Be Used

Oct 21, 2017

I was sitting drinking a rum punch, as I am want to do, and behind me these loud obnoxious entitled teachers from a nearby unnamed charter school were mocking their students and their parents and their administrators. From jokes about do-rags to autisim they over and over demonstrated a callous disregard for their students and their school. It was so grating to listen to their ranting that I was moved to anger and rage. And accordingly, I chose to avoid the conflict, down my rum punch, and move along. Shame, too, as the weather was particularly nice and I had hoped to enjoy some sun with my rum.

Anyway, it wasn’t until a little later and as I thought about it more that I came to understand why it was so bothering to me. Aside from all else, their behavior had demonstrated a fundamental lack of empathy for their students. What is the point in engaging with a job or work when you hold the beneficiaries of your efforts in so low a regard? Beyond that, how can you possibly hope to have any impact on the efforts of your work when you regard it as so useless?

And I further realize that I have witnessed this disregard in so many areas of my life. Whether it be clients at burn and churn dev shops, users of callously made software, audiences paraded before trite entertainment, employees exploited by giant corporations, or students berated by unprofessional teachers, it is all the same manifestation of disempathetic (a word I just made up and rather like) ignorance.

Imagine who your users are. As a writer, the readers are your users. As a playwright, your users are your audience. As a doctor, your patients are your users. As a manager, your direct reports are your users. Isn’t that sort of an interesting perspective?

As a developer you create software which acts as a force multiplier for your users. As a manager, the systems and environment you create is a force multiplier for your team. If you approach that team with a callous disempathetic focus on metrics and cost cutting what do you imagine the end result might be?

There’s also a lot of UX broohaha about not calling users “users”, which I very much agree with. But maybe we should also think about what it is to be “used”. Or “well used”. Does this sound dumb? It sort of does, but I also like it. There’s such a bad connotation around being used. But what if we look at it from a more positive perspective? What if we think of giving ourselves willingly to be used by the people we dedicate our work to?

Being well used is giving your users respect. Or giving them the benefit of the doubt. Let them fail and catch them. Give them most of what they want and a little bit of what they didn’t know they wanted. Help them. Engage them. Tell them you are interested and what to know what they are doing thinking feeling. This is your job. This is easy to do if you want to help them.

This simple and basic call to empathy and engagement is something we hear a lot about in tech. But despite it’s ubiquity, it is also very hard to do.

It is particularly hard when the audience you are being asked to be empathetic towards you regard as idiots. Therefore! Find users you don’t think of as idiots. For example, I think banks are dumb. I don’t want to help a bank! I have no vested interest in cash flow or trade settlements or new loan applications. I would not be a very good banker.

So you need to make sure you are in a place where you can convince yourself that it is worth being used; that it is worth the exhausting endevour that will be required of you. If you aren’t able to muster up a basic level of empathy for your employees or your users or your students or your shareholders or who ever it is that you serve, you’re sorta fucked.

Know that good one from Bob? “It may be the devil or it may be the lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Might as well be your users and your users might as well be people you care about.

And I’ll leave you with this one:

Till next time, dear reader.