Recently, I was confronted with a choice between multiple, equally good yet entirely different options. As much as I had prepared myself in the lead up to the decision, I hadn’t considered a scenario as good—or as challenging. Having exhausted all logic and reason (e.g. pro/con lists), I felt stuck and my anxiety began rising sharply.
Fortunately, my partner shared this TED Talk by Ruth Chang who discusses how to make hard choices when confronted with equally good but strikingly different paths. It helped me tremendously and I hope it will also serve you when you need it most.
Once again, Mr. Roger reminds us about what’s important in life. For a society that values information over wonder, we too often deprive ourselves and others of silence. With deprivation, we rob ourselves of the time to reflect and wonder.
Last month, through extreme sacrifice and personal loss, Caitlin Boston paid off more than $200K in student loans all by her “freaking self”. She attributes a large part of her success to asking her male colleagues what they were making.
“Ask your other peers what they make — especially your male ones. It might make you feel uncomfortable but it’s the sole reason I started making an additional 41% a year.”
I suspect pencils are among the many things we take for granted in modern, daily life. They’re one of the first, if not the first, writing utensil we ever use as children. We learned to write, add, subtract, and multiply with them. We learned geometry and perspective with them. We took tests with them. So, so many filled in circles on standardized tests (does that date me or is that still a thing?!) My words and imagination fail to convey their omni-present place in my life and those of many others.
These days I try not to horde them as much as I used to and enjoy the ones I have until they’re whittled down. That’s tough when they’re beautiful pencil-loving stores like CW Pencils out there that pull you in like graphite sirens.
And, it’s tough when you come across a video like this that shows you how pencils are made. The machinery is hypnotic and the color dyes beautiful. I may just need to crack out one of those long-neglected adult coloring books and reconnect with an old love.
None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an after-thought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.
A friend recently directed me to an interview with Lucy Ellmann, author of the book Ducks, Newburyport. I’d previously never heard of either the author or her book and yet I was prevailed upon to read the article. Ellmann is certainly the type of person you want as a neighbor, friend, or if you’re a mother, she is someone you want to be a part of your outcast / rebel mom click. She’s witty and fiercely independent and a midwestern American living in Scotland, so she’d be a good person to know for a visit.
I can’t say I know what to think of her writing style or book. Ellman self-describes it as one long run-on sentence—the stream of consciousness of an overwhelmed and anxious Ohio housewife. A commenter notes that there are 19,000 instances of the term “the fact that.” This trifecta of rebellion against structure, convention, and punctuation may be more than I can bare. I have 13-weeks until my library hold, which may just enough time to mentally prepare myself for what could either be a fantastic mind bend or a deflated and grumbly gut.
This quote in the interview is what tipped the balance and led me to give the book a go.
I’ve been rudely criticized in the past for using too many capital letters, but you know what? I DON’T CARE. What is wrong with using all the techniques at our disposal? I’m not spraying anybody’s linguine dinner with air freshener, I’m just reconsidering form. It’s not a crime. Yet.
I like illustrations too, and wish I had more. I don’t see why only children’s books get to have pictures.
Lucy Ellmann, Lucy Ellmann, a Great American Novelist Hiding in Plain Sight
On the heels of the last post about Margaret Heffernan and her argument that computer automation is not a rightful substitute for human expertise—especially in highly unpredictable and complex spaces—comes a related episode of the Wireframe podcast.
In this episode, host Khoi Vinh met with doctors about the design of electronic health records (EHR) and the accompanying software and hardware. In a nutshell, these broken systems work against the doctor-patient relationship instead of for it. They are driven more by healthcare billing practices than by patient needs and often command the attention of doctors at the expense of engaging meaningfully with patients. It’s a quick and worthwhile listen for anyone interested in the topic of design in healthcare.
This talk by Margaret Heffernan more intelligently and eloquently expresses the idea that’s been noodling in my mind for some time. That it isn’t an inevitability that we lose our humanity at scale. In fact, we should double down on our humanity–compassion, empathy, and attention–the larger an organization gets. Without it, we become little more than a cog in an unfeeling and uncaring machine.
Preparedness, coalition-building, imagination, experiments, bravery — in an unpredictable age, these are tremendous sources of resilience and strength. They aren’t efficient, but they give us limitless capacity for adaptation, variation and invention. And the less we know about the future, the more we’re going to need these tremendous sources of human, messy, unpredictable skills.
But in our growing dependence on technology, we’re asset-stripping those skills. Every time we use technology to nudge us through a decision or a choice or to interpret how somebody’s feeling or to guide us through a conversation, we outsource to a machine what we could, can do ourselves, and it’s an expensive trade-off. The more we let machines think for us, the less we can think for ourselves.
The more time doctors spend staring at digital medical records, the less time they spend looking at their patients. The more we use parenting apps, the less we know our kids. The more time we spend with people that we’re predicted and programmed to like, the less we can connect with people who are different from ourselves. And the less compassion we need, the less compassion we have.
What all of these technologies attempt to do is to force-fit a standardized model of a predictable reality onto a world that is infinitely surprising. What gets left out? Anything that can’t be measured — which is just about everything that counts.