Written by Jane Seung
Our world has brought us to a point where we cannot live a day without making at least a gazillion choices. Actually we have brought the world there.
I usually clear a whole chunk of my day to go to the grocery store, because I would take twenty minutes just to make a decision about the sodium content of my soy sauce. It’s like an occupational hazard. My family and friends would always tell me off for being so bloody prudent about something so bloody trivial. These bloody trivial things – decision quicksand – pull you in and take more effort than you deserve.
Just last Thursday at 9:00am (on the dot) when all the spots had just been released for UCB advising appointments online, I was taking my time to decide on the best time slot when at 9:03am I realized that all the spots had already been filled up.
Choices are important. And yet there is just not enough time in a day for us to sit back, catch a breath, gaze into the abyss, brew some tea, appreciate the overcast weather, realize it’s been a while since we last called mom, and then ponder about every single one of these choices that are thrown in front of us.
At some point along life you are forced to learn that choices are important, but that there are lots of them, everywhere, and they need to be made fast. Time is not your friend, friend.
So it is not at all strange that our generation is already somewhat trained in the art of making decisions. After all, we are all products of our decisions – and some other things – and to make the best ‘us’ we have to make the best decisions.
To me that’s a little discouraging. I feel a little bit cheated when I see and feel that as I grow older, these instant decisions are made not only items on a shelf but also on people, as if they are dodged as some kind of decision quicksand. People of so much history, of so much unique character and reason, are judged as if an item at a grocery store would be judged by its packaging.
We all know of an audition show where the contestant is given maybe five minutes to showcase something they’ve prepared for maybe five years, to a table full of maybe three judges. One mistake, and they’re labeled as just not good enough, in front of maybe twenty million people.
Someone always wins, and I believe to some extent it’s because they asked for it. On the other hand, someone always loses, and I believe to some extent it’s not because they asked for it. It’s almost never the case that these contestants choose their own ending, one hundred percent of the way. An ordinary viewer would never know what really goes on behind the scenes. Fair enough for us, if it will make for a more dramatic ending.
It becomes a little more personal, however, when you’re on the other side of the screen.
Although a little less brutal, and a little less public, the same thing happens in our daily interactions with each other.
After coming to college, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and make many meaningful relationships with people who I’ve come to respect and appreciate for many different reasons. But because there is only so much time in a day, a month, or even a year, and just so many things to deal with here and there, I have found it to be increasingly hard to let these relationships flourish consistently and naturally – through a forty-five minute meal, weekly meetings, monthly coffee-chats. What makes it worse is that unlike in high school where I used to spend twenty-four-seven living in a boarding house full of kids simultaneously going through adolescence, – queue boys, drama, tears – at college we meet each other with more things already having found their corners in our minds. While it seems realistic, maybe inevitable as well, it still feels a little depressing.
Being aware of all of this, it’s depressing sometimes when I catch myself judging too quickly, or when I realize that I’ve been judged by someone who, to my standards, barely even knows me. I have judged, somewhere along my twenty-two years of life, a person, a lecture, an apartment, a club, a gossip, and (well don’t tell me…) a book. I have been judged by friends, by interviewers, by relatives, and by by-passers.
As we grow older and experience more of the world, an algorithm starts to set in our minds that try to negotiate with how we view things, and feel things. It tends to want to define any kind of grey area, and try to make sense of all that there is, as much as it can. People are no exception to this grey area; this kind of algorithm also contributes to an increasing tendency to pigeonhole other people, especially those who seem foreign to us. And with time ever so scarce, we often give each other far less time than one deserves to be considered and understood. There is just not enough time in the world.
Now I don’t want to throw any clichés out there, but I bet you’re already thinking of one. Something about a cover of a book.
Sometimes I do wonder, though, about the things I might have missed out on, or will miss out on, by judging too quickly.
So far I think I’ve managed to make enough ‘good’ decisions to be able to wake up and go to bed each day being content with myself and with how my life has turned out. But some nights I fear that the algorithm inside of my head might grow into a monstrous machine and if so, what it might cost me in the years to come. What wonderful things it might so foolishly dodge. Because I watch people in places of the highest power make their decisions and I think: it might not even get better with age. What is a cliché worth if it’s no longer the popular thought?
So in this frustratingly busy world of ours, let us take twenty minutes to stand in the middle of an isle to decide on the sodium content of our soy sauce. Let us miss out on some advising appointment spots, because there will be more tomorrow. Let us allow others and ourselves some time. Let us beat our own algorithm, and let us fall into our decision quicksand.
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