The “yeah, whatever” heuristic.

It occurred to me while reading the first chapter of “Nudge”, entitled “Biases and Blunders” that the subsection on the “Status Quo Bias” not only spoke, but screamed its importance to me in the context of sustainable development. So often, and I myself am just as guilty of this as anyone else, we find ourselves implicitly agreeing to things out of laziness, malaise or a general unthinking trust in the opinions/designs of others. When I still had cable I would often find myself, as the author described it, watching the show after the show I intended to watch, simply because it was there and I would have to take the minute extra step to push a button to decide to do something else.

When I thought about it, this translated over to so many things in our lives, that it was shocking to think that so many of our decisions are made out of laziness and a lack of interest in trying harder than the bare minimum. Recycling, still in the grand scheme of things a relatively new widespread phenomenon across the country, could have been adopted by people all over far earlier had it just been made the norm. Had we repainted our garbage cans, and given everyone multiple of them for different types of items, people would likely have just fallen into the habit of doing it because it was easier than not doing it and getting a fine. What if an auto off/restart mechanism was installed in every car in America, whereby you had to act by revving the engine in order to keep your car idling, instead of just letting it turn off. How quickly would our “yeah, whatever” heuristic kick in, leading us to just let our car go off by itself until we were ready to restart it? What if all sinks in the country were outfitted with auto on/off sensors much like what you find in public bathrooms? Just by making it more of a process to keep your water running while doing dishes, we would save, in my opinion, massive amounts of wasted water because people would not want to keep swiping their hands just to keep the water running. They would only use it to rinse, instead of just allowing it to pour down the drain while they scrub the dishes as many people do.

The point was really driven home to me by the author when he pointed out that the other author had been signed up for magazines by American Express, which he had paid for for almost a decade, all because he was given three months of them for free, with the option to call and cancel after that. If we could have companies make three months worth of donations in someones name to sustainable technology innovation, to conservation, to green revitalization, and all that person had to do to stop from making a donation of their own money was to call and cancel after three months; I have to wonder how many of them would, by means of laziness, be a major catalyst in changing the way the world works and views the topic of sustainability…

We should make it an active choice not to support sustainability, and a passive choice to support it. That’s when our “yeah, whatever” heuristic will save the world, instead of making us watch another episode of “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.”


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