There’s Time for Experience

morning train

If there was only one feature that could describe modern technology, it would be in its masterful feat in effectively saving time. It’s amazing to think that there was a day, just over a couple of decades ago, where emails didn’t exist, where you needed to remember to get a camera whenever you wanted to take a picture, when you needed to locate a payphone to make a phone call, when you needed to carry pens and paper with you if you needed to make notes, an actual alarm clock, an actual phone book, and a countless number of other things.

The amount of convenience technology has brought to our lives is incredible. And yet, we are still looking for ways to save time, to save energy, and to find more convenience. We can now shop online for just about anything, and we can watch anything anytime we want without commercials, we can get a glimpse into other people’s lives who are thousands of miles away from us, and we can do all of that without moving an inch, without wasting a single extra second.

And yet, despite the truly amazing progress we have made in terms of efficiency, it seems that we might be missing the bigger picture. Rory Sutherland in an insightful Ted Talk discussed the importance of perspective in our lives. He was discussing how the stress of waiting for a train was solved by not making the train faster, but by putting a countdown clock.

 Waiting seven minutes for a train with a countdown clock is less frustrating and irritating than waiting four minutes, knuckle-biting, going ‘When’s this train going to arrive?Rory Sutherland

His idea was that what irritated people wasn’t the fact that the transportation system needed improving, that trains needed to be faster, or that we can’t wait anymore for the new groundbreaking lightning fast transportation system, it was that we just needed to tweak little things to greatly enhance our everyday experiences.

I think that’s quite an significant point. Many of us are fixated on reducing the time it takes to get to our destination, often spending a considerable amount of time and effort into finding the least time consuming route possible, and to a large extent, we’re not really making ourselves any happier. If anything, we might just be making ourselves more miserable.

I was discussing with a friend of mine a few ideas of how the future might look like, how future inventions may very well make the time we spend waiting to get somewhere, waiting to buy something completely negligible. I expressed how  I was annoyed at the task of grocery shopping as it took an exceptional amount of time, and effort that could be used for something more meaningful. I started to enthusiastically discuss all the innovations that are making live grocery shopping a thing of the past. I imagined it would be truly incredible if we had so much more time to spend on things we loved doing, instead of just waiting for our stop, or walking around aimlessly in a supermarket buying things.

I was, however, promptly interrupted from my enthusiastic musings when he said, “Yeah, but what about the experience? You keep talking about how we’ll have so much more time to spend, but what are we going to spend it doing? Don’t you have moments throughout the day where you don’t really want to work or anything, or that you’re just too exhausted to really think? And wouldn’t it be refreshing to go out to supermarket and just walk around?”

He explained his point further by explaining how much of an experience mundane things can be if we look at them differently. We tend to take them for granted as time-wasting activities but there’s a kind of unique experience that they offer where we couldn’t really get elsewhere. Even travelling in a bus, or train, or waiting for them to come doesn’t have to be seen as a time wasting activity.

When I thought about it and how it applies to me, I realized a couple of things. I didn’t take too much pleasure into picking out items, that to me was still boring and time-consuming, but the second thing I realized was a little less obvious to me.

I realized that almost all of the time I spend alone with my thoughts, without interruption, happen in those mundane, time-consuming, pointless moments. When I’m doing something so boring, and requires minimum mental effort, I start to have thoughts. I think about many different things, and have the rare opportunity to do so peacefully. It’s difficult to sit in front of a laptop, and decide to put it aside and think, to be using your phone and think, to be working on something, socializing, or studying and think. Those rare moments of thought only have any room to happen when I’m just about to sleep, taking a shower, or when I’m commuting by foot, or by car, bus, train, or plane.

This is all really interesting to me because I’m often frustrated by the task of waiting. A long queue in front of me can often put me in a horrible mood for the rest of the day, and what this made me realize is that it would be great if instead of focusing my attention on counting the number of people ahead of me, and trying to figure out how much time each individual takes, and then trying to figure out how much time it would take in total before it’s my turn, it would be a far more rewarding and useful experience if I used that time to just entertain myself with my own thoughts.

Other than trying to change your perspective on the mundane experiences that you need to deal with on a daily basis. Trying to appreciate them as activities that can be enjoyable and interesting, you can purposefully use that time for thinking about absolutely anything, and it seems that such an opportunity will happen even less in the future, so it might be a good idea to try to make the most of it when you can.


Being Human and the Sweet Spot of Irrationality


Human beings are innately irrational. We tend to overeat when we shouldn’t, we don’t stick to fitness plans, we miss appointments, we forget we put our keys, we are easily manipulated by media, we smoke, we do harm to ourselves, we don’t get enough sleep, we overpay, we trust people we shouldn’t trust, we make snap judgments about people without really knowing anything about them, we lose track of our spending, we procrastinate. But is irrationality truly damaging to our well-being, is it really harmful?

Being human entails being irrational, at least to some extent. A lot of the arguments that would be given for irrationality being harmful center on our failure to achieve goals we put forth for ourselves. That doesn’t really damage us. It prevents us from achieving certain goals in the short run, sure, but I think that’s necessary for our well-being.

There are thousands of different occupations in life, there are so many different paths, and choices we can make, and this explains why, wherever you go, you will find that people are so different. Now imagine for a second, that we were all perfectly rational beings. And to be clear, when I say perfectly rational, I mean we are not subject to any mental heuristics or shortcuts, every single decision we make is precise, mathematical, and well thought out.

In this world society, what I suspect we would have is a convergence of behavior to an alarming degree. Since some decisions are more rational than others, and since we are all rational human beings in the made up world, we would all choose the most rational decision. We would choose the same food, we would choose the same clothing, and there probably wouldn’t be any music, since it’s irrational to make music for people who are so rational that they have successfully devoted their lives to maximizing their productivity, and things like art, music, poetry, and theater would really have no meaning.

It wouldn’t really be a world that’s attractive to live in. Now, I’m not saying we need to be completely irrational, but some level of irrationality is welcome. It keeps us wanting to continually struggle against our nature, and that’s exactly what motivates us to improve. We need to be imperfect to have any kind of meaning in life. We need to fail at achieving our goals, so that when we do achieve our goals, they become all the more meaningful. If people didn’t have to endure hardships towards achieving what they want, then it would greatly reduce the meaning of trying to pursue that goal in the first place.

It takes hard work and tremendous effort to be able to identify our points of irrationality and then address them properly, but by having this balance, by consciously implementing rationality to fight irrationality, we become constantly motivated to strive for improvement.

Imagine human beings were perfectly rational beings who never made any mistakes, that all our thinking processes were perfectly valid and consistent. It would make for quite a boring existence, and that I feel, that would be quite damaging. Being completely rational is clearly not as harmful as being completely irrational (You’re more likely to survive if you’re completely rational), but the point here is that a little bit of irrationality is not really damaging us.

The more we learn about our irrationality, and the more we are able to adopt novel ways of becoming more rational, the more effective we will become at accomplishing our goals, and reaching a higher level of satisfaction, and the more we will be able to understand why human beings act the way they do, and that in itself is fascinating. Too much irrationality can obviously be harmful. We would make the wrong choices too often, and in a world where rationality exists, being too irrational can be a cause of social exile. Having said that, the level of irrationality that most people possess isn’t harmful at all.