The Gruber Effect

Merlin: And it’s not just Talk Show, it’s The Talk Show […]

Merlin: He gets mad about that right?

Dan: Yeah, he gets all bent out of shape

Merlin, Oh my god, he’s like patient zero for this stuff. Is there anybody that cares about this kind of stuff than Gruber? He cares about the definite article, excuse me… he cares about definite article.

Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussing John Gruber’s strong feelings about the “The” in Gruber’s podcast, “The Talk Show”

There are people out there like Merlin who change the way you look at your life. They encourage you to look at what you’re doing and offer up suggestions as to how you can go about being better. They help “find the confidence to know what you want to say and who you want to say it to1“.

Then you have someone like John Gruber who, through nothing but his own concern2 over the little things in life, manages to change the way you look at the world.

Over the past year, I’ve started to care, deeply, about things I never used to notice. I think about the tiny details that add up to make a big difference. I’ve shifted some of my focus from the obvious to the overlooked.

At first I didn’t understand where my newfound care was coming from… I couldn’t comprehend why I knew what kerning was and that I believe it makes a difference. Why I would suddenly give a damn about what font I was using for my footnotes. Why when I enter a store, rather than simply looking whatever it is I need, my brain seems to question the layout and order of the aisles. Why it is worth arguing with my wife over if the punctuation should go before or after the quotation mark. Not because she is wrong about inside being proper, but because outside just feels right.

Things like design, experience and grammar went from seeming utterly irrelevant to incredibly important3. After 30 years of living in a world where these things didn’t matter at all, they suddenly mattered a lot.

It’s insane, but this deep level of concern from Gruber, a guy on the Internet who I will likely never meet, has increased my own capacity to care. And not only about what he believes to be important, but in what matters to me as well. Seeing just how much care he puts into the choices he makes forced me to realize the lack of commitment that went into my own.

We spend a lot of time thinking about who we want to be and what we want to do4. We end up spending so much of our time obsessing about them that we neglect the little things. And while it may seem counterintuitive, Gruber’s concern over those “small” details is somehow making it easy to see which “big” issues matters most.


  1. And then they help us “do the shit out of that”.  

  2. Ok, obsession.  

  3. Not that I’m great or even remotely competent at any of these things.  

  4. Probably too much. Ok, definitely too much.  

12 Responses to The Gruber Effect

  1. I’ve been listening to MM myself thanks to you.  Funny though, my takeaway from this weeks show was quite the oposite. I’ve been thinking about whether I might care too much about some things.

    • There is that too. It’s certainly a double edged sword and something to be mindful of, but there is something essential in choosing what to care deeply about. I’m enjoying finding the balance, but in discovering the fact that I can actually care this deeply in the first place.

  2. Hi Michael,

    With my profession I’ve always been a little obsessive when it comes to kerning … and fonts 😉

    And, by the way, your wife is right quotation marks, sorry! 😉

    But like you, all of the sudden everything to do with writing (all the nuances) are suddenly extremely important to me. Funny how something like blogging helps us focus on things we’ve ignored for a long time.

  3. I like to care now too – weird how that works when you get older.

    hey – so what if your wife is right about quotation marks – can she hit a ball 360 feet to left field?

    Ok – so neither can I :-)

  4. As I have gotten older I have learned that it is essential to care about things, but it is even more important to consider carefully the things that you choose to care about. “Picking your battles” and so on.

    As an aside, Gruber can’t care about that “The” too much, he left it out of the URL:

    http://5by5.tv/talkshow/

    • That is too funny… Wonder if that is what him and Dan Benjamin argue over. The picking your battles is hard. Seems to be a two step process (or at least it has been for me). Step one, care more. Step two, begin to focus that care and shed the unnecessary.

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