Monday, February 13, 2012

On Decisions and the City I walked down the streets of the forlorn city, I couldn't help but wonder: have the 21st century made us unable to make independent decisions?

I've been watching a lot of Sex and the City lately. Carrie Bradshaw surely must be one of the great philosophers of our time. At least she manages what other philosophers fail at: presenting a world view that makes sense to me, from which I can try to make sense of my own confusing life.

Using Carrie & CO as a reference point is fun - and disturbing. Is he a Mr. Big? Or an Aidan? And am I a Carrie or a Miranda? A Charlotte? Or - at times - a Samantha, even? And most importantly of all - do I need this many shoes? (Of course I do!)

I realize it is fiction, and I realize that the life of four glamorous 30-somethings in New York City does not translate well to my own 20-something life here in boring, old Oslo. Still. There are some things that appear to be universal, and Carrie the Philosopher offers some interesting perspectives on that great mystery women have been trying to figure out since the beginning of time: the man. Who is he? How to approach him? And why do we (as in "we, women") have so many twisted expectations for him, and the life we want him to provide for us? (Which, I might add in this "female power"-inspired post, I find completely ridiculous. First you need to provide your own life, find your own goal and become a confident, independent person. Then you can find a guy who is compatible with this life and this person you've become. Or at least that sounds more ideal than changing for the guy; or worse: expecting him to change for you. Change might be good, but it is at the very least unlikely.)

Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and to a certain extent, Charlotte, are confident, independent women (though with the mandatory confidence issues and hiccups like the rest of us). (And - yes - I realize they might not be realistic characters, but instead stereotypes. That is a whole different discussion, though.)

Independence is a virtue in the 21st century, even (or especially) for women. And yet - this is my claim - we frequently find ourselves unable to act independently. The SatC-girls have a touch of it - no problem is left unturned in their famous NYC brunches. They debate and discuss everything from penis sizes to the exchange of keys with new boyfriends. They depend on the advice from friends to make their decisions.

This is not a bad thing, but with modern technology comes modern problems. We no longer have to preserve our problems for Sunday brunch - our advisors are present 24/7 through Facebook, Twitter, or cell phones. Earlier today I found myself consulting a friend about a rather mundane topic. I won't go in details (despite it being mundane, it would also be too self-incriminating to mention here...), but the point is that it made me realize I've forgotten the ability to make decisions all by myself. My recent experiment to ensure that I still am able to function properly without Facebook IV directly plugged to my arteries (I managed four days completely off, and I missed it surprisingly little), forced me to make certain smaller decisions - what to wear or whether to eat bread or yoghurt for breakfast; things like that - without consulting my team of online specialists.

I'm only exaggerating a little.

I remember watching an episode of House, M. D. once (a show I am sad to see cancelled, even though I don't watch it myself anymore, since it made me a total hypochondriac), where a patient was an enthusiastic blogger. She was up for a sugery to have her heart valve replaced (I think. Not entirely sure what the surgery was, come to think of it). In order to make the decision of whether or not to have the surgery, she consulted her blog readers.

The episode was supposed to show a crazy example. Who would do something like that? Ask random strangers on the Internet to make life or death decisions?

The scary thing, though, was that the thought of doing just that wasn't so foreign to me. Okay, I wouldn't consult whomever reading this for questions about my health, but that is more a matter of privacy. Communication and consultation with others, through blogging or Facebook or whatnot has become so common that I don't immediately see the problem even though I know there's supposed to be one.

I think once I have identified the problem, though, my conclusion is different than the House-writers probably planned. They wanted to say something about the crazy online society we've constructed. I want to say something about society in general.

A hundred years ago my ancestors lived in the deep Norwegian forests, not being able to communicate with friends or relatives every second of every day. If they were lucky they probably saw one another once every ten years or so. I can assure you they did not have problems making decisions! Because part of the issue here isn't just that we make ourselves dependant on someone else - no, adding to that problem is the fact that most of us make ourselves dependant on several someones. And trust me - if I ask my team of online consultants what to wear or what to eat for breakfast, I will get more than one answer! I'm asking them to make my decisions easier, but in reality they often only provide more options, thus making it even harder!

Let's pretend this post isn't as long as it is, and that you've actually bothered reading all the way down to the bottom. There is a life lesson down here, somewhere. Something to do with Facebook, perhaps - how being away was good, and being back is good, and that somewhere in the middle probably is the golden direction to take. Something to do with how I communicate - of remembering that sometimes having all the options and making a qualified decision isn't the rational choice, if nothing else because it takes too much time. And something about Sex and the City. It's not a perfect show, and the philosophy is definitely not perfect. But it is comforting, entertaining.

As I wrote the last few words towards completion of this strange and confusing post, I couldn't help but wonder: has our inability to make decisions led us to accept a philosophy based on product placement and idealized lifestyles to excuse our otherwise chaotic existence? Yes. Yes it has. Stop asking rhetorical questions.

1 comment:

Pat Tillett said...

I think you hit it right on the head. "They" know that we are sheep and can be led to where we will use, buy, buy again, upgrade several times and buy something simply because it is placed in a particular spot in a store.

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