Why Having Less Is A Lot Harder Than Getting More


Thursday, 9.11pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. – Epictetus

Every once in a while you’ll come across someone who knows someone who is doing something with artificial intelligence.

They’re taking data, crunching it, putting it through clever, self-learning algorithms, and coming up with insights that make everything better.

Everything is always getting better – you get more features, better quality, and a richer experience

But it all comes at a price – one that I’m not sure how exactly to take a view on.

On the one hand the relentless drive for the new gives you things like the iPhone and iPad – the culmination of a decade long dream to have an electronic equivalent of paper, just better.

It’s like the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where we learn that the fashion of today eventually results in the cheap clothing of tomorrow.

But, if you have too much of a good thing over time, that is less good.

If you have read The little prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery you’ll remember how, at the start of the book, Exupery talks about boa constrictors.

He saw a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an animal and drew his version (which looks like my figure 2 above) and showed it to grown ups.

They asked him why he was drawing pictures of hats.

But it wasn’t a hat – it was a boa constrictor digesting an elephant – which he tried to make clear by drawing a second picture – 2a in mine.

At which point he was advised to stop drawing pictures and spend time studying instead.

And life sometimes seems like that.

We all start off as slim boa constrictors, unencumbered by food, and happy to take what we get.

And then the meals start and they get bigger and bigger, as our appetites and eyes grow.

If you’re lucky enough to be beyond the first few stages of the hierarchy of needs, then you probably have more stuff than you need, with more coming in all the time.

Eventually, you may also be in a position where there is an elephant in you and there’s no point moving any more, you’re pretty much stuck.

If you look around at your life and work there is probably little you actually need.

Without being completely minimalist – there are probably more pens in your house than you will ever use, more plastic boxes than food you cook – just more of everything.

More just seems to happen unless you’re one of those people that makes an effort to have less.

You’re the kind of person that passes on pens and pads at hotels and conferences.

You recycle all your plastic, never keeping a takeaway container just in case.

And, of course, you return all your shopping bags to the supermarket or only keep the four or five you need for a big shop.

The thing is that if you’re that kind of person you know just how much effort goes into getting rid of stuff.

For some of us it would be much easier if we stayed away from elephants altogether.


Karthik Suresh

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