The Problem Of Choice

Given the overall emphasis the eldrae place on freedom of choice and freedom of choices, how do they deal with issues of overchoice and the apparently paradoxical consequence that having too many choices on the table makes people less likely to effectively make the right choice due to the need to spend more time and resources (physical and psychological) to effectively evaluate them? How does that in turn manifest in practical terms?

There’s a thing I wrote way, way back in pre-this-version-of-the-‘verse history contrasting the eldrae and human approaches to automotive dashboard design that seems peculiarly relevant here.

Specifically, that starting from what were probably fairly similar arrangements, the latter have stripped down the engine monitoring to a generic ‘check engine’ light and a vestigial temperature gauge, while the climate controls are mostly run by an overall temperature setting and some simple push-button preset configurations…

…while the former have built them up to the point at which you can not only drill down to monitor, say, the exact composition of your exhaust gases in real-time but also rewrite all 438 key parameters of the engine management computer as you go. And the climate controls let you specify individual temperature and humidity settings for each vent.

(As I believe may also have been mentioned, there’s a related effect in product design and manufacturing, which can be summed up as: the more options, the better, since products that aren’t hugely customizable don’t sell…

…this has been known to cause a few problems in the export market. There are resellers whose entire business model revolves around taking those choices away from the customer.)

This particular non-human psychological quirk has its origins back in the Precursor Era. The trakelpanis trakóras amán desired servitors capable of managing highly complex industrial and other processes that they did not wish to concern themselves with for long periods of time, something for which choice fatigue and/or overchoice error would have been a distinct flaw. Being giant reality-warping dragons at the height of their civilization, they got rid of it. Or at least pushed the threshold for it so damn high that it’s not a significant phenomenon.

(As a side note, I’d add that this would almost certainly have bitten the trakelpanis trakóras amán right on the ass given time, inasmuch as a lack of choice-fatigue corresponds strongly with qalasír and the spectacularly dynamic temperament of the race. This, though, never had a chance to happen inasmuch as their civilization blew itself up shortly thereafter, freeing the unfinished proto-eldrae to make their very own bloody, destructive mess of their First Civilization.)

12 thoughts on “The Problem Of Choice

  1. So, just how big of a short term memory do the the eldrae have engineered in? A lot of the reason for the limits of human UX design is the old 7+-2 ceiling. Do they even have a short term memory?


      • Part of the reason fot human memory structure appears to be avoiding overloading long term storage and reasoning. It’s a filter, and unless the eldrae have considerably denser wetware than us, they’ll probably have something thst serves a similar purpose. Of course, post artificial brain enhancements, all bets are off.


    • Bigger, but not hugely so. The real trick, as I envision it and don’t quote me on this because author reserves the right to have a better idea, is possession of a medium-term memory store which, in a sense, behaves like a “stack” that sets of short-term memory contents can be pushed onto and popped off of. Which, in essence, lets them context-switch and multitask like a proverbial boss.

      (This is an oversimplification, but it’s a decent analogy for how it would work.)


      • I’m going way too far into the realm of analogizing brains with 21st century computers, but the first thing that I think of with that is “oh, ZFS intent log on SSD”.

        But yes, that makes a lot more sense, and makes the /hrair/ limit a bit less of a problem. Especially if that’s combined with a larger /hrair/ than we have.

        There’s a species in the SF universe I’ve been banging on for… aeons, I guess… that has something akin to that too, and multiple short-term memories for their auditory, visual, tactile and radio sense suites, and it has some odd consequences for the design of their technology. (Although they’re only moderately advanced, even by the standards of the setting, which is to say that any of the major polities of the Worlds would look at them as dragging anchor in a big way, but that’s neither here nor there.)

        Oi, tangents!


  2. Oh, also, I couldn’t help but note – the eldrae were created initially as servitors? Well now, that somewhat explains their antipathy (to put it mildly) for slavers, now doesn’t it?


    • Well, it’s not like that’s known in-universe as more than vague archaeological speculation, I should stipulate. That was hundreds of thousands of years pre-Imperial, followed by the Chaos smashing the Precursor civilization, followed by the First, Now Basically Entirely Forgotten Eldrae Civilization, followed by the asteroid impact and Winter of Nightmares killing almost everyone, followed by the Second And Kinda Mythical civilization, followed by the Gray Wasting plague that halved the planetary population again, followed by the Third And Distinctly Legendary Civilization, the Drowning of the People, the Ungoverned Era, and only then do we get to the Old Empires and history that, come the modern day, can be considered reasonably well recorded…

      So, y’know, with all that deep time in there, these days it’s more a matter of temperament than any sort of lingering resentment.


  3. [T]here’s a related effect in product design and manufacturing, which can be summed up as: the more options, the better, since products that aren’t hugely customizable don’t sell…

    …Which leads me to wonder: What happens to those people who sell something as “infinitely customizable” (but that realistically only has a very narrow range of customizability) and then invoke Zeno’s paradox when they’re inevitably called on it? :p


    • I don’t think actual Eldrae would use the concept Infinite Customizability, they would be aware that it is a finite, though potentially very large, state space they are navigating (unless they are in a universe that is not quantized but continuous). For that matter, Our Gracious Host didn’t say that either. Would Eldrae sales and marketing sophs exaggerate that kind of thing?

      If I had to make a guess, the “hugely customizable” devices will be programmable in some standard approach with extensions or via something like external APIs. This means if someone complains about lack of customizability, you can reflect the onus back on them. (“We can’t help your lack of imagination. Here is the card of a reputable device programmer who can help you.”)


      • Best not to exaggerate that kind of thing, what with Falsification of Information being in the criminal code. They are, as always, permitted a certain degree of subjective puffery, but stretching facts is a rather more perilous game. (And anything like the vitamin advertisement I saw today that talked about how they would “restore your cell walls” is going to land you straight in deep legal issues.)

        It also doesn’t help that within delta of everyone has taken at least one course in memetics and so has a good idea what manipulative idea-injection techniques and content-free glitz look like.

        As for customizability, yes, indeed – there are a lot of open APIs and protocols, and most devices have complete documentation including customization recipes, etc., built right into them using v-tags. There’s also a lot of modularity in design, which simplifies both extensions and home-builds, but also makes it easy for sellers of bigger devices (flitters, say) to plug together exactly the custom model you want from a very extensive range of parts, plus some custom module-building in special cases.


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