From pencils to pens
Perfectionism at its best is just a little less than perfect
This semester, I switched from pencils to pens. I could never understand people who use pens. You can’t erase with pens — it’s like buying a keyboard without a backspace key.
But now I understand. Pens glide effortlessly across the page like a zero-volume mass sliding down a frictionless slope. Writing with them feels smooth like an endoplasmic reticulum without ribosomes. The experience of using a pen is unparalleled to that provided by any pencil I’ve ever used. Pencils are C. Pens are C++. So what stopped me from using pens for so long?
Before I answer that question, let me first say that I can sometimes be a perfectionist. I often get a lot of joy from trying to make my Python code as perfect as possible, and I revise my Tech columns over and over again. However, over the course of my MIT education, I’ve gotten a lot better at turning off my perfectionist tendencies when the situation doesn’t call for it — like when the last word in my notes is misspelled. Before, I would have erased it — with the eraser-end of my pencil, of course. Now I don’t. So what if I wrote “Dikstra’s algorithm” instead of “Dijkstra’s algorithm”? When I go back and review my notes, I’ll still know what I meant, and if I forget how it’s actually spelled, Google will correct me when I look it up.
Just the other day, I turned on “1-Click Ordering” and bought a book on Amazon.com for $11, shipping and all. There’s a good chance that it was cheaper somewhere else — maybe $10. But I didn’t scour the Internet for the absolutely best offer. My time is like the Senate seat that Rod Blagojevich allegedly tried to sell — it’s an effing valuable thing.
The Monday before classes started, I entered into my Google Calendar the wrong room number for my 6.004 recitation, causing me to be ten minutes late for the first class of the semester. The old Paul Woods would have spent half an hour on WebSIS, double and triple checking his schedule to make sure that he didn’t make a bad first impression. Guess what happened when I was late? Absolutely nothing. I’m pretty sure my recitation instructor didn’t care at all and has completely forgotten it, unless he reads this column.
Does no longer taking the time to make everything perfect mean I’m lazy? All I’m really doing is putting my MIT education to good use and doing some 6.042-style probabilistic analysis. After the ten minutes it takes to add all of my classes to my schedule, I’ve already reached the point of diminishing returns. The slightly decreased probability of something going wrong just isn’t worth the additional time I’d spend to attain it. The same thing applies to my alarm clock. It’s probably set to the right time for tomorrow morning. There’s no need to double check.
My indiscriminate drive for perfectionism probably did more harm than good in middle and high school, and it would’ve been nice if I’d learned earlier in my life to do the less important things less perfectly. It’s amazing how much more I can get done when I don’t spend an hour perfecting e-mails to my professors. I almost wish I could go back in time and reclaim all of the hours of Super Smash Bros. Melee that I gave up for the sake of getting a 100 percent instead of a 99 percent on the last quiz. But what’s in the past is in the past; there’s no need to obsess about it.
After all, I’m a pen person now.