Saturday, February 06, 2010

Designing the robot secretary, pt 2

Although people's planning processes are more or less systematic (in my case, much less), everybody has a complex interworking of values that, after some mental wrangling, spell out how they spend their time.

I think a goal for all of us is for our schedules to represent what we truly value, rather than our values be changed by our schedules.

The system I am toying with now, drafting as a simple database, takes the answers to simple questions and attempts to turn them into a balanced schedule that adapts to new input similar to the way we do. Normally, we have to do the high-level thinking ourselves; Apps like Microsoft Outlook take care of the low-level minutiae of recording our plans. Glorified sticky notes. I want an app that intelligently structures time according to the common sense which is not so common.

In principle this shouldn't be hard to implement. The only appointments that one would hard-schedule would be ones that were already set--work schedules, doctors' appointments, etc. Though the app itself could remind you when it was time to sit down and put these in!

And even the work schedule would not be inviolable. Tell the program you're sick, and it'll give you the contact information for work and your doctor, query your sick days, and adjust the schedule appropriately.

Something this program should respect is that life is not divided into atomistic "appointments". Life is a self-gift. The unexamined life is not worth living--and so far as I understand, the quintessential examination is to ask: To what, or to whom are you giving yourself?

Put differently, as Stephen Covey advises: how do you want to be remembered at your funeral?

These questions, a computer program can't answer for you. But if these are the what and the why, then at least a program can help with the how. Which, I imagine, most of us struggle with at least sometimes.

Thus, the various top priorities of life--say, "Family," "Dreams," "Faith," "Work," etc., are not separate, disembodied "values" competing with each other for our attention. They are absolutely linked to each other. I work so that I can support my family and fulfill my dreams, all in the service of my faith.

But this, by itself, is not enough. Forgive my referencing an Adam Sandler movie, but "Click" is a perfect example. Michael Newman ostensibly works to support his family, but in reality, work has devoured his connection to the family.

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