Don’t Accept the Defaults! What Are You Doing to Customize Your Life?

Most technology is designed to be “feature rich.” This means that there are multiple menus and multiple ways to do everything. In short, it means you won’t use 80% of the capabilities and it would take forever to figure them out anyway. The way most designers deal with the “feature rich” problem is that they program the device with an initial group of settings called “defaults.” Interesting choice of terms, but don’t get me started. Too late…

Tom Vanderbilt
Tom Vanderbilt 

The defaults are usually the least imaginative or lowest common denominator option. This got me thinking about how many “defaults” of all kinds we have tended to accept in our lives that might be better customized. Here’s my starter list. I’d like to hear yours.

1. Telephone. The default for the telephone used to be – “it rings, you answer it.” Now that the majority of calls are from fund raisers and sales people, answering it is often an aggravation. Why not customize? At minimum, use caller ID.  My view is if the caller’s name is “unavailable,” so am I. If you have made the move to a smartphone and have good coverage where you live, maybe you can get rid of your land line entirely and join the lobbying of the FCC to ban robo-calls from cellular networks.

2. TV. The default for TV used to be channel surfing until you found something to watch. Now with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. and devices like TiVo, SlingBox, Roku, etc., you can watch what you like when you like. I can’t wait until the choke hold of the cable companies is broken and you can just pay for the content you want and not the gazillion channels you never use that make up the majority of that “premium package” you pay for every month.

3. Parking Meters. One of my friends told me only half-jokingly that one of the toughest challenges in retirement was keeping enough quarters in his car to feed the parking meters. That’s the default of course. Now you can get a phone app that lets you enter the number of the meter and have your parking charged to your credit card. The more enlightened jurisdictions (read, not Washington, DC) let you choose the number of hours you think you will use and then if you come back to your car earlier, you can click “stop” and only be charged for the time you used. Pay just for what you use. What a concept? And if you are sitting in a meeting and realize you need to add more time on the meter, you do it from your phone.

4. Cars.  Some folks can dump the default of owning a car completely if they live in a well-served city.  Some combination of public transit, Uber, Car2Go, ZipCar, and similar services can do the trick for many folks.  And just wait until all those “auto-mated” features on new cars evolve into self-driving cars.

5. Banking. Much as I like personalized service and a real face-to-face interaction, I have got to say that doing all my banking electronically is really convenient. Depositing the few remaining paper checks by taking a picture of them with my smartphone is handy. Now that Ally Bank has listened to my request to be able to see that deposited check picture as a link in my online transaction register, I am pretty happy with the service. I hope Citibank and others will catch up soon, but I admit I still cringe a little when I put those paper checks through my shredder once the deposits are confirmed.

What “life defaults” are you questioning?


One response to “Don’t Accept the Defaults! What Are You Doing to Customize Your Life?”

  1. Radio: I grew up in an era where everyone listened to the same music on the radio. While this did create some great shared experiences, it also meant that we listened to a lot of junk as well. This model hasn’t changed much for commercial radio. Now I’m a big fan of “personal ” streaming music stations like Pandora. I can get very specific in the type of music that I want to listen to, without have to carry around CDs, or be locked into a dated mix of my own. As a musician (retirement career) I find this is also a great learning tool. Hmm maybe I can write off the subscription fee…….