July 17, 2013

Searching for Simplicity in a Complicated World


This was first posted over 2 ½ years ago. I have freshened it just a bit from the original but the message still resonates today.


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:

More holiday shopping takes 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.

Amazon is selling more e-books than physical books. When this article was first written Borders, Waldenbooks, and B. Dalton were all in business. Now, all all gone. The last large chain, Barnes & Nobles continues to fight  rumors that its days are dwindling down to a precious few, but bad news continues to pile up.

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 just about the only choice. E-mails, voice mail, and actual phone conversations are losing the battle to texting. And, cell phone bills continue to take an ever-increasing chunk of the typical American's monthly budget.

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.

Update: in 2012 over 655 million smart phones were sold, more than double the number of personal computers sold.

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. Emergency "patches" are applied to serious problems instead of having the foresight or political will to actually find a long term solution. Compromise has become a dirty word.

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 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 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? 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 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 complexity means less stress.

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 the latest phone or tablet. 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 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.


17 comments:

  1. My job required being up to date with the latest technology, including the use of my smart phone. It allowed instant access to a world of up to date information. However, since retiring earlier this year, I find that I really don't need a smart phone. My lap top and my tablet provide me with whatever internet access I need at home, or on the road.

    My decision to move to a "dumb phone" wasn't so easy. I had trouble finding a quality phone that would allow calls and text, without the extra stuff I didn't need, want, or wasn't willing to pay for. I ended up with a Just5 phone with a pay as you go plan for minutes. So far so good. But the jury is still out as I've only had it for a short time. I do NOT miss the $$$ bill that comes with the smart phone!

    I agree with your premise that the more we handle complexity, the simpler it becomes. Life will continue to become more technologically complex. By staying ahead of the learning curve, we give ourselves more opportunities to take advantage of all technology has to offer, as we see fit. As your blog frequently points out, it's about balance; utilizing that which will enhance our retirement lives and not being afraid of change.

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    1. I have always been a bit behind the technology curve. I continued to use a typist for several years after PCs became readily available for small businesses. I bought a pager well after other people who traveled as much as I did had already added one to their belt. I resisted getting a smart phone until 2 years ago.

      Each time I wondered why I had waited so long since each device made my life easier and more productive. Change may be the natural course of things, but humans tend to resist it anyway.

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  2. I think the last sentence of your post pretty well sums it up, Bob. Change is always constant and I am sure those people living at the turn of the 20th Century, when so many new inventions were changing how people lived and worked, felt exactly as many do today. I say embrace those things that help you live life to the fullest, and ignore those things that do not.

    Another saying I always like is "the more I learn the luckier I seem to get". That is true of finances, it is true of relationships, and it is certainly true of technology. Don't be a Luddite railing against constant change; use it to your advantage.

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    1. We bought a new vacuum cleaner yesterday: it was first invented in 1901. We can live in Phoenix because of the air conditioner: it was invented in 1902.

      I find it interesting that our lives in 2013 are a blend of things invented/developed in just the last decade or two, as well as necessities from over 100 years ago. We may be developing new things all the time, but so much of our daily comfort is based on technology from our grandfather's era.

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    2. Even today we are having difficulty figuring out construction techniques from the Roman days, but we know that we can benefit from their knowledge. Your observation that technology today oftentimes builds upon that which came before it is spot on.

      One of the greatest mistakes in not embracing technology earlier may have occurred in the 1860s, when the Union Army rejected the devices manufactured by Mr Gatling. The slaughter that went on for four years may have been over much earlier if his invention was utilized. But then again, maybe we would have had a preview of the trench warfare of WWI during our Civil War, since that was largely dictated by the use of the machine gun. Not the best example of utilizing new technology, but as a Civil War buff, it always stuck with me.

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  3. My daughter's monthly bill for her smart phone is way more than what I want to pay, and so I'm happy with my laptop, and recently got a Cricket phone (ordered off their website) and it's $35 a month for unlimited text and 1,000 minutes - has a camera - works well for me and it's month to month, no contract. I ordered their basic phone from the website. My brother has one and so I was able to hold the phone and try it out before ordering it. Sandy

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    1. I don't use very many minutes or text, but data use can be a problem, particularly when we are traveling and I want to use the phone as a WiFi hotspot. I have discovered I can use WiFi at home instead of data, but Verison won't let me own a smartphone with paying $30 a month for the minimum data package. It does add up.

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  4. The one thing that is constant in life is change. You can either roll with it, or be rolled over by it.
    We think we have experienced lots of changes in our lifetimes, but think about our parents and grandparents....indoor plumbing, electricity, automobiles, etc., etc.
    Isn't it exciting to be a part of all new innovations! Lots of us wouldn't be alive if it weren't for medical innovations. A lot of the conveniences in our life are the result of new things. We may resist new things periodically...but we should be reminding ourselves how they accommodate us daily.

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    1. It seems like I read somewhere that the majority of inventions and new products have happened within the last few generations. If we are resistant to all that advancement it doesn't mean it stops, just that we do!

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  5. Bob, I so agree with these statements. The challenge is to take what serves us without becoming a slave to it. I have difficulty with the disparity between rural/urban internet services and the cost of some of these services that makes the socioeconomic disparities so much more obvious (even before we consider the global disparities). I see the next generation embracing this technology then complaining about the time and money it takes to feed the technology. My son often comments about going to work to make money to buy stuff we don't need. Balance, balance, balance.

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    1. Balancing a want versus a need or the cost of acquisition versus the cost to one's lifestyle is so important. And, as you note, the spread between the technologically "haves" and the "have-nots" is increasing. Rather than bringing us to together, too often it separates us.

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  6. Excellent advice in this post, Bob. Your thoughts at the end of the piece might well be titled Four Principles for Living Well.

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    1. I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think you are on to something. Those four points (in red) do summarize nicely what is required to live well.

      Thanks, Dick.

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  7. There was an obscure movie back in 1970 R.P.M. Revolutions Per Minute. My favorite line went something like this "Don't try to hold on to hands of the clock it will pull your arms out of their sockets!"

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  8. I'm not familiar with the movie, but I like the quote's message!

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  9. I have to say, I love technology and have embraced it since I fell for a little MAC about 25 years ago. Not being very geeky (into science/ math, etc.) I surprise myself at how I manage my technology. I keep telling people my age to keep up or expect to truly be a dinosaur in the dark. Everything changes SO fast, and if you're 3 steps behind, you're really 300 behind. Besides, who wants to considered the old geezer who 'doesn't get it'?
    b

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    1. Technology is the price of admission to the new world we inhabit. I just returned from a breakfast meeting helping a fellow learn to connect to WiFi at a restaurant. He bought my food and I showed him what he needed to know: a win-win.

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