Today, I’m in the first. So here you go – some people are Google fans, others are Apple acolytes, either current or potential.
I like Google. I like their ethos, their principles, their rigor, and independence. I’m clear-eyed about their faults but this is not the post for that. Suffice to say, I generally subscribe to the Google fan club.
Historically, I’ve been neutral on Apple. My assessment of their products for a long time was that they seemed expensive for the value they offered me as an individual. I’m a functionalist – my gauge for value is generally usefulness, not aesthetics or identity. Apple asked me to invest a dollar premium in their products and my time in their learning curve, and until recently, I declined their kind invitation.
The iPad, in particular, seemed like a nonstarter for me. I carry a notebook computer with me – everywhere I go – that does everything the iPad does and a whole bunch of things it doesn’t. I didn’t get it.
Which is where the learning about emotional imagination came into the picture. Jonathan Haidt in his research outlined in the Happiness Hypothesis (and others as well) has found that we are terrible at empathizing with our future selves. We find it hard to gauge how happy we will be in future scenarios – which is a shocking finding when you think of how many decisions we make based on our assessment of our future happiness.
It is a finding that is interesting on paper but very hard to apply to your current decision-making. It feels like a finding that applies to other people but not yourself. So how do you improve your decision-making and have greater empathy with your future self?
I had to get an iPad for work. It sat for a month on my desk, shiny, sad and lonely. One day, I picked it up to install a custom app my team had developed. I gradually started using it. After awhile, I began carrying it around with me. Now I love it.
But the reasons why I love it are so specific to my life that I’m amazed that the business case was ever made at Apple to develop it in the first place:
1) I’m rushing to my gate at the airport. As I’m walking, I pull out my iPad, flip open the cover, instant on and I’m typing an email: “Can we push this call by half an hour?” with an explanation for the request. My fingers aren’t too big for the keyboard. They get my note, I make my flight and settle into my seat to read.
2) I’m on the plane and have downloaded some documents onto my iPad, as well as some articles from longreads.com. The experience of the iPad makes it much easier to absorb longform content. I am happy.
3) I’m in Edinburgh at a conference. Jetlagged in the evenings, I curl up in bed in the hotel room and catch up with folks back home on Facetime (videoconference). At times, it seems like they’re in the room with me. I can also Skype for a similar experience if a wireless connection isn’t available.
4) I’m at the conference and a bit late for a session. I sneak in and quietly take a seat. I like to take notes so I pull out my iPad. No rustling paper, no searching for pen. In-between taking notes, I review on Twitter and the blogosphere the updates for the part of the session I missed. I’m caught up.
5) I’m in transit to the airport to go home. I want to catch up on the news since I’ve been gone. I open Zite and Flipboard and flip through the headlines, opening a few articles that look interesting. We hit traffic and I have a moment of concern about making my flight so open Flightboard to see what other options I have for getting home.
Here’s the thing: I never thought about any of these scenarios when I was assessing how much value I would find in an iPad. I didn’t have the emotional imagination – or more accurately, I never pushed the limits of my emotional imagination. If I had thought of these scenarios, the usefulness of an iPad would have made perfect sense to me.
We need concretes, we need the story to viscerally understand what will make us happy. The problem is that the story we tell ourselves is often wrong – it’s a high-level sketch that leaves out the good stuff. We get lazy because using our emotional imagination is hard work.
So what’s the answer? Like most good answers, it’s boring and what we already knew. Don’t be lazy. Demand the stories from yourself. Tell better stories to other people. Stories with richess and texture and color, that take risks and maybe show some vulnerability. Learn from other people. Demand better stories from them. Be a human being. Feel like other people are like you.
There’s a lot here – being empathetic towards yourself is the first step to feeling empathy for others, and that’s a whole treasure trove. This is just the tip of the iceberg.