As interpreters we spend a lot of time thinking about how our audience perceives our work. We also need to be aware of how our own perception affects how we perceive our work.
When you walk into a closed room with an odor (good or bad) you notice it immediately, but after a short period of time the smell seems to weaken or disappear completely. All of our senses have physiologic mechanisms allowing us to habituate to a stimulus. This is a survival benefit because it allows us to react to changes in our environment which generally signal threats. A new smell is much more significant that one that has been there all day. This sensual habituation allows us to focus our limited brainpower on things which have a higher likelihood of affecting us.
Our minds do the same thing at a higher level. We notice large, sudden changes much more readily than gradual changes. Slowly changing things blend into the background. That is why it is so easy to miss skin cancers, for example.
Being at a site every day means we see it differently than our visitors do. It becomes very easy not to notice the slow decay of exhibits or the gradual accumulation of dirt in facilities. Things can look much different to our visitors. Here is an exhibit from a nearby state park.
Shocking, isn’t it? This was right next to the visitor center, the staff passed by it every day. When I asked about it I was told that the frame is good, and they were waiting for funding to replace the exhibit. The request for a replacement had been in for years but was never funded. Seeing it daily the staff has watched it go from an exhibit that needed replacing to something that was a complete embarrassment to the park. But the change had happened slowly and its true horror was lost on those people that see it daily.
At another nearby park there is a kiosk advertising a self-guided tour with a weather-tight box for the brochures. In the dozen times I’ve visited the park the box has always been empty. An inquiry at the office informed me they no longer provide the tour brochures. Yet the kiosk and box encourage me to take one. Seeing it every day has numbed the staff to the way this is perceived by visitors.
Next time you have a chance to walk through your site, try putting on fresh eyes, as if you had never been there before. It may help you avoid embarrassments like these!