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Paradox of (a computer) Choice

FullSizeRenderHow many boots can you count?

    “choose less and feel better.”
    ― Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Yes, Dr. Schwartz could’vent said better. On his book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less”, Dr. Schwartz dissects the minutia behind the decision making machine, our brain, and the challenges that we face today, in a time and age cluttered with information, options and choices. Making a decision has never been so difficult.

What is the Paradox of Choice? According to the definition on the Cambridge English Dictionary:

    a ​statement or ​situation that may be ​true but ​seems ​impossible or ​difficult to ​understand because it ​contains two ​opposite ​facts or characteristics

Following an example:

    It’s a ​curious paradox that ​drinking a lot of ​water can often make you ​feel ​thirsty.

Going back to the Paradox of Choice, the idea is that the fact that one has so many options actually makes the exercise of choosing (anything really) a burden, a difficult tasks, leading to a cognitive fatigue due to the information overload and anxiety. All undesirable symptoms well described by Barry Schwartz.

I’ve recently went to a famous boot store in Austin, Texas and saw this myself (the boots from picture above). I thought about getting something for my wife, a nice boot perhaps. Well, with a lot of options, various colors, shapes, ornaments, and sizes this ins’t an easy task, and here we are only talking about boots. Now imagine how things can easily get complicated when we are talking about computers. By the way, I ended up leaving the store empty handed overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.

This is actually surprisingly easy to observe and you can verify this first hand during the holidays. Working in IT means that we are usually consulted for (a) when all-things-computers break or (b) when someone needs to buy/upgrade their electronics (you should be flattered buy this, because in between the lines, people are saying that they trust your judgement and that you’re serving as a consultant for them.).

Imagine then that you are now entitled to help a friend to buy his/her first laptop. What would you recommend ? What decision factors would you use ? Should you go for something that you would buy for yourself ? Will the operating system make a difference here? Remember, it is very likely that in the end, you will be their first line of support, so yes, the OS and brand will be a key factor here.

This Christmas, I had to go over this exercise myself, and it isn’t as easy as it looks. I was given the opportunity to pick a laptop for my nephew, his first. Here we have a 13 year old boy, whose compute experience I can help to leverage. A real honor if you ask me. I still remember the first time that I saw a computer, an IBM i386 connected to the local BBS. That first experience blow my mind and changed it all for me. I would like him to discover this world as well.

I have a believe that we in IT have a social responsibility when it comes to knowledge sharing. We can certainly help, serving as references or mentors to the young generation of geeks and nerds computer scientists and engineers, and I would like to see them carry the same torch to next generation.

I’ve recently read “Ready Player One”, from Ernest Cline and this book really talks back to my, my childhood and my adult life, in many ways. From references to Dungeons and Dragons to Virtual Reality and computer centric references. The technologies and common geek lore that brought us here: BBSes, UNIX, 9600 baud modems, role playing games and such are all in there. I’m keen to believe that the same will happen for the current generation, and who know, a book like this one will contain reference to Minecraft, Call of Duty, Raspberry Pi, Cloud Computing and smartphones in the same way that it did for us. Sounds like I’m going down the memory lane, sorry, this is a Christmas byproduct.

To keep it short, I would like to leave this last post of the year with two recommendations:

For the adults among us:

The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz

Also available as an audiobook: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

For the youngsters (or young at heart):

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Audiobook: Ready Player One by Cline, Ernest (2011) Audio CD

Merry x-mas and a happy new year!

P.S: And yes, in the end I did recommend him something that I would get for myself, a Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series.

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