I recently asked my boyfriend how he heats water, given that he apparently doesn’t use a kettle. He said you can in fact heat water in a pot on the stove. Heating water in a pot sounds arduous to me, which is a bit strange because it’s not obviously more complicated than heating water in a kettle (assuming there is a clean pot, which is maybe a strong assumption). I wondered if maybe the issue is that once you have a pot on the stove, you are cooking. And cooking is a big deal. I’m not going to make a cup of tea if it involves cooking!
I have actually learned to cook a bit recently, and I think perhaps an important thing going on in ‘learning to cook’ for me is internalizing that you can achieve the same outcome as you might by cooking—which is perhaps too big a deal to carry out just to get some food— by merely doing some physically easy actions that are not a big deal, like picking up objects and putting them on other objects and turning knobs. Sometimes when I turn a knob and fire appears or something it seems like I might be doing something that is a big deal, but overall its going ok.
I remember hearing the advice that if you have an ‘ugh field’, around filling out a certain form at the faculty office say, it can be pretty helpful to do it just once. Then you have ‘an affordance’ and can do it more times easily. An affordance means roughly that it is an action you see as feasible. Taken literally, this might seem strange—surely you thought it was feasible to fill out the form previously. If someone had offered to bet with you about what would happen if you tried to fill out the form, I claim you would have bet confidently on your success conditional on trying.
I speculate that what ‘an affordance’ often means is seeing something that was a big deal as a set of actions that aren’t. And that in general, when people see actions as abstract ‘big deals’ they expect the actions to be harder and take longer than when they see them as constellations of non-big-deal component actions.
So, you get an affordance for starting a company if you feel like it involves writing some things in boxes and sending some emails rather than somehow moving things at the abstract level of ‘companies’. You get an affordance for punching people in the face when punching someone in the face becomes a known physical action to you instead of an abstract sin. You get an affordance for Tweeting when you feel like it involves typing something into the address bar in your browser, and then typing something else into a box and pressing enter, rather than somehow coming to exist and exert forces in the abstract world of social media communications you have heard about.
I haven’t said what a ‘big deal’ is on this picture really, or how abstractness bears on any of this, and whether it isn’t just the whole thing going on. But I’m not going to elaborate at the moment, because I started to think it through and it seemed involved, and I want to know first whether this kind of thing rings true to other people at all.