Taking the contrary viewpoint

There is a great deal of comfort in agreeing to the norm. If the norm is to drive on the right hand side of the road, you better drive on the right. It’s what the doctor would prescribe for your nerves and general well-being. If you really want to challenge the norm you will drive on the left, but that’s fine when you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a soul in sight and could be largely because you spent the past two months doing the same in your home country which has cars with the steering wheel on the other side. Anywhere else in Oman and you will be meeting your latest problem head on and you may just become the late you.

 

That’s the problem with contrariness. But can you expect it to just dsappear? No way! The trait is hard-wired into every one of us and raises its head in many guises – from the child who refuses to colour his drawings, to the young adults who dress and behave so as to be ‘different’, while becoming so similar to each other that we call them by labels and on to the grown-up who decides that the norm is boring, not challenging enough and sets of to explore life outside its boundaries.

What to you is the norm? It is difficult to qualify – is it your life and the daily grind? Wake up at 6, walk and breakfast, off to work, perhaps an outing on a weekend? Is it your car, sedate, reliable, ever ready to take you to your destination? Or is it the people around you that colour your day in shades of pastels and a smattering of rebellious prime colours?

Practically everything we love or enjoy is the result of someone, somewhere having decided to be contrary. Take the simple portable music player. From the days of the 8-track spool tape player, to the Walkman fron Sony, to the Discman and now to various versions of the MP3 and MP4 player, the device has become smaller and the norm has changed. The same goes for photography – the norm was challenged so often over the years. I still keep a tray full of slide film in my refrigerator to one day use in the top of the line film camera that I still own, but that’s through equal measures of inertia and nostalgia. The norm has changed, as my 13 mega pixel phone camera tells me and taking a contrary note to that isn’t going to bring back the past.

Of course the automotive world is as much a beneficiary of the virtues of walking your own path as any other field is – long ago the internal combustion engine was born of that spirit in the days of the coal-fired steam engine. Luckily the world found enough reserves of fuel in the ground to power the car through more than a century of development. Thankfully coal stayed off the roads or we would have black skies for a roof. Some contrary soul thought about using electricity, but unfortunately the battery never could keep up with the demands of an electric car till the recent past. Now Elon Musk and his ilk are showing that a natural tendency to being contrary can result in products that will define the new norm of the future.

Of course there have been transportation solutions that haven’t quite made the grade, from the Terrafugia flying car, to the Segway transporter to vacuum tubes serving as pipelined paths to move containers of people and goods. But in the challenge of discovering the new norm we have found incredible solutions including smaller engines that deliver more power, hybrid drives and even the use of magnetic levitation. The challenge will always remain to find something that people haven’t thought about before, but which could change the way people think.

I’ve decided to be contrary without being ornery about it. There is a certain charm which my near and dear onnes usually associate with my eccentricity. I wear T-shirts when a tie is expected, celebrate Moctober along with Movember and bike in the Muscat heat when my better half wants to immediately migrate to the Himalayas. However, that’s not as contrary as my teenage son can show just by combing his hair with his fingers. 

The catch is I haven’t yet found the magic difference engine that could make my contrariness a household name in the next decade. Or the heat absorbing power source that will power the vehicle of the future from the heat of the Universe. I think contrary but still have miles to go. But isn’t that the norm?

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