Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe. Follow @RianVDM
Some smart thoughts from Scott Sehlhorst in Classifying Market Problems:
Many teams struggle with backlogs or roadmaps which appear to be a collection of “a bunch of stuff.” Most teams try and address the problems that manifest from having a giant list of stuff by getting better at managing giant lists. This is treating the symptom, not the cause. If you’re trying to juggle hundreds of requirements, the problem isn’t that you have hundreds of requirements, the problem is that you don’t know why you have requirements.
Which reminds me of this cartoon, because that’s what happens when you get better at managing lists instead of getting better at figuring out how to make your product useful:
Of course, it’s also at this point that users tend to take matters into their own hands:
Want to read some philosophical pontification about selfies? Well, I’m here to help you out. Start with the recent Can you have self-worth without self-love?, in which Simon Blackburn believes we can do better:
If culture shifts one way, it can also shift back. Is it possible to imagine a reversal, so that something approaching a social contract, or a feeling of public spirit, a contempt for indecent expenditure, an embarrassment at vulgar display, or simply a desire to leave as modest a footprint as possible, begins to take over our sense of what we can expect from ourselves and others? We know that there are cultures in which it is poor form to shout that you are a taller poppy than any other.
But perhaps, above all, we should encourage the joyous, subversive spirit of mockery. If there are few things more awful than the arrogance and hubris of conceit, is there anything more ridiculous than a display of vanity? The word itself carries its own condemnation (Latin: vanus, empty; vanitas, emptiness). We can learn not to care about display, and not to crave the admiration of others. We could even learn to display fewer selfies.
Once you’ve whet your appetite, fill your Instapaper queue with these:
- A Good Angle Is Hard to Find
- Google Makes You Smarter, Facebook Makes You Happier, Selfies Make You A Better Person
- The Documented Life
- In Praise of Selfies: From Self-Conscious to Self-Constructive
You’re welcome. Seriously though, it’s a pretty interesting phenomenon, and like most new things, we’re in that phase where it’s either really horrible and going to destroy everything, or it’s making us better people, depending on who writes the article.
Who doesn’t love Ira Glass? What a legend. His I’m Ira Glass, Host of This American Life, and This Is How I Work feature in LifeHacker is really good:
I’d just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now.
I also loved this response to the question What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?:
I’ve got nothing. Reading other people’s answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk. I employ no time-saving tricks at all.
So, I guess in related news, I bought making-it-right.com and I don’t know maybe it will become something, maybe not…
Hugh Howey is the author of WOOL, one of my favorite sci fi series. His essay Your Fear is My Opportunity is a rant on Amazon and self-publishing, and I really appreciate his perspective as someone who has gone through the hard process of self-publishing:
The things I advocate for: Reasonably priced e-books, for publishers to take risks and do exciting things, for us to embrace the future of storytelling and allow it to coexist with the past, to release all editions of a work at once, to get rid of DRM, to mix up genres and do something fresh and new … these are all things I’ve wanted as a reader for longer than I’ve been writing.
I am a reader first. And I want more readers. Selfishly, as a reader, I want more readers. I want to see airports full of people staring at books, e-readers, and tablets laced with text. Not people staring at cell phones, Candy Crush, Facebook, or authors’ blogs. I want book culture everywhere. I want interactions with strangers to be about what they’ve read lately. I want my social media feed to be all about books. I’m an addict, and I want to get other people hooked. Maybe that’s a bad thing. I don’t care.
If you haven’t read WOOL you should give it a try. Great storytelling whether you’re a sci fi fan or not.
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A couple of articles about work and technology caught my eye this week. First, Claire Cain Miller describes how Technology, Aided by Recession, Is Polarizing the Work World:
[A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research], which analyzed data from the Current Population Survey from 1976 to 2012, illustrates that the recession had a disproportionately large effect on routine jobs, and greatly sped up their loss. That is probably because even if a new technology is cheaper and more efficient than a human laborer, bosses are unlikely to fire employees and replace them with computers when times are good. The recession, however, gave them a motive. And the people who lost those jobs are generally unable to find new ones, said Henry E. Siu, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia and an author of the study.
Now, combine that problem in the mid-paying job market with an issue Thomas B. Edsall pointed out a few weeks ago in The Downward Ramp:
Just one example: the drying up of cognitively demanding jobs is having a cascade effect. College graduates are forced to take jobs beneath their level of educational training, moving into clerical and service positions instead of into finance and high tech.
This cascade eliminates opportunities for those without college degrees who would otherwise fill those service and clerical jobs. These displaced workers are then forced to take even less demanding, less well-paying jobs, in a process that pushes everyone down. At the bottom, the unskilled are pushed out of the job market altogether.
So, college graduates are pushed into mid-paying jobs, and those jobs are being replaced by technology. Not good.
Meanwhile, in opposite world, Louise Aronson writes about The Future of Robot Caregivers (if you’re counting, that’s three for three on the New York Times):
We do not have anywhere near enough human caregivers for the growing number of older Americans.
Zeynep Tufekci’s excessively titled Failing the Third Machine Age: When Robots Come for Grandma is a good critique of that piece:
Let me explain. When people confidently announce that once robots come for our jobs, we’ll find something else to do like we always did, they are drawing from a very short history. The truth is, there’s only been one-and-a-three-quarters of a machine age—we are close to concluding the second one—we are moving into the third one.
And there is probably no fourth one.
Humans have only so many “irreplaceable” skills, and the idea that we’ll just keep outrunning the machines, skill-wise, is a folly.
Put all these pieces together and you get a very scary vision of the future of jobs. The good news — I think — is that job != work.
The future of jobs might be bleak, but the future of work certainly isn’t. Technology might be taking our jobs, but it’s also giving us new ways to be creative. To be entrepreneurs. To work. As programs like Girls Who Code continue to grow, I’m increasingly optimistic about my daughters’ futures. They might not get a “regular” job one day. But my role as a parent is not to prepare them for a job anyway. It’s to foster in them the tenacity and grit to learn how to think big and make things. I’m excited about that.
Designers are more important in today’s digital world than ever. You are still responsible for creating flexible design systems and finding the styles that will connect with the user. Now you just have to do it faster. By ditching the PSD and streamlining the design process, you aren’t just providing the client the value of saved time, you are making yourself more valuable. And ultimately, the real goal of the Post PSD Era is about creating more value — for your customers, for your team, and for you.
The graphic designer’s outcomes are just different now, even if they still use Photoshop. Instead of producing pixel-perfect mockups, their time is spent creating visual inventories, style tiles, and other artifacts that are essential in an atomic design environment.
Clive Thompson’s “I can’t even” is easily my favorite essay of the week. Clive goes back 100 years and finds an author that excelled at… well, I’ll let him tell you:
It must be said: Lovecraft is not a great literary stylist. His prose is good, but not great.
The one exception? This linguistic subgenre—the craft of finding new ways to say that he can’t say something. When Lovecraft does describe a monster straightforwardly, he often stumbles, defaulting to pretty journeyman prose. But when he describes the way a monster can’t be described? He is endlessly inventive. I read and reread my collection of Lovecraft, slapping in a Post-It Note whenever I hit upon one of these I-can’t-even moments, and soon the book was crammed with stickies. I’m starting to believe these catchphrases may be his most enduring contribution to English letters.
My favorite example?
The frantic playing had become a blind, mechanical, unrecognizable orgy that no pen could ever suggest.
Masterful. Even better than my go-to “I can’t even” gif:
Gideon Lewis-Kraus discusses The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect. Turns out there’s more to it than meets the eye:
A handful of factors are taken into account to weight the variables: keyboard proximity, phonetic similarity, linguistic context. But it’s essentially a big popularity contest. A Microsoft engineer showed me a slide where somebody was trying to search for the long-named Austrian action star who became governor of California. Schwarzenegger, he explained, “is about 10,000 times more popular in the world than its variants”—Shwaranegar or Scuzzynectar or what have you. Autocorrect has become an index of the most popular way to spell and order certain words.
This article also taught me that swear words are complicated. And I really like the cartoons of various autocorrect errors, especially this one:
I don’t know if I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I do know that I’ve been writing the one I’m announcing today in my head for many, many years. It’s called Making It Right: Product Management For A Startup World, and it’s my attempt at putting together a practical framework for building great products:
The book came about because I saw a lot of people in organizations perform some of the activities that make up the role of product management. The problem is that very few people take a holistic view of the product, and this is not a role that should be split up into tiny pieces. So, you see marketing people doing some design and research, business analysts doing some spec writing, developers managing the product backlog, and so on.
All this without a person who is responsible for the overall vision, prioritization, and execution of the product. With this book I wanted to provide a complete product strategy that is agnostic to whatever development process people use (agile, etc.).
So here are a couple of links to check out more detail, if you’re interested:
- Smashing Magazine has a launch post up today.
- You can buy it directly from Smashing for $10 in their digital store.
- For the next couple of days, you’ll also be able to buy it for 99c on Amazon.
Smashing tells me that the Amazon thing, in particular, is important for the first couple of days after launch. So if you’re so inclined, please pick it up for 99c, and write a review. It will really, really help to give us a good launch.
Huge thanks to the Smashing Magazine team, and my technical editor Francisco Inchauste. They’re my heroes. And now I have to lie down.