bad habits

2011-11-30

Change is hard. I know this because I've tried making changes in my life like eating healthier and exercising more, but so far I haven't made much progress. This is because I, like every other person, am comfortable with my current lifestyle. I go out to eat too often but how does that perceptibly affect me? Not really a whole lot. Tell me if this argument seems familiar: I went out to eat a lot last week, and I'm 'fine' this week, 'fine' being whatever criteria on which you judge your own well being. Therefore, I will eat out the same, but no more, next week, and I will also be 'fine'. This is flat-out wrong. This kind of thinking leads you to believe that you can eat out this week, and next week, and the next, indefinitely with no serious consequences. Of course, if you went to eat out constantly, you'd gain weight and spend more money than you intended. The solution is to change your thinking and zoom out, focus on the issues in context.

I'm a programmer by profession, and I've seen a similar behavior in the way programming is taught in school, and the way the industry approaches solving problems. Broadly speaking, it takes an entire generation for a totally new way of thinking to sink in and be really become ubiquitous in the community, any community, not just programmers. Lisp had garbage collection back in the 1960s, but GC didn't become mainstream until Java and (the totally unrelated) JavaScript hit in the mid-nineties. 35 years is just about long enough for programmers to start working, have kids, grow old, retire, and have their kids start programming. 35 years just to get GC into a language that a majority of programmers used. To give everyone some perspective, the field of programming or computer science has only existed for around 60 years. It's taken more than half of the history of our entire profession for garbage collection to go from invention to widespread acceptance.

The point I'm trying to make isn't that garbage collection is a good thing (it is though) but rather that it was a helpful language feature that most people ignored because they were comfortable with what they were using. Heck, there's still a large population of working programmers today who will tell you they don't need garbage collection. They see it as some sort of frill, like air-conditioning or 3-D movies. It's almost as if they're expecting it to go out of style someday so they can say "See, it's a good thing we didn't jump on that bandwagon. What a waste of time that would have been". Because technology moves faster than even the breakneck pace of society today, with 35 year old thinking, you're bound to make error after error, thinking that "the way we've always done it" has worked out fine so far, fine being rigorously defined by your company as not having gone bankrupt yet.

You need to constantly be evaluating everything you see and hear and make sure it makes sense. Especially things like personal blogs . If you hear a statement like "You should always..." or "You should never ..." take a good long look at it and think about it. I mean really stop and take some time to decide whether this statement applies more than 50% of the time. If it does, add it to your knowledge bank. If it doesn't, that doesn't mean it's useless to you. You can still use it to evaluate the person who said it and how they think. Why do they believe this statement to be true? What does it tell me about them and their inherent biases that they could somehow believe this about the world? Once you're able to recognize your own biases and evaluate your own thinking effectively, you'll be one of the lucky few who doesn't have to worry about that stuff anymore.