Back in college I once took a class* in which we discussed, among other things, the so-called "routinization" of the consumer experience.
Yes, it was one of those classes. Complete with the guy who prefaces every comment with, "Well, I thought it was interesting that..." and the teaching assistant sitting on the desk, his cardigan sweater casually draped over his shoulders, nodding intently.
Sometimes the discussions were indeed interesting, and occasionally I even chimed in with a choice anecdote (having worked behind the register of an Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips for some time I'd garnered some relevant, if not contradictory, experience) or, more rarely, a well-timed joke, but I was much more satisfied when able to steer the conversation away from the routinization of fast food interactions to the routinization of everyday life.
Because it is, you see, more or less routinized.
Permit me to apologize for throwing around this five-dollar sociology word. "Routinization", as it was explained to us in one of the books on the reading list, is the scripting of the interaction between, say, a cashier and a customer such that both know their roles, can perform them with a minimum of thought, and could be interchanged with other customers or cashiers or franchises or so on such that a customer can expect the same experience everywhere.
Or something like that**. Basically, the thought was, the whole experience of, for example, walking into a Wendy's restaurant was created for this routinization from the double doors, to the cast-iron line-maze, to the menu board behind the counter, to the "Would you like fries with that?" was all part of the routine.
People write books about these sorts of things, obvious though they may seem. It has the ring of truth, though, when I think about how I know to look up for a menu board when encountering a new, unfamiliar fast food counter because the routine is nevertheless the same. But enough about food.
I'm trying to tell you about garage doors.
As I pointed out years ago, it isn't just our interactions with burger flippers and soda jerks that have become routinized. Our everyday lives also often fall into the routinization trap, well beyond the reach of mere habits.
In the morning, as I prepare for and drive to work, several of the things I do happen almost automatically. I'm conscious of the fact I'm turning off my alarm (at least, the last few times I do it on a given morning) but never of when I turn off the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen or hallway lights. I know they get switched off, and I know it is by my hand that this happens, but I'm not aware of actually hitting the switches.
The cats are too short, you see.
The same applies for closing our garage door as I drive away, except that every couple days I would panic briefly and wonder if I actually had hit the button and closed the door, or if I needed to drive back to check, and potentially close it.
These thoughts would only hit me a mile or two down the road, generally, and I would struggle with the choice of turning back or waiting until I forgot about it to stop worrying.
Generally, I just forgot. Twice, maybe three times, I turned back, and each time the door was closed.
So what to do? These moments of panic did little to brighten up my morning commute, and the backtracking was costly for time and fuel.
Then one day everything changed, and I didn't see the need to worry anymore. Instead of trying to remember if I'd hit the button, I watched the door close and remembered that. Freed from needing to recall the means, my own, more or less automatic, actions, I focused on the end, the actually closed door.
Because, after all, the question was never really, "Did I close the door?" but, "Is the door closed?" and once I could answer that so simply, I didn't need to worry anymore. The act of watching the door close wasn't (yet) part of my routine, and I'm not certain it will become one since it's something I see, not something I do.
So we'll see, you could say.
But what does this do for you? Well, if you find yourself in a similar situation wondering, oh, "Did I leave the gas on?" or "Did I take out the trash?" or "Did I lock the door?", instead remember seeing the gas turned off, or the trash outside, or the door locked. Things are easier to remember than routine actions, at least in my experience. Then when you say, "The check's in the mail," you can be sure of it because you remember seeing the raised mailbox flag.
Unless you're lying.
* Come to think of it, I'm almost certain I took a number of them, because I have a shelf full of far too many textbooks to have dumpster-dived them all. I know some of them were acquired as such, though, because I cannot fathom why otherwise I would have three Macroeconomics books, two even different editions of the same one.
** For another definition entirely, read about Charismatic authority over at the Wikipedia. What was it that Inigo Montoya said? "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."