Last weekend, I went shopping for a new cell phone, and it turned into a positive psychology learning experience.
I am not in the league of some other lawyer techno-geeks, but I am interested, I run a fairly technologically sophisticated MCLE operation, and I made my living selling computer systems to lawyers for several years. I like technology and like to keep up. One way I try and keep up is by doing things with technology -- this blog was such an effort when it first started.
As a result of my geek-streak, I can get into shopping for new technology, comparing specifications and features, reading reviews, and imagining in my mind what using each possibilitiy would be like. This can easily become what Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice calls "maximizing." He recommends "satisficing." One might call it the success psychology of "good enough." Basically it means limiting the time and effort one spends on choices, especially consumer choices, to that which will produce an acceptable result. The amazing aspect is that, even though this may occasionally result in slightly less-optimal choices, one's satisfaction with each choice and life in general will be higher! For a great story and more on maximizing, see Nick Hall's account here.
Back to last weekend. My older son, Tyler, has had an Iphone for some months and he likes it. Also, I have run into several lawyers who have Iphones and like them. But, the beautiful and patient Teresa and my younger son, Patrick, are on a Verizon family plan, and I ran into more resistance than I expected when I suggested switching to ATT. "All my friends are on Verizon! Other family members are on Verizon; we don't use minutes to talk to them!"
So, what to do? Dive in! Read the reviews! Study the stats! Find a Verizon smartphone that's better for my puposes than the Iphone! And I did. But, as I was spending the time, I considered whether I was maximizing. And, for me, asking the question made the answer obvious. I easily could be, but I could also take another path. I like reading and thinking and looking at new technology, and being somewhat up to speed on modern tools and how they can affect the way I live is a value for me. So, I decided to spend more time than I might have just to satisfice, but to do so out of curiosity and creativity. And to satisfice when I was out of time or interest, that is, when the whole effort became a pain.
So, after reading and thinking, I was off to the Verizon store where I made a decision. My first choice (which was made easier by knowing I could return it -- which Barry Schwartz questions as a strategy, but it worked for me) was a Samsung Omnia. I brought it home and fooled with it overnight and became less and less satisfied with it, and this from someone who used a Windows mobile PDA for several years! Web sites were unreadable, especially when compared to the Iphone, and even using it as a phone was tough. I called a company and needed to enter voice mail options via the keypad, looked at the screen and it was dark, and, when I finally got it to light up, could not figure out how to bring up the keypad! (OK, it was probably possible, but, to me, the fact that it was not obvious was a serious flaw.)
Back to the store to return it -- a decision and trip that could have made me very unhappy if I were maximizing, but not really a problem from my "curiosity, learning, and keeping up" approach. Yet, I was getting close to reaching the end of the time I could allow for this particular learning project. I think if I had gotten any static about returning it and reversing the calling plan extension I had signed to get it, I would have bolted for the Iphone and ATT. However, the store personnel cheerfully reversed the whole deal and I decided to try the other Verizon candidate, the Blackberry Storm.
And, at this point, I really began to "satisfice." I liked the Storm. Patrick liked the Storm. Tyler and I compared viewing web sites on it and the Iphone and found them very comparable. Declare victory and abandon the fray! I came out of the weekend with two benefits:
- increased knowledge about the current generation of smartphones, and
- a new phone I like.
Perfect? No. The best possible choice? Maybe not. But good enough, quite good, actually, and I'm satisfied. I'll take that and move on. How about you?