One of the first things I do when I get a new device—a phone, a tablet, a laptop—is explore the settings. I go through each and every sub-menu, determining what function each one has and deciding whether it’s default array is desirable or not. Sometimes it is—I like the toolbar of my laptop to be displayed on the bottom of the screen and the selected language to be English. Other times, it is not—I don’t want the time and date displayed, I don’t want certain apps to have certain permissions or to nudge me with push notifications.
It’s a simple practise, and one that, surprisingly, teaches me a lot, both about the device itself and about my intentions for its use. But this morning, I’m wondering, can I apply it to something else? Can I examine and reconfigure my own defaults?
Life is a slow accumulation of precedent. As we age we encounter new situations, and for each of these new situations we decipher a suitable response. We decide how to behave when we encounter our friends, we decide what to do when we get to work in the morning, we decide what to do first when we get home, we decide what to do when faced with direct and indirect conflict; for most mundane scenarios we develop a default response. Yet, these defaults are often a consequence of convenience. Companies that make tech devices have reasoned their way to defaults; there is a rationale for their selections (mostly). Not for ours. We’ve stumbled into them.
For example, on the rare occasion that I go to a party, I tend to stick close to people I know and not stay too late. That’s my default. What if I changed it? What if I sought out people I didn’t know and stayed until the end? What would I gain and what would I lose? Another example: when I read something online that makes me think, or gives me a new perspective, I don’t do anything. My default is inaction. What if I shared it on Twitter? What if I made the effort to contact it’s creator and say thank you, or to give a detailed response? What would be the consequences of such a profound shift in my media consumption habits?
We like to think that we are creatures of will. That all we do we do because we choose. Not so. Most of what we do is done without thought, without consideration, simply because we decided before to do that and it worked so maybe we just do that again next time. Thus, we breeze through most of life’s scenarios on default. So, it follows, that to significantly change our life, there aren’t many more effective strategies than identifying defaults and changing them where appropriate. More is to be gained from this, from modifying the makeup of our unconscious choices in the little moments, than determining to decide better at those big moments, at those monumental milestones of existence.