I Am My Settings

Devir Kahan on the issue of choice and stress:

There is a certain bliss when you don’t have to make a choice. Or more specifically, when a choice is made for you. Most all of our stress comes from having to make choices, so why not take some of that stress away? Well, because having choices made for us can result in some bad choices, and ones we don’t agree with. I need to be able to choose and configure certain things just how I like them.

I totally agree. Choice is a source of stress, perhaps not in a harmful way, but in a this-is-making-me-hesitate sort of way. But really that hesitation evidences who and what I am, which is awesomely nerdy.

When it comes to app settings, I’m usually pretty good with the “set it and forget it” strategy. In fact, the first thing I usually do upon installing a new app is go through its preferences, tweaking them as I see fit. Once the app is configured to my liking, I don’t revisit the settings unless additional preferences are added via an update. Something like buying a stick of deodorant, however, can take me upwards of ten minutes, even though it doesn’t matter at all which scent I choose. (Must be the fear of smelling like the wrong kind of tree.)

As a nerd, I like to fiddle. I like settings and preferences. Like Devir says, customization allows me to make things my own. People may complain about how iOS’s closed system isn’t customizable like Android’s in the sense that you can’t change how the icons or the operating system looks. But I feel my iPhone is so uniquely my iPhone because of the apps that reside on my home screen, the apps I’ve chosen to put there. These apps, with their respective qualities, values, and features, define me. OmniFocus represents my love for GTD; Twitterrific my love for simplicity; Reeder my love for quality writing; Instacast my love for nerdy podcasts; Music my love for eclectic artists; Notesy my love for capturing random thoughts and ideas.

I guess my point is that my passion for tinkering — for making little choices — allows me to arrive at a place that suits me best. My former girlfriend once made a comment while I was driving, something along the lines of, “There’s a reason for everything you do, isn’t there?” And yes, that’s exactly it. There’s a reason why I keep my sunglasses in the overhead compartment in my car instead of in my center console. There’s a reason why I use a cassette adapter to listen to my iPod, rather than an FM transmitter. There’s a reason why Reeder is on my home screen, but Instapaper isn’t, even though I love both.

The reason is I’ve tried — or at least considered — the alternatives and, in doing so, have determined what’s best for me. Some people can’t be bothered with changing fonts or scrolling through settings, but for me, those few minutes are well spent because they ultimately allow me to remove friction from my experience. Choice is a wonderful thing because it gives me control. As long as the choices don’t overwhelm and paralyze me (as in the case of deodorant), I find joy in making these little decisions; they’re a product of my identity.