In his post Complexity-Induced Mental Illness, Scott (Dilbert) Adams, writes:
My guess is that I’m somewhere in the top 25% of humans that can survive high complexity without going mad. And I’m starting to feel the water line touch my chin.
As just one example, this morning I decided I will never again try to watch television with other people. It got too complicated. For starters, I can never find anyone at the same point in their binge-watching of a series. Secondly, I have to figure out if a show is on a premium channel, DVR, On Demand, NetFlix, or whatever. Then I have to find the episode where I left off. Then I have to hope my technology for serving up the show works. My TV takes about five steps just to power it on. If I am watching on my computer, that’s another level of complication. Rarely does “watching television” work smoothly these days.
I noted this complexity problem many years ago. I called it IDS - Intelligence Deficit Syndrome - the ability that technology has to make a person feel less than competent. Here are some examples I gave back in 2000:
See if any of these “technologies” have given you IDS:
- Having to use over 20 numbers to make a long distance telephone call. The number string for me to dial out from a hotel using my credit card looks something like this: 9-1-800-228-8288-507-555-1234-863-037-7459-2468 I count thirty-six numbers I have to remember.
- Having a stove with burners set in a rectangular patter and knobs set in a row. I have to look at the little diagram beside the knob every time I light a burner.
- Having one car with the wiper lever on the left side of the column and one car with the wiper level on the right side of the column. I wipe when I want to dim, and I still haven’t quite got the wash to work on a consistent basis.
- Pushing a glass door when you should have pulled on the door.
- Scorching yourself because you don’t know if counterclockwise makes the water in the shower hotter or colder. This is a common vacation trauma for me.
- Knowing what fewer than 50% of the buttons do on the VCR’s remote control. And I never remember how to get out of the on-screen menu. At least my deck doesn’t blink 12:00, although I haven’t changed the time to accommodate for daylight savings time. Let’s see, is that fall back or fall forward. Damn!
- Worrying that dragging the little disk icon on your Mac to the trashcan icon will erase the files on the disk. For some users I’ve made an alias of the trash icon and gave it a symbol that looks like an arrow. Eases the fear.
With the possible exception of a few 8-18 year-olds, most of us at some time suffer from IDS.
The punch line in my talks about IDS was about the garage door opener pictured above having three buttons - one to open and close the garage door and the other two to exacerbate my feelings of intelligence deficiency.
And the world only seems to grow, more, not less complex. My phone takes a 650 page book of tips by David Pogue to master; my bike computer has a dozen function controlled by the combination of pushing only two buttons; and the MicrosoftOffice toolkit gets increasingly complex with each new release.
At work, staff are faced with websites full of links to how-to instructions. Making a hiring request requires mastery of one system; OKing employee leave another; checking budgets still one more. Teachers use the SIS, the CMS; and, and, and ...
It's enough to drive a person to drink.
Which was exactly Adams's point in his blog quoted above.
Is growing complexity just an inevitable upward spiral - along with its attendant psychological toll on most of us?