Wednesday, November 30, 2005

mindCandy: Timeframes and Decision Making

It's incredible to think about how much decision-making changes depending on the timeframe under consideration. What I mean by this is that a good decision in the short term can be a really bad decision in the long term (and vice-versa). Take global warming issues: in the short term (even in the medium term) the benefits that come from use of fossil fuels, etc. that harm the ozone layer far outweigh their harm. Yet in the long term, it's a very big (potentially civilization-ending) problem. So depending on the timeframe you're considering (e.g. if you're a government that is probably only really worried about its 4-year term), the best decision changes dramatically.

But we don't need to be talking about years for the effect of timeframe on a decision to become apparent. As an extreme example: the few seconds of rush you'd get by jumping off a building is probably pretty intense - good view, wind in your hair, exhilarating speed - but moments later jumping off that building will reveal itself to be a very bad idea :-) . There's no end to these: a few puffs of crank is likely a pretty good feeling if you isolate it from the subsequent down (and extraordinary negatives involved with addiction); zooming along at twice the speed limit on the highway is fun until you get pulled over by the cops or crash. Hmmm, it does seem that most examples that come to mind end up being short-term good and long-term bad, which explains a lot about how we live our lives.

So how are we to make decisions? In essence: what's the right timeframe? Most people, I would expect, have made decisions in their early years that are do not take into account their effect in later life (e.g. smokers, people who have unsafe sex, etc.), and many make the argument that they want to live their life to the fullest while they are able to enjoy life most. These arguments don't tend to hold a lot of weight with me, as I am a firm believer in the fact that you can stay and feel young well beyond your 20s, 30s, and 40s. And there is no lack of evidence for this - I know my parents and many people their age and older who are far more energetic and fun than people half their age who simply do not seem to want to live their lives to the fullest. As my Dad's doctor once said: "The human body is the only machine in the world that gets better the more you use it".

Like most things, these considerations involve balancing a range of factors, which is not always easy. I think the simplest way to address this is to make sure to balance the harm you might do by doing good as well. If you're really not willing to give up your Hummer then please make sure you are conserving water and energy in other ways; if you're not willing to give up your drug of choice (from food to booze and beyond) then spend some time outside and get some exercise. We can't always make the right decisions, but we can try to moderate their negative effects in a variety of ways. So when you inevitably misjudge the proper timeframe for considering a decision, think about what you can do to mitigate its effects in other ways. The only thing you'll really know is that time will tell whether you've made the right decision ;-) .
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11/30/2005 07:46:00 p.m.  


Anonymous John said...

At a crossroads?

November 30, 2005 10:37 p.m.  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

:-) No, not really at a crossroads, just deep in thought. Have had a few media interviews/discussions as of late regarding commandN and the future of podcasting, etc., plus have been thinking about the Canadian election a lot too.

I was going to do a BitTorrent MacOnMacs post but didn't have enough time to do a good one (maybe tonight), so I thought I'd share some "deep thoughts" with everyone ;-) .

Thanks for writing!

December 01, 2005 12:30 p.m.  
Anonymous John said...

With all the exciting stuff you two (your seestor) have on the go, I can certainly understand how you'd have a lot on your mind. It's good stuff you guys are churning out. I enjoy.

December 01, 2005 12:40 p.m.  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Thanks John!

PS: For those of you who don't know, my "seestor" is Amber MacArthur from Call for Help on TechTV. Check out her info at !

December 15, 2005 1:34 p.m.  

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