Thursday, July 25, 2013

Life, in a package

When we go shopping for groceries, most everything is in a nice, neat little package. The mayonnaise, the cereal, the vitamins, even the meat - it all comes in a convenient little package. When we go to the local electronics store, like Best Buy, we search for solutions to problems we didn't have before the technology we're planning to buy even existed. Those solutions also come in bigger, nice and neat packages.

The tendency to try to put everything into nice little packages is pervasive. Watch the evening news and see how very complex stories are wrapped up into 30-60 second soundbites. Watch the commercials and see how solutions to problems that many of us have, have been reduced to buying this or that product. Buy a car and feel better. Buy an expectorant and cough less. Buy a hair spray to get total control of your hair.

The reality often results in disappointment or, "buyer's remorse". First impressions from advertising set us up for expectations that may or may not be realistic. One commercial comes to mind, the Charmin commercial with the bears in the woods unable to "go" without a roll of Charmin. Of course, they feel much better, more secure knowing that there is a roll of Charmin nearby.

While the Charmin commercial troubles me, the fact that people who make buying decisions based on that commercial may also vote, troubles me more. A fantasy about toilet paper is not a sound basis upon which to make a purchasing decision. Oh, the bears are cute in a somewhat nauseating way, but do they really tip the purchasing decision in favor of Charmin? If so, is it really necessary for the NSA to collect phone records on all Americans?

We all make decisions based upon impressions, often combined with intuition. There is simply no way to know everything about something. As soon as you think you've got it nailed down, some smart-ass is going to show you something you didn't know about that thing. Or you'll discover it yourself in a moment of serendipity. Scientists show us stuff we didn't know all the time, and they do it very well. That's their job and I would be very disappointed if they stopped doing all that studying and discovering stuff.

With almost every decision, we have to weigh the cost of an error versus the cost of the time spent investigating the options available prior to making a decision. Should we read the entire credit card contract, or just sign it and get that shiny thing we wanted? Should we look into the health risks of genetically modified food or just hope that the FDA is right? Should we vote for a man who tells that a vote for him is a vote for change, or should we investigate the people who back him to see where his allegiances point to?

At the end of the day, the best we can hope for with each decision is that we made the right decision and that if not, we can hope that it wasn't a fatal error and that we live to learn from it.
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