Is life becoming more and more complicated? It sure seems like it.
Do you remember the days when telephone service was simple? When a handy person could maintain his own car? When you could buy things without handling fees, fuel surcharges, and 3 types of tax? When you didn’t have to program your household appliances? When service was provided by a real person? When banks and government filled out their own forms for you?
It seems like there is a growing amount of overhead to my life. More things that need to be done that weren’t there a few years ago, like negotiating with my telecom providers, programming my thermostat and smart phone, using software to do my taxes, etc.
A few years ago, lamenting my lack of leisure time, I estimated the effort required to conduct my life, adding up all the time required to complete the things that needed to be done (e.g. my job, commuting to work, eating, personal hygiene, sleeping, exercise, food shopping, housecleaning, home maintenance, taxes, and many other necessary activities). It turned out that my sense that there were not enough hours in the day was correct. To my dismay, I found that over a year, it wasn’t possible to do everything and get 8 hours of sleep a night. I was literally running on borrowed time.
Maybe it’s me. Perhaps the complexity of life hasn’t increased over time. Perhaps I am just becoming more set in my ways, less adaptable as I age (despite my efforts to resist this trend). Or perhaps I have too much time on my hands, and my personality is such that I fill all the available time with things that seem important but aren’t. Or perhaps the vast amount of information made available by the Internet is to blame. There’s never a shortage of data, analysis, and contradictory opinions to wade through when making a decision these days. Plenty more opportunities for a second guessing, analysis paralysis, and buyer’s regret.
Perhaps things are, in fact, getting easier but I just keep trying to do more and bigger and better, always at the limits of my capacity. Perhaps there is a new Parkinson’s Law to be coined here, the notion that people will always fill all their available time with activities to just below their breaking point, and then perpetually struggle to manage the complexity.
Some think that the solution to this problem is to make things even more advanced in order to make them simpler to use. Apple and Google have both had success with this as has Logitech with their ‘1 remote to rule them all’ (the integrated Harmony remote control). This is fine if things work as they should, but can make things even worse if they don’t. I spent hours recently trying to recover from a computer virus and several aspects of my life (banking, blogging, etc.) were paralyzed during this time.
I’m not complaining about the many wonders and benefits of modern life. I use and benefit greatly from computers, the Internet, online banking, digital photography, smart phones (I drafted this article on my iPhone), satellite navigation, the 1000 channel universe, personal video recorders, etc. I love my remote control. I’m not a Luddite nor do I especially yearn for days gone by, other than the occasional pang of sentimentality. For the most part I choose to use new technology and tools voluntarily for the many benefits they provide (though in some cases it is getting very hard or impossible to opt out these days). What I don’t like is the considerable effort it takes to re-establish my life after a power outage, battery failure, computer crash, data loss, identity theft, major version upgrade, or other intractable problem. I also dislike the seeming constant overhead of staying current, upgrading, switching to something better, migrating my old stuff, and generally making any decision more complicated than what to eat for dinner.
I wish my live had all the benefits without all the overhead. I suspect that an ancient Roman might have thought the same about his life. He may have complained about how his new chariot required more maintenance than his old cart. Perhaps only the tools have changed, but not the challenge of keeping on top of it all.
Do you think life is getting more complicated? How do you manage it?