Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts from an elevator

Today as I was getting into my office elevator, I was reminded of the widespread superstitions about elevator doors -- for example, the large number of people who are afraid to try to reach out to stop their closing, even if it means a long wait for another elevator, because, I guess, they are afraid that their hand would be caught/crushed/devoured.

And I want to explain that their imagined hand-waving target region is too high, that we live in the post-ADA era, so that you have to think about where a wheelchair would roll, and thus that the target for optical sensors would be about thigh-to-hip height. And that I've many a time stopped such an elevator with a sheet of paper or a hand, at no risk. But my gut is sort of saying, dismissively, "This is why smart people live longer." So I never open my mouth.

Really, on further reflection I realize that there are just a broad class of people for whom the world at large, and technology in particular, is full of impenetrable mysteries. And why is that so? Because if you start with the belief that there's no approach to such matters, you continue to find that true because you have never tried to analyze any of them. Some things may be hard to understand or frustrating, but many many aspects of the world yield to some kind of deductive analysis, whether the outcome is actual facts or just probabilistic insights, and your mind does that kind of work all the time (watching any kid over time is instructive in this regard). You just need to learn to believe in that framework.

painting of a figure thinking colorful imagesSo, rather than be dismissive, I wish to change my silent conversation to something like, "Every increment of deductive reasoning that you can bring to bear makes life a little bit easier." Which is not entirely different from saying that smart people function better in the world, but has the added benefit of pointing out a tool that anybody can adopt -- assume that you can reason a way through many of the stupid or mysterious parts of the day. And you, too, will find that you are right! Take heart, fellow travelers!

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