On wanting to relinquish the desire to choose

By Thane on Mon 03 September 2012

For a long time now I've been trying to figure out why it is that we've put so much effort into coming up with new technologies and processes, such as organisational processes. To me, a technology or a process seems as though it's a tool (a static pattern of some sort) that attempts to facilitate the pursuit and consumption of Quality in a repeatable way. I've been thinking a lot about this in my context in the "Internet of Things" group at Meraka in the CSIR, and in relation to traditional organisational thinking and management theory.

Essentially, when we get ourselves into a particular situation, we want the assurance that we will be able to move towards Quality without having to go through the effort of making difficult choices: imagine if, every time you wanted to fly, the airplane pilot had to manually decide the Best state of every component in the aircraft. Commercial flight would obviously never be possible.

In such a situation, it's important to remember that the conditions of the situation for which we're developing technology, such as the aircraft, are relatively predictable, even if they're complex or complicated. What happens though when the conditions of a situation are simply unpredictable?

Now, juxtapose that question against the following one: if everything were predictable, what would be the point of our ability to choose? We could of course actively choose against Quality, but that would be the definition of stupidity. Wouldn't life become incredibly boring if we could automate all of our decisions for all situations?

There seems to be this innate tension in the universe between that which is predictable and that which is unpredictable, and we need both (see Tony Robbins' TED talk on this). Without some sort of predictability (e.g. if one couldn't predict whether or not gravity would work the same way tomorrow as it does today), we would never have enough of a sense of safety to be able to focus on higher, more complex pursuits, and life as we currently know it wouldn't have been possible. Without some sort of unpredictability, we would never be able to surprise ourselves and so life would become bland.

The increasing trend toward technology and scientific understanding seems to me to be an increasing desire towards providing stability and predictability. Is such a movement Good, or does this merit some more thought?

I think we need to draw lines in the sand here (lines which can occasionally be covered over and redrawn elsewhere) to say that we can only go so far in our pursuit of predictability, and we need to come to embrace our desire to make in-the-moment choices.

Against the backdrop of the "Internet of Things" and some people's desire to automate everything in our lives, for me the thought of that automation scares me. I fear it, not only because it genuinely removes predictability and makes life boring, but because it tries to conceal a lie that says that one can really reach ultimate predictability. In complex/chaotic systems, such as many systems in (and perhaps even the entirety of) our universe, the smallest simulation of the system becomes the system itself, and so simulation and predictability become nonsensical. This lie might lull us into a false sense of security where we relinquish the pain and joy of making decisions for ourselves - not to a genuine static means of increasing our individual experience of Quality in a repeatable way when the conditions are mostly predictable, but to something that increases the individual experience of apparent quality for a select few people (those who control the technology/process) at our expense.

It is this lie which I need to expose, and about which we need to be honest with ourselves and each other. We need to take up our courage for those situations whose outcomes we cannot predict, and boldly make decisions for ourselves. Not only that, but we also need to boldly push the boundaries in terms of what we will allow ourselves to decide and where we will allow the processes/technology to decide on our behalf.

How else will we lead fulfilling and meaningful lives?