Embracing the Unexpected

Food for Thought

Robert and I tried to remember how we used to make plans to meet. In the ’90s, before everyone had a cell phone, I often buzzed my friends’ doors if I happen to be walking by. “What are you doing?” I would ask over the intercom. I can’t remember the last time a friend buzzed my door unannounced. If you are around 30 or younger, you’ve probably never seen that happen.

Catching someone on the phone wasn’t so easy back then either because your friend had to be home to pick up the phone. If he were, say, out shopping, you couldn’t reach him. Because planning was not easy, we were more willing to accept unexpected guests.

In the late ’80s, answering machines became popular, and for the next ten years, everyone had one. One unique feature of answering machines was that you could hear the caller leaving the message in real-time. We used to scream into the phone, “Are you home? Pick up the phone!” Now, with the voicemail system, we have to wait until the caller finishes leaving his message.

Communication used to be much more spontaneous, but because spontaneity is not efficient, the technologies are evolving steadily towards unspontaneous, more predictable forms of communication. The technical term for our style of communication today is “asynchronous”; you send a message to me now, and I open it later when it’s convenient for me. This allows me to spend my time with the lowest number of interruptions. The more control we have over our lives, the better. Or, to put it another way, unexpected = bad.

Or, so we are lead to believe because the vast majority of us make money by selling our time.

But this is how we get stuck in life. If everything we do is planned, what can happen in the future would be limited to what we can imagine, but what is possible in life is vastly greater than our imagination. Efficiency may enrich our wallets, but it impoverishes our lives.

If a successful outcome was planned, your ego feels much better than if it was unplanned, because it gives you the sense that you have control over your future. But you are essentially locking yourself up in a lab for the sake of being able to control your environment.