December 26, 2015

Finding Simplicity in A Complicated World

News FlashWe 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.

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


  • For the first time on Black Friday , more 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. In fact, some marketing experts are predicting an end to the day-after-Thanksgiving insanity. Cyber Monday. (the Monday after the Thanksgiving Weekend) set records for activity this year.

  • Have you tried to find a cell phone recently whose primary function is a phone? It is virtually impossible. Except for a few very basic phones sold in magazines, smart phones (which can make you feel stupid) are the only real choice. E-mails, voice mail, and actual phone conversations have already lost the battle to texting. 

  • Desktop computers are an endangered species. Even laptops have lost favor. Increasingly, smart phones and devices like the iPad or various tablets can do everything the bigger, bulky computers can do, but are lightweight and hand sized. Storing everything on the cloud means a terabyte storage isn't needed on your personal device. Many don't even come with a DVD drive, either.

  • The promise of a pension or 401k being there when you need it is  not true anymore. As companies, governments, and unions try to handle future obligations they are cutting 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? So far, they seem to be OK, but their bankruptcy is on the horizon.

  • Health studies are produced every day that contradict what yesterday's said. Wait long enough and cigarettes and bacon will become health foods. Coffee is now thought to prevent some forms of cancer. Eggs are back on the OK list. My doctor told me to drink a glass of red wine every day to help keep my heart healthy. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know what to believe when so many experts have so many 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 non-stop shootings in America and around the world make clear, we are in a very dangerous period of history. The simple word, terrorism, seems to rule many of our waking thoughts and actions.

  • 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.

  • Network and cable television are losing the battle to streaming and Internet options. 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 a few years ago seems very prophetic: 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 tryIt 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 5G phone (yes, they are next). 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.

28 comments:

  1. think its just human nature to be suspicious of change as we get older. My Brother (74) and I (70) , had the same conversation yesterday. There has always been change, but it just seems to be accelerating the last twenty- five years.
    And, by the way, bacon is already a health food.

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    1. Have you seen ads for the new burger at one of the fast food places that has about 1/2 pound of bacon? Heart attack on a bun!

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  2. Wow, you're really prompting some deep thinking today, Bob! When I think about the multitude of changes affecting our lives, it's easy to become frustrated and even fearful. But I also believe something shifts in our perception as we grow older. Some days it seems as though you wake up and someone pressed the fast forward option on life. Change can be daunting and there are moments when we yearn for the "good old days." Perception can be tricky, though. Life has never been easy when we review history.

    Your advice is solid, and it can help to nudge us forward. It's important for us to know ourselves, take responsibility, and face the future with an open mind. Thank goodness my kids have been willing to take the time to help with upgrading computers, phones, cars, and even some of my kitchen appliances that have more options than I can count. Once you get the hang of the new stuff, it really can enhance your life. Thanks for this timely post as we prepare to welcome the new year. It will be exciting to see what lies ahead!

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    1. Sometimes we "oldsters" still play an important role. One of my daughters wants my help with a new web site for her business. Normally, that scenario would be the other way around, but we all have certain skills, regardless of age.

      Have a great New Year, Pam.

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    1. Thanks, Barbara, and good luck with your no-Internet-at-home experiment!

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  4. I love all the new things, but I like to pick and choose which ones I will use. I tried the smartphones and hated them. Kept my good old flip phone on Straighttalk. I love it because it's just a phone! No hassle, always works. We only use our TV for movies, even though cable is included with our internet service. Got a Kindle for Christmas and already returned it. More hassle to find and download books. I'll stick to my paper books,thank you very much! Much easier and more fun to find books at the used book store and library sales than online. My husband loves his Kindle as it's easier for him to hold since he's disabled. On the other hand, I like to update my computer and to try new appliances. So, pick and choose what works for you!

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    1. Ann, you and I are on the same page (so to speak!). I have a Kindle but rarely use it. I much prefer to hold a book, feel the turn of the pages, and mark my spot with an old fashioned bookmark.

      We have Internet through our cable company but not TV or phone service, which I am sure galls them to no end.

      I like to try new apps on the computer and phone, as long as they are free and easily removed if they don't work for me. Spotify is a good example. It's music service is fabulous but not worth $10 a month to not hear a 30 second ad every 30 minutes, so i stick with the free service.

      We are going out later today (Sunday) to buy Betty her first smartphone. She lost her flip phone last week and feels it is time she joined the 21st century. I think the complexity will irritate her, but we will see.

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  5. The company that my daughter works for has a "current events" discussion during their staff meetings each week. The Owner of the business wants to know that his employees not only understand, but are capable of determining solutions to an ever changing environment - political, economical, technical, etc. At first, she thought it was a waste of time, but now it's starting to sink in that awareness and education is essential to growth and development; both professionally and personally. You can't move forward if your feet are stuck in the sand and your mind refuses to accept change. Thoughtful post Bob. Merry Christmas to you and Betty.

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    1. A current events discussion group at work is a tremendous idea. We don't live or function in a vacuum. Knowing what is going on outside of our normal sphere of existence is vital to staying relevant and connected. Kudos to your daughter's company.

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    2. I don't agree at all. I think I would resent it if a company I worked for tried to influence me politically. Thankfully none ever did. Probably should keep your politics and your religion out of the workplace. I had great relationships at work and I know we would not have agreed on many things, but we stuck to the tasks at hand.

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  6. My Grandmother was born in 1896. She fought parish elders and hitched her horse at Phoenix Union High School. She worked at territorial offices- wearing dresses to the ground and heeled button up boots. She hiked Hole in the Rock the same dress.
    Nana saw children die of diseases (many were cured in her lifetime), peers return from Europe with mustard gas blindness, and sons return with "shell shock". Her husband died of a stroke and brother died as "a drunk".
    Nana saw: people like Goldwater and Humphrey running for President, mod bosses have people killed and ruling the cities, a Supreme Court who decided when a person was a person, and Social Security (and the tax to fund it) come into play.

    Your timeless words in red were the same for her generation---and they lived and produced "the greatest generation". Her famous words were two fold.
    Family is the most important thing.
    and
    "Pull up your britches, Buster, it is time to live another great day!"

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    1. Bob, some great observations. I just hope they don't get rid of desktops and laptops entirely, because I can't see the small print on my smartphone. I also hope they don't get rid of the TV, b/c I'd rather sit in a comfortable chair and watch a big screen than sit in my desk chair peering at my small screen.

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    2. Janette, hiking Hole in the Rock in boots is a daring adventure. I am very careful in sneakers!

      Nana's story is worth repeating. We tend to forget that what we think are tough times are really not when compared to the world she lived in.

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    3. Tom, I imagine you will always be able to find desktop or laptop computers - maybe not at best Buy, but certainly on Ebay. I agree: the bigger the screen for reading or watching a movie or sports the better. A smartphone or tablet screen just doesn't have the same feel.

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  7. Wow Bob, talk about an onslaught, on my computer screen the bold red statements in your post just about knocked my eyes out - perhaps start there with toning down change :)

    More seriously I think Janette's grandmother had it right, for the last 200 years since the industrial revolution got going it's been this way with continual change. I recall my own great grandmother born in 1878 telling me in 1968 (the year before men landed on the moon) about when bicycles with chain drive to the back wheel first came out. Imagine the amount of change she had seen, never mind fancy electronics being new it was just plain electricity in her day. For Christmas I received Bill Bryson's latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling, that recounts his recent travels around his adopted country of England. Born and raised in Iowa he revisits places that were important in his life when he first arrived in the UK 40 years ago and he takes note of the changes since. It's very funny and I find the same in my life when I see things now compared to how they once were, I think most of us oldsters do. As you say “Learning and changing never stops; don't even try”.

    - David

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    1. I will check out that book, David. It sounds like the type I enjoy.

      Google is responsible for the super red. I tried half as dozen times to change it, or even remove and I can't get the program to respond, even if I cut and paste it into Word. Very strange, but it got your attention.

      We have seen an enormous change in how our daily lives function, but I guess folks like my grandfather or Nana saw more complete upheaval than we do.

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  8. Good list and points for everyone to think/act on. For us, it is also vital to give back in the form of volunteering. There are tons of volunteer opportunities at food banks, hospitals, church, Habitat for Humanity stores/projects, Goodwill, etc., etc., etc. We like to try new volunteer activities that challenge our thinking/comfort level, as well as those we know. Two to 3 times a week has worked well. I also donate blood/platelets as often as I can. Helping others and giving back is so impacting.

    BTW, Working our way from Des Moines in our motorhome through NE, KS, CO then down to NM on our way to Tucson. Our timing could not be worse given the very cold and windy weather and then snow as we get into NM. Oh well, it is an experience and we make it the best we can, while being safe.

    Peace and blessings

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    1. This has been an odd season so far: mid 50's for 2 weeks. Usually we will have a few days of "chilly" weather before the temperature rebounds into the 60's or low 70's. I don't remember a stretch this long of temperatures this low (for us).

      Volunteering is so important. Thanks, Richard, for your highlighting of its place in our lives.

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  9. I believe each slice of life or grouping of years brings with it a feeling of rapid change. But the change or changes we are experiencing today are incremental in many ways. An app with some tweaks, or a faster way to access the Web, are really not very dramatic in many ways.

    I feel that the later 1800s into the early 20th century witnessed much more seismic changes. Electricity changing us to a 24 hour society, telephones for "instant" communication, air conditioning opening up the South, the airplane shrinking distance - these types of changes flipped the world upside down. Just because a cell phone has a few new features, or Facebook lets people share their dog pictures with the world, doesn't rank with shattering economic and societal barriers like the works of Edison, Tesla, or Carrier. Just my 2 cents

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    1. FRom airplanes to manned space flights, kerosene lamps to an all electric world, horse and buggy to cars.....no argument from me that my grandparents and parents experienced more radical changes than I have.

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  10. There's a commercial on tv about homelessness, with reference to making "better" things, but what about making things better? I concur with ChuckY - many of the advancements are commercially driven and don't have life-changing impact in the bigger sense. I saw a change this holiday season with the cell phones that got shut off and put aside during peak family interaction time and the kids who had the most fun on the toboggan hill and with the balloons, not the video games. In years past, that same technology cluttered our lives. Change is inevitable, cyclical and not without its drawbacks along with its advantages.

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    1. Good points, Mona. Betty received a new smartphone yesterday after losing her old flip phone a few days before Christmas. It will be interesting to see what kind of change that little piece of technology has on her use of time.

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  11. Can any of us find that element of simplicity these days? Yes we can. All we have to do is "unplug." In that case Bob I would have to sit down and write you a letter. Sounds funny, but that is not how the world functions today. If we just unplug for an hour, a day or I dare say a week. We'd probably get a lot more done with the fewer distractions that confront our online lives.

    All the topics you highlighted in red can be addressed by each one of us. All we have to do is take that first step from our comfort zones. We all have our daily routines and for us to find simplicity requires one to change or modify the way we conduct our day. Before we moved to our place to be closer to the kids and grandkids we "purged" over 35 years of accumulation of being in the same home. It was a lot of work and the results were rewarding. We had less stuff and less worry about that "stuff" and it felt so freeing to let go of unwanted items.

    As far as the use of technology if you elect to join any social network or forum just budget the time you devote to it so it doesn't eat up your day. The more you're "connected" the greater the maintenance time required. Hence, we should really have days that we can "unplug." It just takes discipline like exercising and going to the gym. If we take no action there will be no result. One more step towards simplicity.

    We are the generation of "transition." We know most options of how to do things. We know how to actually engage in a conversation whether by a phone call or writing a letter or a card in our own handwriting and not by email or text. If the gps goes down we know how to read a map and actually find our way. We really don't have any control on how the world functions. But each one of us can make daily choices that can affect us and our loved ones and other people we come in contact with.

    A "Satisfying Journey" comes down to making the best choices for each one of us each day. Is it just going to be "another day?." Or will one decision we make cause our lives to be more satisfying and less complex. The choice is ours.

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    1. "Unplugging" is certainly a worthy goal, though the technology itself isn't bad. I can be much more productive with a smartphone and desktop or laptop computer. But, controlling how much time I spend with them is the issue.

      Speaking of reading a map, I am much more comfortable using one than a GPS. Those things are not particularly good at getting me somewhere the most efficient way. And, with an RV they can be deadly. Once I had the GPS tell me to take a dirt road over a mountain. Betty and I looked at a map and decided, No! Maybe in a car, but in a 30 foot long motorhome with a car being towed behind us.

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    2. You're right about GPS. They have some advantanges, but I hope all of your readers will consider keeping backup paper maps/atlases with them whenever they travel. On the front page of our newspaper, today, was the story of a family that perished in flood waters, due to faulty GPS directions. Broke my heart.

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    3. I always get a full set of maps from AAA before a long trip.

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    4. A current map of my city and state is in the trunk. You never know!

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