinberg on his album Fascinatin’ Rhythm) — and even more remarkable that I retrieved the memory. Why?

Well, Zez is about as Z-heavy a name as you can get (and even more compact than Zardoz). Fact is, I notice words with a Z in them, especially names, and they get lodged in my memory.

Actually, I notice them even when I’m not reading text, and attending to it, but merely noticing the text in passing, at a glance. I don’t think I’m looking for names with Zs, but even when my attention is focused on something else, my mind takes me there. I’m implicitly attending to the letter Z.

Before I go on, a few words about Zez Confrey. From his Wikipedia entry:

Edward Elzear “Zez” Confrey (April 3, 1895 – November 22, 1971) was an American composer and performer of piano music. His most noted works were [the novelty compositions] “Kitten on the Keys,” and “Dizzy Fingers.”

Back to implicit attention. We are, all the time, negotiating an immense world of sensory experience — visual, auditory, tactual, olfactory, gustatory, proprioceptive, and more — while treating some of this as foreground (to which we’re attending) and most of it as background. Much of the background we don’t register at all, but some of it we notice without realizing it. That’s implicit attention.

You’re in a public place, and people are talking all around you. You might listen in on some conversations, but mostly it’s apparently just background noise — except that if someone says something that resonates with you personally, something like your first name or your last name, or something phonetically close to one of them, that will stand out and you’ll register it.

Same thing if you’re paging through material to find a particular page or section. You’re not reading through the material that passes by, but if something comes past that resonates with you personally for some reason, that will stand out and you’ll register it. Zs are salient for me, so I’ll notice Z words even in material that I’m not actually reading. So Zez stood out for me the first time I came across it, and it’s stuck in my memory.

(Now listening to the rest of Fascinatin’ Rhythm.)


5 Responses to “Implicit attention”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Victor Steinbok on Google+:

    Zazzle, Zazu, Zanzibar, ZooZ, Ziza, Zizout! and Zazil have the advantage of having actual two [z] sounds, unlike Zez. And Jazz and Jazzie have just as many z’s, but they are not fronted. But none are first name or personal nicknames. (Other than Jazz) They represent actual products, companies or, in the case of Zanzibar, geographical locations. I suppose, one could use Zazu, ZooZoo and Ziza as first names or nicknames, though. But the ones that come to mind first–ZaZa and Zizek–are actually [zh], not [z] in both instances.

    ?? Zez has two actual [z] sounds. And it begins with one, which is highly salient.

  2. Victor Steinbok Says:

    Do you say [‘ses@mI] or [‘se,zahmI]? That, and the next word’s initial sound should determine whether it’s [zes] or [zez]. Or am I just blowing smoke?

  3. Stan Says:

    I love “Kitten on the Keys”: it’s got pizazz.

  4. Victor Steinbok Says:

    Sesame has nothing (literally) to do with it, but when I saw “Zez” I expected de-voicing in the final [z]. That made me wonder how differently it performs from “says”–which often is voiced–and that, in turn, lead to sesame. I guess, my point was that some people will always emphasize the final [z] while others will give it a more natural roll and devoice it in some circumstances. With “Zazzle”, on the other hand, this is not an option at all.

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