Are We All Programmable?

February 9, 2015 — 1 Comment

The average worker bee’s life is five to seven weeks long. Within this time, they spend around 8 days developing, 12 days working inside the hive, and the remaining 22 days foraging for food and gathering pollen and nectar. Bees are a nearly perfectly efficient system where all members do exactly what they need to ensure the survival of their own species.

If something went wrong with the bee’s programming, they could quickly go extinct because their dependency on the whole group is too great to live individually.

The turn “Programmable” has stuck in my head for over a year now when one of my friend’s co-workers described a suburb north of Dallas as being very programmable. All the kids go to a massive high school and get into a good university, and four years later they’re in the workforce. They do just as their parents did before them and they feed the corporate world with plenty of workers.

On my way to work in the morning, I drive from my house in North Dallas to my office where I pass many of these suburbanites coming into town to work. I’m lucky that I’m going the opposite the direction of traffic because oftentimes the entire 18 miles on the Tollway is bumper to bumper with these programmable people. It started to make me cringe thinking about their entire population could be summed up in 5-10 life and career paths that would probably cover 95% of them.

Then I thought about it more and realized that’s almost all of us, including me. Very few of us deviate from the 5-10 predictable career and life paths. We go to school for 12-16 years, graduate and hopefully get a job so we can continue to work until we’re older and if we’re lucky we’ll be able to retire comfortably at 65. Then if our health holds up, we’ll finally be able to enjoy some free time.

At least we get to retire.  The worker bees only quit working when their wings start to give out and they can’t fly anymore. You’ll see them in the grass at the bottom of the hive with a few remaining futile attempts to get back in the air before they join the ones who went before them in the pile of dead bees on the ground.

We are programmable. Our predictability is important to keep society functioning and capitalism pumping. Marketers can easily create campaigns that appeal to millions of people across the US and the world because we’re all so similar. We let companies talk us into loading up with debt because we predictably want nice things that show others that we’ve made it. We spend more than we can afford on cars, buy today on credit instead of saving up for tomorrow, and easily fall into the predictable trap of working until we’re 65 because there is no other way.

Let’s take a look at a worker bee’s lifespan broken into a percentage of time and then calculated against a human lifespan of 80 years. Here’s how that looks:



Development (19%)

8 days

15 years

Working in the hive (29%)

12 days

23 years

Working out of the hive (52%)

22 days

42 years

Our life cycles are eerily similar.

Bees don’t really have a choice to break out of their programming because their brain doesn’t have a prefrontal cortex. We can but we often don’t because we just do what’s familiar to us. We do what our family does, what our friends do and what our neighbors do. In fact, are incomes very closely correlated to the average of our ten closest friends which means we can change our personal situation just by hanging out with a different group!

Society will still function if we find a new path because the majority of people will always do the same. The majority will stay within the predictable limits as defined by our programming.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was perfectly programmed when I came out of college to follow this some direction. I wanted to be a big time CEO – and more importantly, I wanted to be rich. I wanted to look more successful than I was so I bought a brand new car that was the equivalent of 62% of my income. I quickly buried myself in debt and all my money was going to the company store.

Luckily, with the help of friends, family and Dave Ramsey’s financial advice, my eyes began to open. They continued to open when I started reading heavily and books like Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Dumbing us Down made me start to feel the we were too programmable – even before the concept and word was introduced to me years later. When we traveled the world for nine months, it drove the final nail in the coffin. We were forever changed.

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One response to Are We All Programmable?

  1. Gosh, this made me think. Am I predictable? I think I am! I have followed the rules all my life and now wonder – what have accomplished – really? What benefit have I brought the world? I think time will tell.

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