Saturday, May 18, 2024

Just because

It was a fine Friday afternoon. I was one comment on my neat technical design from a getaway weekend. And the comment read "Why Firebase?". My mind answered with questions. What answer is expected from me? Is it about cost because Firebase is a managed service? Is it about the latency between data update and data retrieval? Is it about alternatives such as self-hosted web sockets? I tried to read between the lines so I could be helpful but with 2 words and a question mark, there wasn't a lot of space to work with. I let out a sigh and attempted a carpet-bombing of an answer - a remark for every reason crossing my mind. And from the pit of my stomach, an irritation was growing.

That reminded me of a psychology experiment in the 1970s. Psychologist Ellen Langer walked up to the first in a line at a photocopier and said: "Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the machine?" Her success rate was 60 percent. When she ran the experiment again, this time providing a reason "Excuse me. I have five pages. May I use the machine because I'm in a rush?" The success rate went to 94 percent. That is understandable, after all the most common reason to cut in is to be in a hurry, or be a jerk. I believed prof Langer asked nicely. She tried yet another approach: "Excuse me. I have five pages. May I go before you, because I have to make some copies?" Even though the reason was... oxymoron because why else standing in front of a photocopier, she was allowed to pass with a similar stellar success rate (93 percent).

My situation with the comment would have improved had it come with a reason. "Why Firebase? Because Google might shut it down tomorrow." Ah, the classic Google move when things don't work out.

The human mind craves causal effects for it wants to make sense of the world. When we justify our behavior (or, in my case, question), we will encounter more tolerance and helpfulness. The level of reason is in direct proportion to the stake of the situation. It seems to matter very little if the excuse is good or not in daily ordinaries. Using a simple validation "because" is sufficient. But if someone's direction is in the blast zone, the reasons provide the course of navigation and they better be sound. Regardless, the knowledge of a justification reassures and calms our minds. After all, nothing is more frustrating than being kept in the dark.

"Because" is an unassuming little word that dutifully greases the wheels of human interaction. Don't be a narcissistic asshole. Use it to your heart's content, because it provides reasons ;)


I was introduced to the "because justification" by Rolf Dobelli's The Art of Thinking Clearly. It is a good book. The illustration was from Google Image and I wouldn't recommend saying so.

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