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Episode Info: When it came time for me to choose a college, I had no idea what I was doing. For reasons I still can’t explain, I chose to go to The University of Nebraska at Kearney. At least until I recognized my mistake. Kearney is a town in the middle of Nebraska. I grew up in Omaha, a city on the east edge of Nebraska. You may laugh, thinking, What’s the difference? It’s a flyover state. But to most of my classmates, I was a “city slicker.” So, I regularly made the drive. Two and a half hours down I-80. Two and a half hours at eighty-miles-an-hour, with a steady stream of semi trucks passing by. Each time a truck passed, the powerful winds blowing across the plains of the oxymoronically-named Platte River Valley would disappear. Those winds, blocked by the massive eighteen-wheeler, once it passed, would then reappear with more force than ever, sending my little Honda Accord swerving. I couldn’t swerve too far. My tires were firmly embedded in grooves. Grooves like wagon tracks on the Oregon Trail I-80 follows. Grooves pressed into the concrete by the tires of those heavy semi trucks. I made this drive -- often over a mixture of ice and snow and gravel and salt -- to leave a city. A city with plenty of educational options, and arrive in a cow town where one of the main forms of entertainment for my classmates -- and I’m not exaggerating here -- was hunting raccoons. Path dependency: Your future depends on it One time, I missed the exit for Kearney. This was especially frustrating, because I-80 exists mostly for big trucks to drive through Nebraska. It’s not so much for the sparse scattering of people living in Nebraska to get from point A to point B. Which means, there aren’t a lot of exits. So, if you missed the exit for Kearney, that added a bunch of time onto the end of what was already a long trip. You had to drive another twelve miles past your destination, get off the interstate and turn around and get back on the interstate and drive back another twelve miles. So we’re talking an extra twenty minutes tacked onto a two-and-a-half-hour drive, if you missed that exit. It was the kind of mistake that you only made once. And it was a good lesson in path dependency. The concept of path dependency states that once you go down one path, it’s difficult or impossible to go down another path. You’ve passed the fork in the road. Our lives are full of path dependencies. If you eat a bunch of donuts in the afternoon, you won’t have room for a healthy dinner. If you go to one party, you can’t go to another. A single moment can be the difference between dying young, or living another fifty years. Matters of life and death are the ultimate path dependency. In other words, path dependency is really, really important. It’s important to making decisions, and it’s important to designing your behavior. One area of life where path dependency has a big impact is with the devices that we use. Take your mobile phone, for example. Think of your ...
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