poly: Hurry paradox

From: Hal Finney <hal@rain.org>
Date: Fri May 01 1998 - 11:42:57 PDT

Here's a paradox which has been puzzling me, and I wonder if someone
can shed some light on it.

We get about 70 channels on our cable TV system. One of the channels
is a cable guide, which shows what will be on each channel over the next
90 minutes. It scrolls through all the channels at a painfully slow rate,
so it takes about three minutes to go through the whole list and get back
where you started. (They did speed it up a bit about a year ago when they
eliminated an automatic pause every three channels.)

When I want to see what is on a certain channel, I find it enormously
frustrating to have to sit there and wait while this guide crawls through
the whole list to get to the one I am interested in.

The paradox arises when I try to consider whether there is any
justification in *hurrying* to find the TV remote control and switch to
the cable guide channel.

On the one hand, hurrying doesn't make any sense. My actions are
completely uncorrelated with the timing of the cable guide, and no matter
when I switch to that channel the average amount of time I will have to
wait to see my channel's listing is the same.

But on the other hand, if I could get to that cable guide channel 10
seconds earlier, I might be able to see my channel listing just as I get
there, while if I had waited 10 seconds I would have just missed it and
have to sit through the entire cycle before I see it again. The knowledge
that I could have avoided missing it if I had just switched to the channel
a few seconds earlier is extremely frustrating. (It is not nearly so
galling if I hurry and then still just miss it, because I know I did
my best to avoid disappointment and was simply thwarted by bad luck.
A key element of the frustration is that it is caused by my own slowness.)

Of course, it often happens that by turning on the cable guide 10
seconds earlier, I have to wait 10 seconds longer for my channel to
come up than I would have otherwise. This does not bother me so much,
because an extra 10 seconds is no big deal.

These preferences of mine may seem illogical, but to me they are a very
natural response to the timing of the channel listing and my impatience
with having to wait through a complete cycle.

Given my preferences, is it rational to hurry to turn to the cable
guide channel? What about the earlier argument that it is obviously
pointless to hurry? Or are my preferences fundamentally irrational and

Similar considerations would arise in hurrying to catch a train or a
bus whose scheduling is so haphazard that it leaves at random times,
or driving faster in the hopes of getting a green light at an unseen
traffic signal ahead.

Received on Fri May 1 18:52:35 1998

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