2 min read

Consistency paralysis

I'm pulling out this bit on 'consistency paralysis' from the last post as it seems worth thinking about on its own:

I think the biggest is avoiding what I'm now going to call 'consistency paralysis' - I don't know if this term already exists but I mean like analysis paralysis but specifically about how to organise things into a consistent scheme. Like, say you have some scheme in your notes where you're highlighting books in red and blog posts in blue, and then you remember that newsletters exist... do you lump them in with blog posts or do they need their own colour? These decisions tend to overwhelm me - I find that a lot with programming, where the computer is stupid so I have to give it an explicit organising principle. Even something like figuring out which directory to save a file in can really throw me. And there are so many decisions... this really adds up.

Googling the phrase, there isn't much except 'The ULTIMATE High Consistency Paralysis Switch Axe Build' from a gaming youtuber. So I guess it's mine, haha.

This problem of ambiguity being a cognitive burden seems to come up a lot. I've been a bit obsessed with tidying and decluttering recently and it's definitely very relevant there. Objects with no defined place are the enemy, they can't be tidied as there is no place to tidy them to, so they sit around radiating malevolent ambiguity vibes. Storage boxes and containers are important because they fix this in a simple way.

Hm, this pushes in the opposite direction to my quote above, where I argue for just punting all these questions of consistent schemes as long as possible and just keeping on creating messes. Is this a genuine difference between 'computer things' and 'real objects', or is one of these two arguments mistaken, or should I be combining them in a more skilful way? Or something else? I guess I need to think about this more.

Related-ish tangents:

  • I wrote some similar things in this notebook post about 'stationery as ambiguity reduction'
  • William Empson (who knew a lot about ambiguity) has this cheery poem Missing Dates which I read as being about a sort of slow choking by ambiguity and mess and loose ends:

    It is the poems you have lost, the ills
    From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
    Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
    The waste remains, the waste remains and kills