The Mistake We Make About Us and Them

I was recently at a friends for dinner and at one point my host pulled out his computer. It wasn’t ten seconds after he put it down that I was questioning the way he was using it (tangental moral: never have me a dinner guest). It looked as if every application on the computer was in his dock and I asked if he ever considered using something like LaunchBar instead. He said he liked it this way and we got on a tangent about how we used our machines.

To say that we both have drastically different approaches to using what is essentially the same computer is an understatement. To say that I wanted to help him, to show him how he was doing it wrong, to show him the “right way,” also an understatement. I started down this misguided course, but quickly realized the futility of the act. He was comfortable doing things the “wrong way”. In fact, he couldn’t even seem to imagine a world where things could be better. He had his trusted system, no matter how wrong it may have felt to me.

Despite the fact that I still think he uses the computer like a silly little man, it got me thinking. He’s not wrong. It’s not that “they” are doing it wrong, it’s that they don’t need to do it. They either don’t care or more likely don’t need to put nearly as much thought as I do into their usage. Their brains are better at organizing or the tools don’t make nearly as much of a difference. The time spent learning “the right way” or even just finding “their own way” wouldn’t be worth the bump in productivity.

It’s easy to forget that the average user doesn’t think about their tech tools the way we do. They don’t think in terms of workflows. Their thoughts never turn to data portability, interoperability, services, macros, snippets. Why do you think Apple is going out of their way to make things like iCloud feel invisible instead of innovative? It’s not a product geared towards “us”; it’s tailor made for “them”. We’re talking about an audience who often struggles to understand what an application like Dropbox does, never mind how it could help (in this case that “audience” is my wife, but I digress).

The problem with us Markdown-loving, Plain Text using, TextExpanding, Keyboard Maestroing, OmniFocusers: we’ve found so many of ourselves that we forget we’re a minority. We care (and care deeply) about things that only a small percentage of overall users care about. We need or want things that others just don’t care about or have a use for. They may become curious, but chances are we will quickly overwhelm the hell out of them when they finally come looking. Let’s face it: there’s little doubt that they are doing it wrong, but we’re not going to get that point across if we keep telling them that…

19 Responses to The Mistake We Make About Us and Them

  1. My Write Right posts possibly fall into a similar camp. Sure, the posts are fun for the word nerds and may be helpful to the people who have a grammar question, but who actually cares (besides me) that “I hope” is not the same thing as “hopefully”? It’s a delicate thing, balancing between coming across as an elitist versus offering a better way to do things. At least, I think it is. Feel free to disagree with me.

    • It’s an interesting balance, passionately going on about the things we care about while remember that few if any other humans actually care :) And I don’t think it’s elitist, if you’re talking to people who care or want to care just as much.

      • No, it’s not elitist, but I’m coming to the realization that I need to change the content on my blog. It’s not serving Write Right, and, if I’m serious about being an entrepreneur, I need to write things that are in service of it.

          • I’m up to almost ninety ideas and counting, not that all of those necessarily will become successful posts or anything. I like most of those ideas – even the list ones and I don’t like writing list posts all that much – so there’s that. :) I might lose some of my current crowd, but I hope I’ll stay in touch with those people via other means.

          • I may lose some of the intellectual crowd. I think I lost the social media one when I stopped writing about it. I may bring the topic into play since I know future clients will ask about it, but it’s not going to be from the angle of a social media consultant. Just the angle of a writer/consultant trying to help people communicate.

          • I suppose that’s true, and I don’t think I mind that. I know better than to expect everybody to love what I have to say or how I say it. I think the hardest part is going to be balancing who I am as a writer and who I need to be as an entrepreneur.

          • Finding an audience is hard. Finding the right audience, especially for a business… damn near impossible. Have a feeling you’ll be one of the few to do it!

          • I hope so. I’m glad you’re optimistic about it. I’m a little more optimistic than I have been recently, but I’m not quite back to my usual spunky self.

  2. I’ll bet that you feel better now, don’t you? I get the very same queasy feeling in my gut when I visit someone’s house for dinner and see that they are using minced garlic from a jar as part of their preparations…being in the restaurant business for so long has ingrained in me the “right” way to do those sorts of things…

  3. I once worked for a man who tried to force me to do everything the way that he did. Ultimately it destroyed my productivity because his system made no sense to me. It wasn’t about me being oppositional, adversarial or intentionally insubordinate either.

    My brain just doesn’t work like his does so I had to think through each step and then do it.

    Sometimes there are shortcuts and tricks that improve productivity and sometimes there are things that are only “correct” because of a subjective label that someone has placed upon them.

    • I struggled with a very similar situation for a very long time. There was one minor difference. The guy I was working for/with wasn’t imposing it on me, I was doing it to myself. Wanted to do it his way to try and make him happy. Just ended up doing a job that wasn’t as good as it could have possibly been at the end of the day.

      The more I’m doing this, the more I’m finding that there is a “right way”, but that it just happens to be different for every single person :)

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