Data Can’t Prove Happiness

On a recent trip, I stand in line at an airport Starbucks to get a hit. In front of me is an older woman, fussily put together and a bit anxious. She turns around and asks, “Do you come to this airport often?”

This is either the worst pick-up line ever or a precursor to a question that will reveal I don’t come here often enough.

“Occasionally,” I say.

“Is there a Dunkin’ Donuts here?”

“This is Boston. There has to be.”

But, I tell her, I don’t know for sure. Sighing, she turns around and says it’s probably better to just stay here.

In this day and age there’s no reason not to have the overpriced coffee of your choice, so I get out my phone and look it up. There’s an app for that. Heck, there’s a hundred apps for that.

“Excuse me,” I say. “There is a Dunkin’ Donuts in this terminal, but it’s a bit of a hike from here.”

She looks at the phone, looks at me, and says, “Oh. You’re one of those people.” And turns back around.

She’s right. There’s a certain kind of thinking that comes along with being a data person. The data exists. If you don’t know where, there’s probably data about that. The amount of effort to get the data and use it is probably lower than the penalty you’ll pay of not doing so.

But there is a risk. Thinking that life is a long series of optimizations can turn you into a social idiot. Sometimes people don’t want to know their options. Sometimes they don’t want the best solution. They just want comfort that what they’re doing is ok.

The key is to know one case from the other, and optimize accordingly.

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