personal

The Paradox of Choice, Apple and Dell, and Happiness

Or, “Why there is little practical difference”.  The terms Apple and Dell may be replaced by HP and Lenova, Asus and iBuyPower, or pretty much any boxed system.

Two helpful references, both TED talks, followed by a brief summary.  These will form a basis for understanding the psychology of what this post is focused on.

The Paradox of Choice

Happiness

In brief, the psychological point I want to explore is that choice is not what is really best for us much of the time, and happiness is an internal state of mind.

Since the lives I am most easily able to relate to are my own and those close to me, I will frequently give examples of myself and my girlfriend, Meg.

The human mind can be very misleading about what will make it happy.  People pursue money, power, sex, all things they truly believe (as their brain tells them to believe it) will make them happy…but they often do not become happy pursuing the brain’s lead on happiness.  When this is compounded by being given too many choices, our brain’s ability to mislead us only strengthens.

Consider the wide variety of cell phones available, and allow me to be so bold as to break them into three categories.  The dumb phone, the phone, and the smart phone.  I’d think of a better name for the standard phone, but my creativity fails me.

The dumb phone makes calls and receives them.  Fewer phones fall into this category, but basic plans make them dumb.  They are for people (luddites we say!) who have little interest in organizing their life, playing music, or doing anything with their phone besides making calls.

The phone is the most common. It has a wider variety of features…some have one feature, and not another, but all are more than a dumb phone. It can make and receives calls, and potentially play music, take/view/send photos, email, and has an ever advancing feature set as technology improves.

The smart phone is barely a phone.  Making and taking calls are its simplest function; it can browse the web, access a wide variety of email, run apps, organize life, navigate…it’s a portable computer and life organizer.

Upon a decision to get a cell phone, or upgrade from an existing phone, an at-the-time seemingly important choice must be made.  Which phone to get? People WANT the BEST.  But which is the best?  Even after spending time deciding which class of phone they want, they have dozens of choices of individual phones within a class.  They want what is BEST…but who defines best?  What’s best for you may not be best for me.

My girlfriend is concerned with the functionality and appearance of the device in question.  It should hold visual and tactile appeal, and whatever functions it claims to have must function flawless, every time, with no failure or room for conclusion.  She is unconcerned with customization, and doesn’t have much desire for features.  Though she ended up with a smart phone because her boyfriend is a total geek, she would be well served by a standard, sleekly designed phone.

Her handsome boyfriend is unconcerned with the appearance, and is primarily concerned with functionality.  I don’t mind if there are some bugs…I will work around them, learn to work with quirks, tinker with the device myself until all things run as *I* want them to.  This may not be the BEST way for the average person to do things, but it’s customized for me, by me, and I define it as best for me.  This makes an open-source based smart phone the best choice for me.

Already, we can see what is best is two different things for different people.  However, upon examination of my girlfriend’s requirements…all these decisions and choices that are made should lead her to a phone that functions as intended, with very little choice.  If she was not given a choice and simply handed a functioning phone, she would be happier, as she would not even have been bothered with having to make a choice, and not have to second guess if she made “the right choice” (which, I suggest, as many before me, is a fallacy).  My situation is different; I am aware of my technical needs and desires, and make careful choices based off of that.  I am pleased with having choice, because I am informed enough to make that choice.  The downfall in this is if I am informed enough to make a choice that is best for me, but the choice I would make does not exist…if such a phone has not yet been developed.

If there was choice in fashion, the situation would be reversed.   Meg would understand the options and choices given to her, and select something fashionable.  I, meanwhile, am unable to shop alone.   I would go to a clothing store, wander the aisle, and come out with nothing.  My mother, even after college, would go with me, select a some clothing in an appropriate size, and suddenly, as if by magic to my eyes, the store suddenly had clothes I could wear.  I found the variety of choices in clothing oppressive and overwhelming, and it led me to make no choice, except to choose to leave and reject making a choice.

This can be seen in grocery stores, selecting sauce (as discussed in another TED talk).  We have a wide variety of paper to choose in our printer.  We have customized pens, tissues, TVs, shoes…everything now has massive choice and decision making in selecting the RIGHT product, and it can be overwhelming.

Most people are experts in few, if any fields, and therefore are unprepared for the task of making a choice.  We are marketed at very aggressively, through every medium advertiser can think of, and probably through some we haven’t even realized yet.  The choices are portrayed as important, and we want to be assured of having the best.   Yet, if every product claims to be the best, how do we know?  The average person is at the whim of marketing.

It’s been awhile. We were talking about Apple and Dell, right?  Discussing why it doesn’t matter.

Let’s be straight up.  I like choice.  As an engineer, my decision making process is highly refined, ignores most marketing, and is well above average in making “best” choices for myself.  My choice, generally, is a Linux-based PC, build by myself, running a lightweight system that does what I want, and that’s it.  When I decide I want further capabilities, such as photo editing, I choose to install and run this on my system; I don’t need it to be a built in capability.  This is a result of my geekiness and training.

The average person knows little to nothing about how a computer works.  What works best for them is what they KNOW best and are most efficient on; transferring from PC to Mac or Mac to PC can be daunting, and most people consider the time learning as a waste.

Let’s take it a step further.  Windows-based computers are looked at as more flexible, giving more options, and giving more choice.  Non-Apple-fanbois scoff at Apple products at locked-in, locked-down, choiceless monsters.

What has Apple done?  They’ve given users a lack of choice.  This is exactly what most people want.  They don’t have the tech savvy to MAKE choices; so when presented with an elegant, highly functional product, they embrace it.  Any snobbery is a result of Apple’s marketing, not their product.

However, the average user doesn’t even KNOW about this locked-down Apple philsophy.  If they use it, they enjoy it.  Even catching wind of this and attempting to mock Apple is useless; many of those users by a Dell, HP, other boxed computer, and spend their time using the packaged browser, mail program, photo editor, media player…in effect, taking the exact same practical approach as an Apple user, and taking comfort in their own lack of choice.

Therefore, lack of choice, and even seeming lack of choice (indeed, there are a great variety of replacement programs, for Apple and Windows, for almost every application, that most users simply don’t know about) is often a positive thing.  In an area where most people are not knowledgeable, lack of choice is good.  People choose to like what they are comfortable with, and any debate beyond that is merely us exercising our ego.

Consider a device you can buy in 11 different efficiencies.  The first one is 100% efficient, and costs $100.  The next is 110% efficient, and costs $110, and so on until 200% efficiency at $200.  How do you choose what is best, as an average consumer, who is not knowledgeable about the product?  This is the situation most marketers have us in, and glibly persuade us to buy the best, newest hotness.  If you are knowledgeable, and know you need exactly 140% efficiency, the choice is easy, and you are grateful for it…but for the vast, overwhelming majority, it becomes stressful and allows us to second-guess our choices, rather than make us happy with having a choice.  We often will buy the biggest and best, because we are assured we will be happy with that…but, in the end, it was a meaningless choice that we made in order to stroke our ego, in the same we debate our choices are better because of our ego.

So, what therefore do we do?  We must make intelligent choices, when faced with overwhelming choice.  I would say, in these situations, the only negative choices are not making a choice, as I tend to do when attempting to buy clothes, or to hesitate, waffle, and allow negative stress into our lives.  Apple or Dell…just pick one.  Make a choice decisively, and be pleased with the results.  Certain situations call for different approaches, but generally, don’t let choice frazzle you…simply make the choice.

[another] Evolution of Facebook [post]

I didn’t join Myspace early enough to be able to write an in-depth discussion of how it started and how it went wrong, but I’m pretty sure it went pretty wrong pretty early on.  The whole idea of letting people fully customize the look/layout/music/apps/scripts/flashingshinythings of their site was doomed to failure.  Non-technical people will, at all times, botch up technical things, and the fault for that is on the shortsightedness of the technical people who allow them to “easily” customize their stuff.

I’m not calling Myspace a failure in the business sense of the word, in the exact opposite way I’d call Betamax or HD-DVD a failure.  Betamax/HD-DVD was technologically sound, and failed for (a number of reason, including) business reasons.  Myspace is a technical and visual abomination, and did well from a business perspective.  McDonald’s success in business doesn’t make for a great hamburger.

But, I digress.  Myspace’s early-on choices to be become a playground for garish social networking design, including confusing/poorly implemented groups, discussion boards, and later additions to compete with Facebook (chat, etc) do not seem to have influenced Facebook early on.

Facebook started simple.  That’s why I liked it.  There was a lot of excitement when my college got access to Facebook.  It was a bit exclusive…you had to be a college student to join.  It kept it “classier” and more elite than Myspace, we felt.  Interface was clean and not-garish.  You couldn’t customize it, so people couldn’t botch it up.  It was clear in its purpose; a social networking site.  You  were friends with people who WERE your friends, you could contact your friends publicly or privately, and get since you were only friends with people you were actually friends with, you could find people’s email, phone number, address, etc etc. Simple. Fresh. Nice.

Changes crept in over the years.  Numerous layout redesigns. Fancy new web technologies.  The biggest hullabaloo came about when the News Feed was added, I would say.  Suddenly, you didn’t go pull information from someone you wanted to know about…it was pushed to YOU, by default.  Suddenly, everyone knew who broke up with who, and who everyone’s new friends were.  Like everything, after a time, the anger subsided.  More networks were opened, and soon you could join by company…by location…by simply having a face.  Advertising features were added. Apps were added.  A social network became a social waste of time.

Thankfully, we can’t (through Facebook’s design) alter the colors or layout in dramatic ways.  However, it is no longer a complement to have friends.  It’s not a reference for the real-life friends like it used to be, or even a mild amusement simply from joining groups with like-minded people.  Now, the dominant force on Facebook is a sub-goal…applications and advertising.

On sign in, you are (as always since implementation), assailed with the News Feed.  The new hotness is algorithms, determining which friends are your besties, and displaying their updates above other people’s updates.  You get a friendly nudge to reconnect with an old friend, or are presented with someone Facebook’s magicks thinks you may already be friends with.  Real-life happenings like running into an old friend in a grocery store are simulated by Facebook telling you who you ran into in the world wide interweb.  Facebook doesn’t REALLY replace real life…you still run into people in the grocery store…but it abstracts real life paradigms and brings them into the interwebs.

What’s that?  Join Mafia Wars?  Farmville?  Superpoke?  Sure!  I mean, no thanks.  Applications are annoying.  They have no place in Facebook’s original layout and way of doing things.   What happened to keeping it simple, stupid?  Not enough money in doing that?  Photos and videos being posted to walls…fine, that’s an extension of real life.  Applications and Facebook games are not, and also, they are corrupting they children.  Yeah, I played that card.

I’m tired of it.  I want my simple social networking site back.  I want things to stop feeling like they need to ADD FEATURES.  These added features are designed to draw you in, so of course people will use them if they are added…but they harm the beautiful simplicity.

I suppose I’m just getting old.  I want them to get off my social networking lawn.

And now, from Google…

ssh

I’m not shushing you.

I need to get my servers running at home in optimal shape so I can pull pictures off of them to post while I’m at work, since that’s when motivation usually strikes.

Yesterday Meg got locked in her apartment, which is pretty scary.  I thought she was being silly girl who somehow forgot how to open doors because, how do you lock yourself in your apartment?  She thought she was being silly girl too.  She wasn’t, she was legit locked in through either some screwup in the lock mechanism, or some screwup in the lock mounting on the door.

So I was  a HERO and came and let her out.  Hooray.

But then last night I took apart the lock and “broke” it.  At least, I removed the mechanism that can lock her inside, which was super fly and fun to do. I want to post a picture of the inner workings of the lock, but I can’t do that til later, since I’m lame and never set up my server at home to really work.  I might bit the bullet and buy a NAS enclosure, even though that’s the easy way out.

touche google

I found out that more people than I realized don’t actually “read” my blog, but have it hand fed to them by Google Reader.  I don’t really know anything about this Reader, but thanks for taking my hardwritten blags and turning them into a COMMODITY item that people don’t even have to work for.

You all should be totally ashamed.

rats

nostalgiacs

I’d like to direct you to this place.  Keeping clicking to read older and older posts, and have more and more fun.

http://ihaveablog.xanga.com/

It’s my old blagging stomping grounds.  It’s full of uh maze ing nuggets all about me.  I can only blag with that sort of brilliance once in awhile, I vow here and now to again become a blagger par excellunce.  And include more pictures.  Starting next post.  Or the one after that.

another post!

Two posts in less than twenty four hours, I’m on a crazy writing streak.

Maybe I’ll start writing in the mornings. Maybe it’s good for me!

Yesterday, I felt so drained and wiped out.  Probably a combination of work stress, financial ‘stress’ (funny how though money isn’t a problem, feeling like I have to spend too much stresses me out), and my girlfriend being gone again, coupled with the fact that I normally need a decent amount of alone time, and I hadn’t got that in a long, long time.  Well, if a few weeks is a long time.

I feel rested.  I slept through the whole night, I think…that’s not super common.  I felt exhausted when I woke up…and recall actually saying to myself, “Get out of bed, you turd”.  How’s that for self loathing, eh.

My brain and body are tired of being tired and stressed.  Today, they instructed me to be happy, and I am.  Retaining my love for everrryyything today will be high priority, and I feel optimistic and ready to LIVE.  Funny, cause today is a NORMAL DAY.  So I’m going to LIVE a NORMAL DAY.  But staying content during that…that’s something that’s often way too hard to achieve.  Eye before eee.

hmmm

i think the real answer is: i need a vacation.  but vacations really don’t help; the instant you’re back at work, the stress level is back at its typical work level.  i don’t much care for it.

the idealist in me is truly slaughtered by the whole work-stress problem.  there’s really no need for it.  no one WANTS to be stressed at work; everyone would rather be happy and work and play and balance.  but, the work culture has taught us a different paradigm, and by the time you’re in a position to change that thinking, you’ve usually become completely enveloped in it.  this is just a generalization.

the manager doesn’t want to make the employee miserable (usually); they merely respond to pressure from middle management, who responds to pressure from upper management.  ps, who needs all these artificial levels of management?  bureaucracy does, and thats the corporate life we live…

keep it small. keep it simple. bigger is not better.  technology is a fascinating celebration of the gifts given to us from on high and man’s ability to delve into and comprehend the universe gifted to us.

but these are all fringe.  i gots to keep on enlarging my sphere of love, my sphere of understanding, and the sphere of caring about those around me.  its ALWAYS the people around you who bring out the vibrancy and joy in life.

however, i’m long overdue for some alone time and gaming.

i am also in love.  i don’t much talk about personal things here.  i don’t believe in advertising my personal life.  but i miss talking about my personal life in a coffee shop with those people.

the zone

I only seem to manage to consistently blog when I’m in a certain mood.  If things are going great, I tend to forget about it. If things are bad, I don’t blog anything significant because I don’t feel like I want to publicize all my feelings. That’s a change from my wistful days of youth; I used to advertise everything.  Now I don’t.
But things are not bad now by any means.  I just decided to let you all know that.  And you all is…well, this isn’t really a place most people know to read.

I’d like an opportunity to cut my mind free and drift.  It relaxes me.

change?

I’m halfway considering throwing my resume up on teh interwebs, and seeing where the wind takes me.  By the wind, I mean God. But wind is more poetic. And like most engineers, I’m very poetical.

Strange that this top-secret place where I post my thoughts and feelings…I can’t post, because I have too many feelings.  I can’t even anonymously post the strain and pain my brain has been feeling.  Weird.  The other secret is that I have a top secret google docs page where I keep all my top secret writings.  So only me, God, and the GOOGLE SERVER ADMINISTRATORS can read those.