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People Make All the Difference

October 25, 2017

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com

What makes or breaks an experience is the quality of the people you share that experience with. Human connection is the most fundamental building block of our lives. We should cherish it more, because we are nothing without others. We need no identity, no sense of purpose, no sense of right and wrong were it not for others. You could argue that these desires are innate and that we are responsible to God, but then God is the other we need these things for.

I used to absolutely loathe human interaction. I dreamt of becoming a hermit and never having to see others ever again. But now I realize how wonderful it can be to have friends you can engage in meaningful conversation with and share wonderful experiences with. I now realize how wonderful it is to belong.

I understood that people, at a very fundamental level, want to belong a couple months ago. To have a good community can completely change your life situation and improve your health. To feel at ease and happy makes all the difference in life. In fact, I think it makes the only difference.

The factor I believe we should all be striving to optimize for is the connection and experience factor. You should pursue activities solely based on what kind of experience you have. Forget the money. Forget your reputation. Forget your career advancement prospects. Just focus on having a good time, all the time.

To give an example, consider a man who has a wife and several children and is considering switching jobs. He is currently working a high-paying career in a stressful company and hardly ever gets to see his kids. The other job he has is something he’s wanted to do for years but has suppressed. He will be taking a meaningful paycheck, but he will still be able to support his family. I say the right choice is to switch to the lower-paying job because it maximizes the experience effect. The man will feel more satisfied with his life and can, for once, feel proud of all aspects of his life. His children and wife will benefit from his improved demeanor. I think everyone in this family will become creative by virtue of the man of house taking the lead and demonstrating his belief in the importance of the experience.

I think this belief should also be extended to research. Now, too much research is commercially focused. It deadens the experience of research, because commercial interests are short-term. Research is long-term. The whole point of research is that you set some smart people free in a huge field and give them enough tools and money to find something worth sharing. The Bell Labs and PARCs of decade ago are long gone, and even Microsoft Research has succumbed to the “needs of the consumers”. But consider this: the company wants to make what consumers what, and consumers want what the company says they want. Just because Apple makes a phone that doesn’t exactly meet a consumer’s expectations doesn’t mean they won’t buy the phone. They may look at Android, but even there the problem remains that you must choose among several styles defined by some product manager back at Samsung or LG. You can customize your phone within the brand’s limits. You live within a masked world where you and company both pretend you have free will.

I hope that one day I will be able to do awesome research that isn’t strongly tainted by commercial interests. I don’t want to look so far ahead as the mathematicians who hope their work will be read in 100 years, but I don’t want to look so short term as to say there must be results within the next few months or within a year.

I also think that people should contribute as soon as possible. Don’t take the high-paying job with the assumption that you will be able to quit when you have accumulated a comfortable amount of wealth. By that time, you will probably have accumulated so much other baggage that requires your high income that you can’t possible quit. Also, the prospect of taking a lower paying job or no job to do fun things may seem less green than maintaining your position. Inertia is a powerful force; don’t think you can fight it so easily. It’s reasonable to say that you will accumulate wealth and give it back to others who will use it for good, but I think your time is better spent directly doing that good. But each person has his own preferences, so my two cents will stay where they are.

That’s it for today. Continue the conversation with me at ipacifics [at] gmail [dot] com.