Monday, October 14, 2013

Fire Breathing Toaster: Validation

by Bill Adler

Last week I wrote about the sensation that we feel when we anticipate that something might go wrong, but everything is fine. It’s the sensation we feel after passing through airport security without having our bag or body stopped for a closer look. While there’s no word for that feeling, it’s a shared experience.

I was thinking about another experience that’s fairly common, but also lacks a specific word to describe it. I’ll explain the sensation through something that recently happened to me. I was planning a one-day trip round trip between Washington and New York. The weather was bad, but at the time I needed to make my go/no-go decision, Amtrak was running fine. It was the kind of weather day when Amtrak could have experienced delays but by 10 AM, there weren’t any.

I decided not to take that trip, even though Amtrak was all clear. Still, I checked Amtrak’s service disruption page throughout the day. About an hour after I would have left, while I would have been en route to New York, Amtrak reported train delays between Washington and New York. Yes! I wasn’t happy that there were delays, but I was happy that, in the absence of incomplete information, I made the right decision. I guessed right.

I could easily have guessed wrong.

A similar situation occurs when you choose what you’re hoping to be the fastest checkout lane at the supermarket: You can only guess, or try to make educated guesses about how painful that particular line will be (is that bulge in the shopper’s pocket in front of you a wad of cash that will make checking out fast, or is it a stack of coupons that will have to be individually scanned?)

Life is often like those mystery boxes that they have at festivals and fairs: $5 buys you something, but you won’t know what that something is until you’ve expended time and cash. Often, it’s a pair of socks. But maybe today it’s a $100 gift certificate to Nordstrom’s.

Guessing is stumbling through life, but it’s what we have to do every hour of every day. When we guess right, we’re happy, but we don’t have a word for that. When we guess right in a situation where we have no right to be right, the pleasant outcome lingers for hours. “I’ll drive around the block one more time in this thunderstorm instead of taking the sure-thing space I see that’s four blocks away from the restaurant  -- maybe a parking space will appear right in front of the restaurant.” If it does appear, we’ll probably remember the parking space more clearly than the meal itself.


Bill Adler is a writer. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys:Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets,", "Outwitting Squirrels,", and a mess of other books. He tweets at @billadler. His Fire Breathing Toaster column is published on Monday and his Tech Column is published on Tuesday.

No comments:

Post a Comment