In defence of simplicity

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In defence  of simplicity

The time has come to look at the unnecessary complications the human mind is extrapolating into simple ways of joyful living

I recall a quote from Sri Aurobindo’s book, The Mother, which ran  roughly as follows: “Human life would be quite simple if the human mind did not extrapolate in it unnecessary complications”. My recall is reasonably clear on the thrust and the intent of her statement. When I read it for the first time, I was so convinced of the human mind being a potent instrument of problem solving that I could not quite appreciate how human mind could extrapolate complications and unnecessary ones at that.

As time passed, the machinations of the human mind surfaced to my attention in the form of intrigue, gossip, neglect, evening up, unadulterated maliciousness and more. It did help me to understand the statement but the full meaning was yet to unfold to me.

Slowly, I realised that life, led at its simple level, required potable water, wholesome food, clothes to wear, a roof over the head, something to see one through illnesses, resources to take care of the elderly and the non-adult dependants, some basic security, a little bit to invest for relaxation and observe courtesies. I thought I had worked out the puzzle in its essentials.

Then something happened. Entering the domain of knowledge management, I discovered that great virtue was attributed to hair splitting and exalted words such as ‘mission', ‘vision' and the list kept getting longer. Very few people understood these words, but everyone was happy to mouth it. In fact, after having used it, their eyes would move around to judge the effect which they had and to see whether using these words evoked admiration in the eyes of those who heard them. I got caught up in this circle and quite liked — for that moment — the feeling of exaltedness which it brought.

Slowly, the cookie began to crumble — as it always does. Buzz words took over the space occupied by concepts and it became fashionable to keep chanting them. Some phrases which come to my mind are, ‘total quality management', ‘360 degree reviews', ‘participatory management', ‘technological disruption' and the list can be added on. The life of such expressions was limited and they were often swept off the pedestal by newer fashions. Slowly, the doubts creeped in and I began to wonder: Were we simplifying for problem solving or were we making it more complex? Were complexities real or framed to be real?

Consider the case of information technology — was it vital for human progress to have so many softwares, each one at various phases of phase-out, with new ones taking their place? This constant need to keep purchasing newer software/hardware and keep upscaling, did not even permit enough time to do an Return on Investment on the initial and subsequent purchases. Of course, the developers of hardware and software were laughing all the way to the bank.

Then the manufacturers of storage devices caught up. What began innocently as taping and recording, became a surrogate of availability of discs. The material of the discs would vary, their size would vary and their acceptability in the disc reading machine would, almost with regular consistency, almost become inapplicable. Obviously, much data stored would get lost. It would be nobody's business to run establishments where working machines could even transcribe, by first decoding the recorded material and then re-recording it in appropriate devices. While purchasing these storage devices, no one ever brief on what would be the ‘use-before-date'.

The current fads on smart phones are another illustration. There is no one to explain a very large number of features which these smart phones have and for which one has paid. Interestingly, a very large number of applications when downloaded require clearance to access movements, locations and even communications records. Surely, these are not just gestures of affection and convenience for the customer.

Time has come to look at the unnecessary complications the human mind is extrapolating into simple ways of joyful living. Before the protagonists of technology respond by chanting the barriers of distance and time, which technology has beaten, a question has to be answered. The question is: Where lies the trade-offs between simple joys of living and the complexities of beating man made complications.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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