Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The difference between virtual and reality

I was trying to explain Second Life to my mom. This is hard to do because:
  1. I've never played it
  2. She can barely use a computer (sorry Mom)
She just couldn't understand. I used the example of a beautiful virtual dress. "But, why would someone spend real money on something that isn't real?" she questioned.

At first, I had no response. The conversation moved on to another subject. But after thinking about it more, I knew the reason.

She was focused on goods as being necessities. These clothes are necessary: I need something to wear. My car is necessary: I need it to get places. But the thing is, even in the real world, almost none of the purchases you make are based on utility alone. "But I need a new sweater?", you reply. Do you though? What will happen if you don't get one?

Think about it.

You hardly need any of the things you have. They are almost all luxuries. You have way more clothes than you actually "need". Plus, you could have picked up the ones you did need secondhand, and not really needed to buy them anyway. You don't need a car. You could walk, or take the bus, or a plane, or a train. The food you buy at the grocery store? Unless you're buying only the most basic and cheapest foods, again, you're spending extra as a luxury.

You see, there really is very little difference between the real sweater and the virtual one. It's just that you can't feel the sweater.

We rarely if every buy things because we really "need" them. We buy things we want. We like the way they look, or the way they make us feel, and often, the effects they will have on what other people think of us.

If our company starts holding corporate meetings in Second Life, it might make sense to buy a nice looking suit. Just as in the real world, technically we could show up in a tshirt and shorts, but that might not be acceptable to the company culture.

If you still aren't convinced, think about a video game. In the real world, I pay $50 for a piece of software that I take home so that I can immerse myself in a virtual world. I don't really "have" the game...I have a disc that contains the game. And the disc itself is worth less than a penny, it's the code on the disc that has value. I might pay the same amount to download the game to my computer, in which case, I don't even take possession of any physical object.

Is that any different that stepping into Second Life and buying a computer game?

Does the purchase of the virtual sweater make us happy? It should, presumably that's why we bought it. If virtual worlds don't make sense to you, don't worry, it just means you aren't a nerd. Yet.

Hopefully, most of what we do in our spare time is done because it makes us happy. If buying stuff you don't actually need in the real world makes us happy, why should it be any different in a virtual world?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Function is value

I was recently discussing people who hoard stuff, for example: this crazy lady. Without thinking I said: "What's the point of having all that stuff if you never even look at it? Boxes of old family photos are just as worthless as a bunch of used calendars if you never look at them."

It kind of startled me. Could personal mementos really be just as worthless as some bunch of crap you bought on eBay just because it was a deal? How much stuff do I have sitting around at arms reach that I will never use again? Shouldn't I just get rid of it all?

I'm moving soon, perhaps I'll use it as an opportunity to clean house? It's probably easier than getting rid of emotional baggage...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holiday Stress

It's that time of the year that everyone is happy, merry, jolly, excited...and all the rest of that crap. You wouldn't know it at the airport. Aside from the random carolers, and the occasional white Christmas lights, everyone just seems so...stressed.

The people behind the counter are stressed. The security people are unhappy. The passengers are thinking about what they may have left at home, worrying about whether or not they will make it on time, hoping that the weather holds up.

It all builds to those few moments around the tree or the dinner table. This is what all the preparation is for. Many of us spend the whole day cooking. We've been buying gifts on and off for weeks.

And not to make sweeping generalizations, but the moment IS worth it. But it's a shame that the holidays cause at least as much as stress as they do joy, if not more.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Becoming Insular

Everyone has their own little world. With all the devices and choices we have these days, everyone can tailor their entertainment and media to whatever their preference. The 6 people closest to me right now in the airport are:

  • eating
  • reading a magazine
  • painting (using a stylus and the touchscreen on his laptop)
  • talking on a cellphone
  • playing NBA Jam (a video game released circa 1992) on his laptop
  • reading a book
Does having whatever we want make us happier? It might. I'm probably happier sitting here typing on a laptop than I would be if I were simply staring off into space.

While it may be hard to prove our overall happiness has improved one way or another, it certainly has made us more insular. Aside form the guy on his cellphone it's like a library. Hardly anyone is talking to anyone else.

I'll admit I feel that way sometimes. More often than I used to, I find myself at gatherings thinking about how I could be doing other things, usually more solitary things.

Does this make me anti-scial? It might, but no moreso than many of the people I see around me...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Post Secret is a place where people send in secrets on a postcard. It's a simple idea that produces some fascinating results. Yesterday I saw this one in their latest book (I found the text but not the actual photo):
"When you were in the ICU I took your picture. I wanted you to see what you looked like, so that you might go into rehab. I never showed you the pictures, you never went into rehab, and I never forgave myself. I am so sorry."

It's a sad reminder that although honesty isn't always easy, sometimes you have to do what it takes. The gap between knowing what you need to do, and actually doing it, is huge. That person was afraid to risk losing a friend, but they lost them anyway.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I'm still here

With the approaching holidays, I've been super busy this last week or so. I will be writing as much as I can, but please continue stopping by to check for new material.

Ever have something you do religiously for a while, and then, for whatever reason, you take a few days off? It's very hard to get back into. All of the sudden you "don't have time". You make excuses, "I didn't write anything yesterday, so it's okay to put of today's entry."

It really says something for motivation, consistency, and momentum. Once you get going, it's easy to keep it going. Stop for a few days, and you lose the momentum. Now, it's easier to procrastinate than to start building up momentum again.

That probably applies to most things in life. It's easy to keep things rolling. If you aren't where you want to be, the hard part is making all those small pushes to get there. Once you're there though, it's smooth sailing...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Feeling time

Next time you're about to do something routine, do it extra slow. It feels different doesn't it? All of the sudden your senses are heightened, and you notice touch more acutely than before. It feels better to dry your hands slowly, or wash your hair slowly, or put on a shirt slowly, but we never seem to do it.


I don't know. Maybe there are better things to do with our time than to indulge in uber-simple pleasures.

Once in a while, mix things up in your daily routine, and notice that, if even for a split second, the world feels different.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Frame of Reference

I drove home last night from the dealership after getting two new tires (and a few other things). As I slowed to park, I noticed a bad sound coming from one of the tires, as though it had been put on incorrectly. Cursing the dealership, I vowed never to return (after they fixed my tire of course).

For you see, I don't like them. It's not that they do a terrible job, but they do just an adequate job, and I always feel like I'm being screwed somehow. And my car is never ready when they say it will be.

This morning, I discovered that it was a rock stuck between the treads of my tire. I removed it, and the problem went away. I felt silly for blaming the dealership, but that's what else can you expect?

Everything that happens is viewed the frame of reference we've built up through similar past experiences. If I liked my dealership, I probably wouldn't have worried about the tire (or at least, I would have thought to blame a rock before the dealer).

It'd be nice if once in a while we could eliminate those biases. I bet the world would look completely different...

Doing the little things

A recent post from the great blog Signal vs. Noise reminds us that big change happens when we change all the little things. This ties in nicely with the book Good to Great, which I read recently. Great companies rarely have done anything spectacular to become so, they've merely done all the small things correctly. The "flywheel" builds momentum with each little push, and then eventually the momentum itself is enough to power the wheel. And it's hard to stop.

It makes sense that these concepts would be applicable on a personal level. Successful people do all the little things right: they're organized, don't procrastinate, and make decisive decisions. They may not always be correct, but it's impossible to make the right move all the time anyway.

A speaker I saw recently was preaching that the first step was to get rid of all the "messes" in your life. He meant physical messes (like that pile of papers on your desk), but also emotional messes.

Once you do all the little things right, he mused, the big things all just fall into place.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More on choice

I know I said it was important to choose. But you know, more often than not, I think the reason that it's so hard to make a choice is that we're given so many. Think I'm being dramatic? Go to the store and try to pick out some band aids.

What size do you want? Waterproof? How about the ones that already have neosporin on them? Nah, just get the sport kinds. Oh, also you might want the clear ones. We haven't even talked about shape yet! Oh and brand. And quantity. And...then there's price.

After several full minutes, I just randomly grabbed something and went to the tooth brushes. The row must have stretched on for at least 20 feet. Eep!

I think I'm over having so many choices and so much variety. Life used to be so much simpler...who's with me?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Getting what you want

I attended an expo last weekend, and there seemed to be a pretty clear theme:

Anything is possible if you really want it.

Most of the speakers were selling something, so you have to take that picture they painted with a grain of salt. But, maybe it's true?

Everyone knows what they need to do. The successful people are those who do it.

Why is it that we don't do the things we know we need to do? Why can't we stop procrastinating? Why can't we stop drinking? Why can't we just exercise like we know we should? Are we afraid of failing? Are we afraid of success?

I will say this. All of the speakers looked years, if not decades, younger than they actually were. Maybe inaction is what slows us down and makes us old?

Thinking up reasons not to do things certainly gets tiring...doesn't it?