I was recently talking to a friend about Android, iOS, and choice. This rant blog post mainly talks about the insights I felt on the nature of customization during the conversation.

Choice can be paralyzing. I in particular am the sort of person who will not stop poking until everything is just right, and really, it usually never is.

I realized my personality was like this as a teenager playing WoW. I discovered addons, and started to obsessively try to make stuff ‘perfect’, I kept adding addons, and removing others. I saw videos that had addons I liked, and tried adding them. Heck, I even made a handful of my own. It was, in its own way, fun.

I remember the last time I tried to play Skyrim I ended up spending somewhere around 15 hours reviewing all the new addons I had missed. I installed them, saw what was deprecated from the addons already knew and liked— after I was finally done creating a good experience, I proceeded to play for around 4 hours, got bored, and moved on to something else.

It reminded me of a scene from the South Park episode Make Love, Not Warcraft:

What do we do now? What do you mean— Now we can finally play the game

The problem with this is that it extends to other aspects of my life where the cost/benefit equation becomes severely skewed.

Similarly, in Android I just kept poking, changing stuff, and I really wasn’t ever done. I kept changing the behavior of the OS until it became essentially unrecognizable from the core experience, but I wasn’t really ever done.

I don’t have that problem in iOS, and similar locked in experiences. And that, in it’s own way, is liberating.

Simply put, if the chance to tinker exists, I will tinker most of the time. And this can severely become a huge maintenance project that drains my time.

It really isn’t a painful thing per-se. I enjoy tinkering. But as I said, I’m never really done. When you’re permanently spinning in a hamster wheel you eventually learn to recognize it as one. Of course, this microhell is something I brought upon myself. It’s not something I have to do, but it is something I do when given the chance.

Coming back to the iOS example. iOS is extremely limited in terms of what you can do with the core experience, and that has worked out very nicely for me. The core experience is good enough, I can’t really change it unless I jailbreak, which I don’t wish to do. Thus, I’m left with a serviceable core experience.

I essentially settle for this, I don’t get to make everything fit me like a glove, but everything works. Everything is fast, I don’t have the option to change stuff, so I don’t. And then I’m at peace. I am, in my own way, free.

As a disclaimer: That is not to say the Android core experience is inherently inferior, I believe it delivers quite a good experience, if not as good. But the option to tinker exists, which leads to me tinkering.

This aspect of myself extends to much more: My code editors, the games I play, my operating systems. I’ve learned to choose my battles. The desire to tinker is not something inherently wrong, so for instance:

I quite enjoy using Vim as my code editor. I get to satisfy my tinkering desire to a great degree with something I’ll be using long term, so this investment isn’t “a waste”. Realistically I’ve spent more time messing with the editor than the time I’ll save over my lifetime with it making me “more productive”. But it doesn’t matter, it was all fairly fun and I’m happy I’ve done it.

Similarly, I’ve learned to choose aspects of my life where tinkering might not be a great option:

When WoW Legion came out and I was itching to play, I only allowed myself to install a plugin for opening all my mail automatically. I had a lot of fun without having to worry about adding this and that, how my addons, or worse yet, the interactions between my addons were breaking the game. I just played. For someone who spent almost as much time messing with my UI, and game experience, as the time I spent playing it was incredible to be able to just play. While I’m aware it sounds absurd, it’s a real problem I had. I couldn’t “just play”, I had to add this and that. It was a never ending cycle

Thus I’ve found heavily opinionated and locked experiences to hold a charm in and of itself. Discipline can presumably deliver the same experience, but my discipline is severely lacking to say the least. So I started outsourcing aspects of discipline to locked ecosystems, and have found myself happy to have the option taken off my plate to begin with.

I understand this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is something I’ve found hugely useful in my day to day life. I frequently run into this argument and never really tried to elaborate on it deeply. Where, for example, my friends ask me why iOS, which is essentially a locked garden instead of Android which gives you more freedom.

It’s because, in it’s own way, the option of doing anything I want to do can become a vicious cycle in and of itself for myself.

As a footnote: For a much more eloquent description of this mpj from funfunfunction frequently rants about this phenomena. He really is much more concise than I could hope to be, and I’d recommend the channel to anyone regardless.