Saturday, 24 January 2015

Of People, Framework and Behaviour

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Life is not a video game, you get only one life"

They say, "Rules are meant to be broken" and I am sure most people will agree because of various experiences they have had. I have often wondered what makes people break rules or do something that deviates from the instruction given to them.

Let us look at a couple of examples. I have to cross a road that is called 'Double Road" and the road looks as illustrated here.

Clearly there are two roads running parallel to each other. The yellow lines indicate a large fenced barrier separating the two roads. Now, one of the roads is horribly maintained and is full of deep potholes, mud that has come to the road from the side and humps and elevations that appear out of nowhere. In fact, the surface of the road is best suited for an SUV commercial to demonstrate "off road experiences"

The other road is extremely well maintained - The two roads serve as a quintessential juxtaposition. Let us assume you had to go from down to up. Which road would you pick?

The road that you are supposed to pick is obviously the potholed one. However, everyone exhibits prudence and picks the well maintained one. It seems like the obvious choice. This choice did not escape the eyes of the Bangalore Traffic Police who promptly put a "No Entry" signboard at the appropriate end of the good road - A sign that failed to deter motorists.

Now, being a stickler for rules, I have always driven on the bad road ever since the sign came up. But one fine afternoon, I thought to myself - Let us be prudent rather than being right. I remembered Swami Gulagulaananda's wise words "Where do you draw the line?" and decided that the bad roads is a government issue - Had the road been good, I'd have not broken the rule. So I decided to drive on the wrong road which is the right road (:P) as in, the road on the right... And then at a distance, I saw something that fate reserves only for me - A policeman waiting to give me a ticket - The only time I decided to break a rule...

Before some of you exhibit signs of schadenfreude, let me clarify - I didn't get a ticket, I noticed him at a distance and turned around, and drove on the bad road cursing under my breath.

But this brings us to an interesting juncture - When do people break rules and when should they be punished? Rules are essentially a set of guidelines to be followed so that bad things don't happen. Do not expose your mobile phone to water... Try doing it once and you'll know why. Look at both sides of the road before crossing it... Don't try not doing it. Life is not a video game - You get only one life. However, I am sure many of you would see why going on the good road made sense. I am very sure that all the rule breaking motorists (including those who got caught by the policeman) justified their actions in exactly the same way as I did. Technically, however, they (we) are all rule breakers in this case. But, we should not be penalised...

We should not be penalised in these cases simply because the framework is not perfect. A framework is essentially a system set up by the government or an authoritative body that has a set of rules that has to be followed by everyone using that framework.

Let us take another example - Have a look at this video.

The video shows a group of "uncouth uncultured mannerless" people who are urinating in public and suddenly a group of vigilantes appear to dispense justice - an action that draws cheer from onlookers much to the chagrin of the urinators. Many people believe that this is a good solution to the problem of public urination. I, however, do not endorse this - and no, it is not because of the water wastage (while that is true, it would make me seem pretentious :P)

The first question we should ask ourselves is, why are people urinating there in the first place? The answer to that is - absence of public urinals. You see, if the government (or any authoritative body) has provided an adequate number of well maintained public toilets, there is no reason for people to pee in public. Think about it - If you had to go really badly and you don't see any public toilets, what would you do? Some people say - Go into a hotel - Well, if there is one around, sure... But sometimes, even that is awkward. And if one is not around, then what? I even think that this is a very good idea for an app (Or a feature that Google needs to implement in Google Places) - Show me toilets nearby (with cleanliness ratings and all that)

I recently went to the famous Food Street in VV Puram. I saw hundreds upon hundreds of people standing and eating from a wide selection of food items. Yet, not a single one threw a used plate on the ground. Everyone made use of dustbins that were conveniently placed. This means that we do not have an inherent quality to litter. A proper framework ensures compliance.

These examples are not limited to government but can be extended to companies and software as well - If your software shows ambiguity or has loopholes, you shouldn't find fault with the user for exploiting it or getting lost. The general rule is - The framework SHOULD be perfect. If the framework is flawed and people are exploiting it, it is not a people problem, it is a framework problem. If your traffic signal is red for 120 seconds at 2 AM and people jump it, it is a framework problem - Why is it 120 seconds? If it is 120 seconds at 2 PM and people jump it, then it is a people problem. I often hear people saying "Oh, in India, people don't follow rules" - The next time, take two minutes to think about the problem, why people are breaking it - Is it a people problem or a framework problem? And if possible, bring framework problems to the notice of your authorities - Bangalore Police and Bangalore Traffic Police are highly active on social networks (Facebook and Twitter) and respond quickly.

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