January 12, 2011

Finding Simplicity In a Complicated World

News Flash: We are facing a loss of predictability in a world with constant and accelerating change. I'm being just a bit sarcastic. These changes are not a news flash for any of us. It is a description of what we deal with every day. It would be difficult to live in the 21st century and not have to cope with this.

In many cases we have become immune to the constant shifting of what we take for granted and what we believe to be true. I read a term last week that actually made me laugh: The New Normal. This is the new found belief in austerity and economical living. In reality, it is just a return to the normal way we used to behave with our money and our investments: don't spend more than you make. 

The shift under your feet isn't just an earthquake, it is a societal shift. Consider a handful of examples:

  • For the first time, more holiday shopping took place on line than in physical stores. A few years ago this would be have been unthinkable. Not only were there substantially fewer on line choices, but how many were comfortable using a credit card on line? Would we ever be willing to order things without first touching or seeing them? The answer is, Yes.

  • Have you tried to find a cell phone recently whose primary function is a phone? It is becoming more difficult. Smart phones (which can make you feel stupid) are rapidly becoming the only real choice. E-mails, voice mail, and actual phone conversations are losing the battle to texting.

  • Desktop computers will be an endangered species within the next few years. Even laptops may be going away. Increasingly smart phones and devices like the iPad can do everything the bigger, bulky computer on your desk can do, but are lightweight and hand sized. An article in the Wall Street Journal last week quotes a study that predicts the number of smart phones will surpass the number of personal computers within 2 years.

  • The promise of a pension or 401k being there when you need it is  not necessarily true anymore. As companies, governments, and unions try to handle future obligations they are finding the only answer is to cut benefits and payouts. No matter what you were told, that retirement financial nest egg may look more like an omelet. Social Security and Medicare...who knows?

  • Health studies are produced every day that contradict what yesterday's said. Wait long enough and cigarettes and bacon will become health foods. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know what to believe when so many experts have such different opinions.

  • The political climate is unstable. Wild swings in legislation and philosophies make it almost impossible for business or individuals to make long term plans. What was law today may be abolished after the next election. As the horrible shooting in Tucson last weekend showed, we may be entering an even more dangerous period if we aren't careful. Even if the alleged shooter was not politically motivated public figures are going to think twice about similar gatherings.

  • Even something as commonplace as repairing your own car requires specialized computers to diagnose many problems, and then computer-like parts to fix it. Changing your oil is still possible. Figure out what the check engine light means? To the repair shop you go.

  • Newspapers, magazines, network television, even cable television are all going to be in for the fight of their lives. Media streaming directly to your TV, phone, or iPad make every other form of distribution too expensive and too slow. A headline in the January 5th Wall Street Journal said it quite clearly in reference to old vs. new media: Digital or Die.

So, what should our response be to this onslaught?  Can we do anything to get a sense of control back? Simple living or voluntary simplicity is a lifestyle choice that has several attractions. Cutting back on possessions and avoiding much of the material society in which we live have benefits that I have detailed in earlier posts. But, it really has little to do with a response to a complicated and uncertain world. Here are some thoughts to get your own creative juices flowing:

Put more stock in you. Gather all the opinions you want. Do all the research on any subject that helps you get a handle on the issue. But, when it is decision time, trust you. You should not doubt your own abilities. Learn to trust your gut and intuitions. If something doesn't seem quite right to you, then it isn't. Will you make mistakes? Sure you will. But, guess what, you'll make mistakes even if you wait for others to tell you what you should do.

Personal responsibility must make a comeback. The time when we could safely outsource all our decisions to others is ending. Believing the experts almost brought down our economy. It should be obvious by now that promises to you by corporations or government aren't always  binding. You need to take on more of the load of managing and guiding your own life.

Decide what adds clutter to your life and reduce it. It could something as obvious as too much time on the computer or Internet. It could be too many possessions to repair, maintain and insure. It might be a house that is much too big for your needs. Maybe a three car garage doesn't need three cars. Over-commitment is a dangerous form of clutter. Are you the go-to volunteer for everyone? Determine what can be eliminated or cut back and do so.  Less clutter means less stress. Less stress means less complexity.

Learning and changing never stops; don't even try. It is useless to dig in your heels and try to keep things the way they were (or are). Your life will probably be OK for awhile without rushing out for a 4G phone (whatever that is). But, to refuse to consider change is a doomed strategy. Read, study, ponder. Try to understand how a change you've been reading or hearing about about may affect you.

In summary I believe there is one basic truth that gives us hope: the more we learn to handle complexity, the simpler it becomes.

Question: Am I overstating the  problem of complexity and its affect on us? Have I missed a way to find more simplicity? I encourage your feedback.

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  1. Great article, Bob! More and more the past couple of years, I've felt overwhelmed by information and noise overload. Life has become about being constantly "connected" to friends, family, news, etc. My husband gets upset if he can't reach me on my cell phone or our home phone as if I should always be within reach. I do not take my cell phone when I walk our dogs. To me, that is a time of peace and quiet and it really bugs me to see people out walking at the park with a cell phone glued to one ear.

    Cultivating peace and quiet is becoming a lost art in our society and people seem to require constant entertainment or being busy. On the flip side though, more and more people are seeking "inner peace" through meditation, yoga and other means because they know inherently that they need a place of quiet inside.

    Sure, I'm on Facebook and spend a good part of the day on the computer but what I've done to counter modern life is to carve out some spaces where there is no TV, no cell phone, no noise. I get up each morning and do some meditative tai chi exercises. I go to yoga classes where a cell phone ringing is considered a no-no. I've also started preserving an hour or so each afternoon to catch up on reading.

    I think we all need to preserve time to recharge our batteries on a daily basis or modern life will drive us nuts!

  2. Joan,

    There are absolutely nothing I can add to your comment. Your summary of the problem and your solutions strike me as pitch perfect (to borrow a phrase from an old band director of mine).

  3. Somebody is slinging some shit here. The evolution of health food has been a fact since my tenderest years with 'authorities' continually changing their minds about what is healthy and what it not. Just watch the old Woody Allen Movie 'Sleeper'.
    Second, in this time of big brother and the nanny state, you get committed if you espouse personal responsibility.
    I'm waiting until they implant the phones so we can always be in touch with the authorities.

  4. De-cluttering has been my goal for the past three year. Each year I get rid of more of the baggage I have accumulated. Baggage both in my home and in my life. It is a really light feeling and both help me enjoy the truly abundant life that God has given me.

    "Health studies are produced every day that contradict what yesterday's said." Isn't it the truth? So I just try to keep everything in moderation because I never know if tomorrow it will be good or bad for me.

  5. "Learn to trust your gut and intuitions." Agreed, although it is sometimes easier said than done,

    This reminds me of a simple truth an elderly client shared with me years ago. This gentleman was a devout, caring, uncomplicated man who had success in his younger days as a professional baseball coach (including a World Series championship). I asked him if he could give me one piece of advice what would it be? He said: "Be yourself, you can't be anyone else." Simple.

    Take care.

  6. Ralph and Sue,

    Seems like you both agree health studies are frustrating because they keep changing the goal line. I live by that basic tenant, Sue: all things in moderation. I have yet to find any study that proves that wrong.

    Hi J,

    Being yourself is the goal. Figuring out who that is becomes life's work.

    Thanks all three for your comments. I appreciate the differing viewpoints that this forum allows to be expressed.


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