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I do sketchnotes at GraphiteMind.com
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You really need to learn to listen more… #silenced

When I was in 7th grade, my teacher asked me one day to stay after class finished up. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but he looked dissapointed, not quite angry, but something was definitely up.

I should back up for a moment. Bear with me here, or just skip to the bottom and scroll back up as you like. The meaty part is down there, impatient readers.

I’m originally from Boston, moved to Ipswich, MA in 1985 after my mother found out that the kindergarden I was set to be bussed to was over an hour away from our house in the then most definitely NOT posh South End. The suburbs were a far more affordable choice than sending me off to private school, particularly since many in Boston had waiting lists you had to sign up to before you even conceived a child. 

So we moved, and I went to the public school in Ipswich. I was lucky. I had an amazing kindergarden teacher, Barbara Beaman who treated every screaming running child like the tiny explorer we were, giving us paints to wreak creative havoc with, and love to fuel our little souls. I had an incredible first grade teacher Ann Marie Tlumacki who taught us to love science, stoking our curiosity for the natural world by bringing in monarch caterpillars for us to observe devouring milkweed, turning into chrysalises and finally erupting into beautiful butterflies. I had an inspiring librarian, Mrs. Kelly [whose first name I now cannot find], who let me read hidden in the stacks of books to my heart’s content, who secretly shared the progress of her mold collection, born of milk sodden tea sachets and kept hidden in lidded teacups under her desk, and who taught us all our first computer program after lobbying to get Massachusetts first Turtle. I had teachers who cared about me, deeply, and those are only a few of them.

I could have been pegged as a “challenging” child, but instead was sent to ELP [previously GATE], the Extended Learning Program, where I was introduced to “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury, “The Cat and the Coffee Drinkers” by Max Steele, as well as poetry writing and book illustrating projects. We were teased for going to “special” classes, but I didn’t care. After all, I was in those classes with all my friends anyway, and my mind was nourished and I learned voraciously. 

It was in Middle School, with larger classes, a straining budget, and tenured teachers who had long since given up on the idea that they were there to help children learn, that I first felt out of place. The science and math classes had me coming home, spewing trigonometry and plate techtonics to my parents over the dinner table. But then I was scolded by my Reading teacher for doing my Yellow Book Standardized Reading Exercise too quickly. I was already being teased as a nerd, as a weirdo. To be admonished by a teacher for excelling was too much. 

I was lucky, and I got to go to a tiny tiny private school, 130 students for 7-12th, only 20 kids in each grade. That year, nearly half our class was from the Ipswich public schools, so it was an easy slide into my new world. I was challenged, and the classes were hard in a good way – except for math, where one other Ipswich transplant and I wound up without a teacher, too far ahead to be with the other kids our age, and the tiny school’s schedule to tricky to sneak us in with the high-schoolers [I didn’t have a math teacher til senior year].

So there’s the picture for you. Me, age 14, the blissful devourer of knowledge, pulled aside by a teacher after our Humanities class. 

Humanities was one of my favorite classes, discussion based, with only 8 kids in the room. I remember we were working our way through American history, somewhere between the diaries of Sturbridge Village and Jack Kerouak. 

My teacher stopped me in the hallway, just before the door.

He looked me in the eye and told me I needed to stop talking so much in class. 

He told me that by talking so much I was keeping the other kids from learning. 

He told me I needed to learn to sit and listen, and let other people speak. 

He told me that even if I thought I had something important to say, something to contribute to the discussion, even if it was something no one else had said, it would be better to just keep quiet. 

I was damaging the entire class by being so talkative and he expected me to do something about it. 

I looked him back in the eye.

"So, if no one else is talking and the room is silent, I should still just sit there and not say anything?"

"Yes."

”______ talks just as much as I do. Why aren’t you speaking to him as well?”

"No he doesn’t."

"Yes, he does." 

"Please, Alexis. I need you to work on this."

"…"

So, for the rest of that month, I was silent. I did not speak up unless I was asked directly to contribute to the discussion. I sat, and since we were all required to take notes, I took notes on who spoke in class, ticking off each time they opened their mouth, be it a yes/no answer or a broad reaching discourse. 

It was a very quiet month in that classroom.

My silence did not suddenly give voice to those terribly oppressed students. Instead, that other student whom I had named before, became the dominant voice of the class. 

We were on a first name basis with our teachers. We were encouraged to speak up, to give feedback, to share our opinions openly. There was never supposed to be a separation of school and home, of public and private discourse. So one day, I stopped my teacher after class and shared with him my findings. That my silence had not changed the participation of the other students. That the other vocal participant had continued to dominate the discussions, now taking place mainly between said student and the teacher. 

I suppose I was expecting the muzzle to be lifted. 

Instead, I was told that I was wrong. That student was by no means over speaking. How dare I suggest such a thing? Furthermore, I was still talking far more than I should be, so obviously I had not yet learned to listen properly. So no. I should certainly not go back to my old ways of jumping in whenever I pleased. I needed to learn.

That was not the last time I have been silenced. That was not the first time I have been made to feel guilty for my “excessive participation” either for being a show-off, or for making it harder for other students. 

But I have learned. I’ve learned to shut up. I’ve learned to listen.

To listen to how the men around me are participating before I speak up, so that I can gauge my contributions to be just those few klicks below theirs – no, not the loudest of them, about sixth-tier or so.

To listen for the reaction of those around me when I do speak up, so I can tell how long I should wait before speaking again, lest I accidentally dominate the conversation, intimidating the other participants.

I have also learned to say fuck it to anyone who judges me for being vocal. Who calls me abrasive. Who calls me pushy. Who calls me hard to deal with. Because anyone who is so affronted by my opening my mouth, who prefers a silent room to my participation, who is so incapable of eliciting the response of others in that room and blames me for having rendered them mute, will never help me grow or learn. 

Frankly, I don’t want to help them either. 

Did you wonder, by the way, about that other student in the classroom? Were you able to guess what made them so different than me that I was taken to task when they were not? The difference: their gender.

Should you think, for even a moment, that this was all my own imagining, that I really was the 14yr old hellion irreparably damaging the hard earned education of my fellow students, let me tell you this. That student, that boy, whose participation I tracked tick mark after tick mark on my paper, class after class, he confronted me. He asked me

"Why aren’t you talking in class? Are you ok?" 

"Yes, I’m fine." 

"Are you not doing the reading or something?"

"No. That’s not it."

"Well what the hell. It’s really boring being the only one talking in class."

I’ll leave you with some background, because this is not some isolated incident, some ill chosen overly personal object lesson from my far distant past.

In Literature: Have you seen Harry Potter? Do you remember Hermione Granger? Those first few movies [or books if you prefer] she was so annoying. Always waving her hand in the air, always with the answers to all the teacher’s questions… wait. Why is that annoying? She had done the reading, the homework. Yet we still see her as the overly pushy full of herself better than you teachers pet. How could we see her any way else? After all, her teachers are shown exasperated by her, annoyed at her exuberance. Never mind perhaps accelerating her schooling. No no. She’s just being difficult. She’ll pipe down, she’ll learn.

It’s a horseshoe with only my B&P class, so we’re way more laid back and its smaller.  In other words, I talk a lot. So much in fact that I’m getting the “Hermione look” from Chris.  Every time I raise my hand, he gives me the exasperated look and goes, “Yes Jessica?” He also gives the rest of the class crap because Katherine and I are the only ones with our hands raised.” http://insatiablesweettooth.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/science-rules/ - The Hermione Granger Look

 

In Psychology:Talking in class is often perceived as ‘showing off’, especially if it is girl-talk. Until recently, girls have preferred to keep a low profile rather than attract negative attention. Teachers are often unaware of the gender distribution of talk in their classrooms. They usually consider that they give equal amounts of attention to girls and boys, and it is only when they make a tape recording that they realize that boys are dominating the interactions.” http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/prejudice/women/

In Conferences: Maybe you’ve thought, it’s too bad the organizers didn’t think to balance this out a bit more and ask some women to speak too.” http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/a-simple-suggestion-to-help-phase-out-all-male-panels-at-tech-conferences/266837/

 

I wrote this at the ass crack of dawn after finding that post in The Atlantic. I’d just spent a good part of my Friday tracking down two women to sit as Judges at Chicago Startup Weekend because for all that I’m no longer based in Chicago, am not a Startup Weekend organizer, and frankly had other work to do, no one else had seen it as a problem that all the judges were men. As well as all but ONE [1] of the mentors. I contacted each of the judges, as I know them directly, and two of them even offered to STEP DOWN for a woman. However, none of them had taken action of their own accord. These are really rad guys. It’s just not their habit to vet their fellow speakers, judges, mentors etc. After all, in the tech world, folks have gotten so damn used to seeing a whole page of man speakers that seeing even one woman speaker in a conference lineup is a novelty. This was the status quo. 

What I would like to bring to the attention of anyone who makes it this far down the page is this: It took me a total of 2hrs, on the Friday afternoon before the event started that night, to track down not one but TWO women who were prepared to drop EVERYTHING they had planned and go judge, last minute, that Sunday. 

For one, props to them. 

For two, how the hell do we excuse interrupting someone’s life that severely, with that little planning.

For three, shame on every conference or event organizer who ever ever tells me “I would have loved to have more women but…” 

- Women don’t like to give up their weekends

- Women with the appropriate qualifications don’t exist

- Women haven’t stepped forward to volunteer

- Women would rather stay home with their children

- Women are just really hard to track down

- Women lack the experience for this sort of thing

- Women shouldn’t be getting so upset about this being all men. It’s the content that counts, after all. 

If I can find two women in two hours, you better watch out. You let me organize your conference? There will be hell and high water comin’ down cause there won’t be a man opening his mouth on your stage. 

And yeah. The content will definitely be what counts.

New HR Policy

Company wide, please read and confirm by agreeing to terms and conditions set below:

All employees, including those on contract for greater than seven days, will be given up to two [2] paid Menstrual Days off per month. Men may take these days only with proof of purchase & donation of at least $100 in feminine-care products, heating pads, anti-inflammatories, or direct charitable donation to the one of the organizations listed below for each monthly cycle. These days are intended to prevent the continued rampant misuse of sick-days, personal-days, vacation-days and leaves of absence by women at this company. All employees are encouraged, but not required, to report these days on their public calendar using the approved “red tent” icon, with the option to create a recurring event, to be edited as needed. If preferred they may instead use any of the afore mentioned alternative “absent” settings on their public calendars, with the Menstrual Day designation appearing only to accounts payable. The accounts payable team has just completed the OSCA approved Red Tent training module and are prepared to handle any further questions.

Please contact HR immediately with any concerns or problems arising from this new policy.


Thank you,
Ovoom Management

Credit where it’s due

How often do you credit the photographer who took your avatar photo? How bout the photos on your tumblr? Do you go to the trouble to link back to their site? Or do you just… forget?

This isn’t an accusation. The ease of attaching images, of grabbing them from the far and wide of the internet, still astounds me. It is a wonderful and powerful thing. Include pictures alongside words has been proven over and over to increase engagement. Our memes, powering across the boundaries of country and culture prove the stickiness of visual communication.

But what of the creators?

This is not a problem of people being evil, or cheap, or duplicitous, or even lazy.

This is an interaction problem.

Here on tumblr, where do I credit the photographer or artist for the images I include? I can make the effort, use the title space for a name and a link rather than witty subtext. But why would I?

I encourage every site to take a hard look at this.

Because here’s the flip side, beyond the bleeding hearts crying for the poor photographers stripped of income and recognition. The power of the internet is discovery. It’s is the lines of connection drawn from person to person through ideas and interaction.

I would love to trace the paths of artists across the twitter avatars of those I follow. These are the people creating the identities of those I respect. Your photo, your image, your avatar: this is your brand. Why shouldn’t I see who has helped you create the identity by which I recognize you?

That’s just a start. To trace photographers and designers through blogs and background images, to see their name and trace their influence, would better inform the connections otherwise unseen in this world.

I’ve struggled with this in my own work. Documenting the talks of luminaries through sketchnotes, I am careful to credit the speaker, but have resorted to signing each piece with my twitter handle, as a last ditch hope that people will know it was my hand creating the image. I’ve been reblogged, cross-posted, screen-grabbed and retweeted. How many times have I lost track of my work?

So I’m asking here: let’s consider. What would the cost of a simple “image credit” input field be, and what the ROI?

The UX of Community in Contested Space

Urban Cycling : Bike Lanes :: The Internet : A Code of Conduct

I’ve been struggling to try to put into words why a Code of Conduct is so important in tech. It’s difficult. Particularly since the issue has been so thoroughly polarized into one of women vs men. Particularly since any attempt to explain “a woman’s experience” to a man is met with disbelief, with indredulity.

Why? Because any man I take the time to talk to doesn’t NEED a Code of Conduct to be a decent human in the tech world. He already has one. It’s a moral compass that operates not just when he’s at work, or online, or face-to-face with another human. He’s a decent person and puts effort into remaining so.

But just because he doesn’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I finally got a chance to have a chat with Troy Hennikoff, founder of many a company, now heading up TechStars Chicago. We’re both busy people, so our “time to chat” wound up being on a mad bicycle ride north along his commute up to Evanston. I have never been so out of breath while biking, and simultaneously so unwilling to reallocate my air supply away from conversation. I’d been worried that a ride would be ill suited to a proper debate, with cars and potholes to be dodged. It turns out it provided me the perfect metaphor to finally explain what I’m feeling across the divide of gender.

Troy was the one who brought it up. He told me to think of the tech world the same way as I think of cycling. There are a few jerks out there, ones who try to run cyclists off the road – yes, swerving at a cyclist counts as “assault with a deadly weapon” – but that hasn’t kept me from riding my bike, right?

He didn’t know how apt a metaphor he’d chosen.

I’ve been hit by cars seven times. Maybe you’re not a cyclist, so let me explain what happened in each of these bicycle “accidents”:

I was thrown to the ground by 4,000lbs of metal slamming into me, because another human being didn’t see I was there.

Yes. It hurt every time.

No. It doesn’t get any less terrifying.

The first time was the worst. I was biking through downtown Chicago, heading south on my way to an interview at a small design firm. One moment I was heading through an intersection – yes, the light was green, I heard you thinking that – the next I was in the air.

Flying.

I came-to lying on my back in the middle of the street. My bike was under the front tires of a car, ten feet away from me. A car that had turned left, across traffic, straight into me. I’d been knocked out as my helmet hit the pavement.

What did I do? I scraped myself off the street, began apologizing to cars that honked at me, drivers yelling out their open windows that I was “in their way,” blocking an intersection I only then realized was two blocks from the highway onramp. I was keeping these people from getting home.

A valet had stepped in, pulled my bike out from under the car tires – the driver had to back up to free them. Somehow I made it to the curb, “shaking like a leaf” yes, as in a leaf in a hurricane. 

This is where it gets weird. I had just been hit by a car, right? This is the age of cell phones, but did anyone call the cops? No. Not me. Not the driver. He gave me his number, his business card. Said he was sorry, he just wasn’t paying attention, too focused on the street signs, because he was from out of town. He offered to pay for any repairs I needed.

I told him it was ok. That I was fine. I thanked him, and he drove away.

If you’re not saying “What the fuck?!!?” then I haven’t written this clearly enough. I was hit by a car. The guy said he was sorry, he hadn’t been trying to hit me. Then, he just drove away. For some reason, I just let it happen.

Now, lets think about this in the tech world.

I just got back from SXSW. I’d actually started a blog before I headed down there with the explicit GOAL of documenting any sexism I saw. The great thing? I saw nearly nothing. Here’s the less great thing:

I didn’t do many parties this year. I went to two in fact. One, at a club downtown. The other, off the beaten track, invite only, a dance party at a house folks had rented. It was a blast. The DJ amazing. The other folks dancing, from NYC, Philly, Chicago, SF… all over, all awesome designers, developers, startup folks I was completely amped to get to hang out with. Things started to wind down and I headed outside. I wound up talking with some friends about projects we’d been working on. Then one guy walks out. In a suit. He joins our conversation, asking me about some specifics of the difference between the startup scene in NYC vs Chicago… something like that. So, chatting, I follow him down the front porch stairs.

That’s when it got bad. He’s telling me he’s a VC. He’s telling me how well I’m articulating these differences, I’m telling him it’s my job, that I do UX research. Then he tells me I’m hot.

Wait. What?

He goes on. Switching back and forth between the amount of money he’s directly in control of, to compliments on various body parts. I’m not sure what to do. He’s an important connection, right? He’s introducing me to his boss, standing there by the car, then telling me how he’d like to dance with me some more…

Sure, you can say it was an “after party” …but he went out of his way to tell me what company he represented. He was the one who changed the context to a professional one.

I walked back up the stairs after he drove off. I felt dirty. I felt confused. I mentioned it to my friends… they laughed. So that was it.

But then, the other day, I found out his company is sponsoring a hackathon I’m supposed to be involved in. That he quite possibly could be one of the judges.

Now notice. Have I mentioned his name? His company? You are witnessing, as I sit here writing this, my internal debate. Do you see the parallel? I was hit by a car, the driver was at fault, but I’d been “in his way” so I didn’t call the cops. I was propositioned by a VC, who included as part of his “pitch,” the investment money he controlled along with a detailed assessment of my own assets… physical ones. But it was at an after party, so that’s only to be expected, right?

Over the past ten years that I’ve been riding my bike in Chicago and cities all over the world – five states, seven countries – I’ve seen a lot change. The most visible has been due to bike lanes.

The first day that they “striped” – put lines demarcating a bike lane via a solid white line – Milwaukee Ave in Chicago, the main street leading from the north-west side straight to downtown, drivers changed. They stayed between that new white line and the double yellow line separating them from oncoming traffic.

Even if there are no bikes there, the cars stick between the lines. Sure, every now and then some rogue decides to drive along the right-hand side of the street, but they’re met by rage-filled honks, and if caught, a hefty fine. Sure, some folks go and park in this still newly enstated bike lane, but they know they’re being naughty, leaving their lights flashing, dashing back to their car lest they get nailed with a ticket.

Riding in that lane, I feel safe. I’m still wary, but I know that for the most part, I am expected, I am recognized, I belong on the road and no one can contest that. Before, I’d get yelled at through open windows to get off the road, to get on the sidewalk – illegal – or to get a car. Not so much any more. There are still potholes, it’s not like they upkeep the bike lane any better than the rest of the road, and this is Chicago, with frost heaves and plows and construction. But I can watch out for those, because I know the cars are watching out for me.

That is what a Code of Conduct is in tech. It isn’t a promise that the road will be any smoother, for women, for anyone. It’s not a guarantee that there won’t be assholes and jackasses out there. However, it makes it obvious to everyone when someone has strayed outside the lines. Not just those who are affected. Not just those who are made unsafe. Everyone can see and recognize a toe over the line. Everyone can call the offender out. Not just the victim.

It means that those who spent half time speaking out, or keeping them selves safe, can actually focus on building things. Can spend their extra energy navigating and negotiating potholes.

I’m not calling you an asshole. I’m not accusing anyone of misconduct. I’m just asking for a space to be made where I can finally concentrate on getting shit done, instead of keeping myself safe, fighting off the trolls.

Something you might not know about me. Before I worked in tech, before I founded #XXHack, or Mentored a StartupWeekend, or volunteered my expertise to Women Innovate Mobile Accelerator, or co-founded Parsecco, or helped start @chiDUXX, I ran TyK [Thought You Knew].

We started as a group of women, tired of being sidelined in cycling, who’d hang out and support each other any way we could. I turned that into a four year long passion project to change the image of women in cycling, and help ladies in Chicago regain ownership of their sexuality as well as confidence in their bike skills. 

Four years. Time and a lot of energy I put into a cause that should never have existed in the first place. It was an awesome project, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world. But that was time I could have spent on building my personal brand, on working on projects for more money and more notoriety and more professional success.

I am tired of all of this being up to women.

We are handicapped by being barred from access to the funding our projects need: am I having a drink with this guy and discussing investment, or is he hitting on me… and will folks just assume I slept my way into that first million?

We are handicapped by being different from those with the power: humans trust that which they recognize, so everyone – from investors to bosses, to the dude programmer on the other side of the interview table – is going to select those who look like them, before they take a risk on the unfamiliar, that which they don’t have a good way to codify or measure… before they take a risk on a woman.

We are handicapped by having our self-esteem eroded day by day: what in a man is iniative in a woman is pushyness, what in a man is an authoritative decision in a woman is bitchiness, what in a man is manliness in a woman is being a slut. 

We are handicapped by spending our time trying to fix the system.

I suppose I could just “go build.” I could be the example of success that women need.

But I’ve done that before. I do that every day I ride my bike. Every time I take a photo of myself leaning against my bike, helmet and sunglasses and a grin. Every time I encourage someone to have the confidence to do that first five-mile commute.

What I don’t talk about is how all those times I’ve been hit, or the many many many times I’ve been “bumped,” or cut off, or screamed at out a car window, or run off the road, or managed to bail off my bike just in time.

People admire my bike. It’s a work of art, a bright rainbow of stripes and gold glitter that stops grown adults in their tracks. It’s elegant too, with sweep back handle bars that keep me sitting upright. It looks good.

The truth? It’s the only bike I can ride now. After so many times getting hit, after landing hard and badly, there are some injuries that haven’t healed. One woman turned across traffic, straight into me, headed wrong way down a one-way street. It took four years of litigation to close that case. Every time she saw me in court it was the same venom she’d spat at me when the cops first rolled up. A little old lady vs some filthy cyclist. That night, the cop asked me through the window of her cruiser, as I stood in the rain, holding an icepack to my bleeding elbow “So, are you employed?” Because that matters when someone has hit me with their car. 

My shoulder has never healed. I had a steroid shot into my spine to help with the pain. I was told by my doctor “you should really just stop riding…” The woman who hit me? She’s still out there, driving her car and cursing cyclists. 

So every time I hear about someone I know getting hit, someone I encouraged to start riding, I’m reminded: I got them into this.

I feel responsible.

Every time I hear about another woman getting torn down, dealing with being hit on at a conference, being asked “Hey hon, can I talk to the guys who actually built this?” at a trade show… when she’s the lead dev, I’m reminded: I’m trying to drag them into this. 

I feel responsible.

One of these days it’s going to be too much. I won’t be quick enough. I’ll finally get hit hard enough that I don’t get back up again. 

Am I talking about the cars… or that next guy who tells me to “just be patient” when I try to explain why this is so damned hard, then squeezes my shoulder with a friendly leer. 

Why is this up to me? Why am I the one putting time into making this better? 

I feel responsible.

Why don’t you?

Yes, this was long. There’s also a lot more out there.

Additional Reading:

Asking the Wrong Question by/ @Deanna

Sexism is Like an Onion by/ @ChrisYeh

Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts by/ @JuliePagano

An Unjust People by/ @raganwald 

Woman, Not Girl by/ @LillieAlbert

Sexism in the Workplace by/ @Jillfilipovic

What You Should Know by/ @KuraFire

Giving Back

The trick of being a good and functioning part of any community is making sure that you’re giving back. It’s only too easy to just keep pushing forward. But if you alway keep headlong hell bent for leather, you’re missing out. Teaching someone what you know not only ensures you’ll have someone amazing to hire down the line [pure selfishness] it also will help you more deeply understand all that you’ve learned. 

Some rules:

1) Three is the magic number

- Go forth. Find yourself three mentees. Keep in mind, the good ones probably won’t ask. They’re doing aok on their own. You don’t want three lost and floundering souls. Go ahead, take on one of those. The others, you want to find folks who you can help make that step from “damn good” to “daaaayyyyyum.” Your job here is to create awesome from aok. 

2) I want a faster horse

- You are the mentor. Your mentees don’t know what they need. So yeah, get to know them. Figure out what they’re doing well and what they’re flopping at. Then set them some tasks. Do they have a blog? Set a schedule for their blog posts that allows you to be there as their editor. Help them come up with their first three topics. Have they done a talk before? Help them pick a topic and work them through to a solid slide deck and great presentation. 

3) All the world’s a stage

- Everyone needs someone to holler about them. This is now your job. For three people at least. You need to present them at events, introduce them to folks who will benefit from meeting them, as well as those they’ll benefit from meeting. Repost their blog, their astute twitter comments, suggest them as speakers. You are their cheerleader, their talent agent and their bookie all at the same time. So, let’s see if you can actually make bank on this gamble. 

Keep in mind, you also fall into the rule of threes. If you’ve been around the block a few times, go ahead. Ask someone to be your mentor. We all need to get used to this. Pick carefully, but remember that it’s better to have one connection than to be doing this alone. 

I’ve got one mentee so far.

I’m looking to take on two more, in CHI/NYC/SF. 

UX / Deep Thoughts

"Well, unfortunately none of the writers … offer any evidence that designers actually follow their maps" - Bryan Lawson

"What would it feel like to be a bed?" - John Chris Jones

The only true voyage of discovery is not to go to new places, but to have other eyes.” - Marcel Proust

Elevator or Stairs?

I’m very conscious of the exercise I get each day. Yes, I’m one of those irksome folks who will take the stairs rather than the escalator coming up out of the subway. 

But what about those moments where you’d normally tarry and possibly talk that we’re now missing in favor of activity? 

Every time I stay with my friends in NYC I’m shocked by first, how well the doormen know every single  person in their building, and second, the micro-conversations in the elevator. New Yorkers are notoriously closed off. Don’t go smiling at them on the street or in the subway… they’ll know immediately that you’re not one of them. But waiting for the elevator, riding the elevator, somehow, that’s aok. 

What are we sacrificing in those few moments where we have the chance for a chance encounter? Yes, we’re already bloated with information, with connections. But this is real time we’re talking about. These are neighbors, office mates, potential allies who you can rely on to borrow a cup of sugar when you need it [does anyone do that anymore?].

I’d say that maybe it’s worth it to stand there and take the elevator once and a while. At least for the ride down.

SoLoMo => SoCoMo: Social Cognitive Mobility

Social: The ability of humans to interact such that they can form groups and networks. 

Now, when you add Local + Mobile you get an interesting effect of tying humans back to the space that they are in essence transcending. You remove also the time frame from the picture. “Local” when tied to “Social” means any time someone you know has intersected the space you are in they can leave you a message. This is like signposts, notches in trees, cairnes leading the traveller through the world, advising “go this way, not that way.” 

What if the same was happening with how we think? Rather than tying you to what is happening in a space, instead to give you roadmaps toward patterns of thought? Knowledge that is shared within a social group and accessed from anywhere, at any time. 

To some extent this has been explored by Quora, but the social group [after the first highly selected seeding] became noisy. Wikipedia embodies this as well, but in this case the social group has become self aggrandizing and static. 

Further, you can’t just go and ask the writer of a Wikipedia article to go deeper on the subject. Just because someone answered the question you were looking for on Quora does not make them accessible to you for further inquiry. 

What if the knowledge you needed was actually there already, within a group of individuals who had sufficient social ties to you, who were available, even if not in your vicinity, to help you? 

This is SoCoMo: Discovering the vast and untapped resources that your direct social circle has within it. 

We all struggle with worth and with fulfillment in our jobs. Really, isn’t this why Farmville succeeded? Who would spend time with fake cows if their minds were enriched by their daily work? Who doesn’t resent their title just a tiny bit, thinking “I am worth more, I am the sum of more, than this?” 

If we could be provided a space for more of our aspects of expertise to flourish, we would all be so much happier. 

As was written by the thirteenth-century Persian-Tajik poet, Ibn Yamin:

One who knows and knows that he knows… His horse of wisdom will reach the skies.

One who knows, but doesn’t know that he knows… He is fast asleep, so you should wake him up!

One who doesn’t know, but knows that he doesn’t know… His limping mule will eventually get him home.

One who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know… He will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!


Perhaps it is time to add:

One who knows he doesn’t know, but asks… He will wake up the sleeping knowers and they shall be his army.

Time Slip

The perception of time is a tricky creature. We have sayings surrounding it like “time flies when you’re having fun” but seldom do people think about why a given segment of time feels longer or shorter. 

Studies in what is loosely termed “flow” have found that depending on an individual’s level of concentration, time perception will shift. So, when in “flow,” working on a project, an uninterrupted hour can feel like only a few minutes. Likewise, when not in flow, time drags. 

There is another more mundane phenomenon that we experience and that works on the same principle: the “where the hell are the canned beans in this damned store” experience.

Retail stores are designed around the assumption [mostly correct] that if people wander around longer they wil buy more. IKEA is an extreme version of this, and one that has been successful, but every grocery store with their long aisles is doing the same thing. Trying to seduce you into buying yet another jar of fancy mustard. 

The problem is that while people do indeed buy more stuff if they wander longer, the perception of time when searching for a single item is not the same as once that item is found. Search is not fun. It is fraught with frustration, and even if it actually only takes 2min to find the wild rice, it will feel like 20. 

Here’s where it gets interesting. As soon as said wild rice is located, as soon as it’s in field of view, time perception shifts again. Now, you’re in browsing mode. 

To take this to a “why the hell does my brain do this?” space, let’s go back in time a bit. Imagine you’re actually a hunter gatherer off to do your foraging. You know there’s a berry bush that should be ripe in this area, but you’ve got to find it. It makes sense for there to be some urgency to this action. But, once you’re there, it’s important to get all the berries. It’s less “expensive” to gather from one place than to hare around from one side of the forest to another. So, here we have “flow” … in the form of contentment to sit and gather all the berries. Here we have “browsing” … in a literal sense actually [one for the bucket and one for my mouth]. 

The challenge being faced by stores is to provide customers with both interactions. IKEA succeeds by training people away from “search” completely. You’re not at IKEA to find one set of plates, you’re there to find a whole wide variety of stuff. That’s their brand. Your grocery store can’t do that, because some days you just need some milk. 

Who are you talking to anyway?

I was recently struck by this post by DHH [David Heinemeier Hansson], a well renowned programmer and creator or Rails development environment for Ruby. 

DHH (@dhh)
5/21/12 13:41
@wndxlori I’ve never cared too much about the myriad of ways people can choose to misinterpret what I say.

Certainly, as the saying goes, you can’t please everyone… nor should you try to. However, those who have reached a level of influence and power would do well to take the time and consider who they are speaking to, and if their message will be understood. They’ve been given a platform, they ought use it responsibly. 

We don’t always know who our audience is going to be. We can’t write for all ears, speak in all voices. It is however possible - necessary even - to pause and consider who else might be listening. 

Every reader has the obligation to do their due diligence, so too every writer, and every speaker. This includes not only references, but also “cultural fit” extending beyond the narrow definition that looks only to the miscommunication between Country A vs Country B. Instead, it’s necessary to realize that the ‘culture’ of programmers has a very particular mode of communication. One that does not always translate well for the rest of the world. 

I’d say that the misinterpretation is not on the side of the audience in this case, but the presenter, having misgauged the ‘language’ he was speaking in.