Making Compromises

This morning, I’m sitting in the Denver airport, waiting for my flight to Austin and SXSW. Sitting here, I’m reminded of how relatively easy we find it to come and go. I’m also reminded that there’s a potential price for all the coming and going. For example, I’m not a morning person, both mentally and physically. Events that require me awake and going before 7 or 8 in the morning, like catching a plane for SXSW, leave me drained and sometimes make me ill. For these same reasons I prefer to to work or to exercise in the afternoon or evening versus first thing in the morning. If you’re wondering where I’m going with this train of thought, hold on for just a second longer.

To be a part of the coming and going, we make compromises and choose options that we might not otherwise select. Perhaps the commonality of these compromises has made us immune to wondering if we really need to make them. In my case, I know that flying early in the morning has physical repercussions for me, but in my desire to get to Austin as early as possible, I made a compromise. There are later flights at times that would better fit my body clock, but I chose misery for several hours to get in several hours earlier. I’m still debating if it’s worth it.

In a recent edition of The Atlantic, I saw an article about the issues associated with multi-tasking. Multi-tasking requires several compromises that, again, we often give little thought to. On the one hand, we’re told we can do it all, particularly with the help of technology, and on the other, we don’t realize we’re about to be hit by the truck until it happens:

We all remember the promises. The slogans. They were all about freedom, liberation. Supposedly we were in handcuffs and wanted out of them. The key that dangled in front of us was a microchip.

“Where do you want to go today?” asked Microsoft in a mid-1990s ad campaign. The suggestion was that there were endless destinations—some geographic, some social, some intellectual—that you could reach in milliseconds by loading the right devices with the right software. It was further insinuated that where you went was purely up to you, not your spouse, your boss, your kids, or your government. Autonomy through automation.

This was the embryonic fallacy that grew up into the monster of multitasking.

Human freedom, as classically defined (to think and act and choose with minimal interference by outside powers), was not a product that firms like Microsoft could offer, but they recast it as something they could provide. A product for which they could raise the demand by refining its features, upping its speed, restyling its appearance, and linking it up with all the other products that promised freedom, too, but had replaced it with three inferior substitutes that they could market in its name:

Efficiency, convenience, and mobility.

For proof that these bundled minor virtues don’t amount to freedom but are, instead, a formula for a period of mounting frenzy climaxing with a lapse into fatigue, consider that “Where do you want to go today?” was really manipulative advice, not an open question. “Go somewhere now,” it strongly recommended, then go somewhere else tomorrow, but always go, go, go—and with our help. But did any rebel reply, “Nowhere. I like it fine right here”? Did anyone boldly ask, “What business is it of yours?” Was anyone brave enough to say, “Frankly, I want to go back to bed”?

What compromises do you make to keep going? Even more intriguing have you found a place where you’re content to be, regardless of the people telling you that you should always be going?



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March 2008
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