2013.12.27

I’m leaving consulting…

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…to join Green America.

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When we talk about sustainability, we often concentrate on how human action hurts nature. But real sustainability involves caring for the environment, individuals, and institutions. It is about creating a society with cradle to cradle design. It is about creating institutions that nourish the environment and the communities that live in them. It is about creating a world that respects indigenous cultures, promotes fair trade, and enriches the whole society. The folks at Green America understand that complexity.

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For the last 30 years, they have been doing good work fighting for environmental, economic, and social justice to create sustainable communities through projects that advocate for listing genetically-modified ingredients in food, socially-responsible banking and credit cards, and many others.

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(Also, they decided to add me to their team despite the fact that I am a weirdo who wears bow ties to job interviews, waxes on about how NPR’s about page reminds me of Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge (public library, Amazon), and philosophizes on how Wittgenstein and Durkheim relate to ethnographic research and editorial strategy.)

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I will continue to work on my own projects at A Yellow Raven. Now that I am free from spending time on the business of consulting, I hope to have more time to dedicate to projects such as the Personal Health Diary, Project Platen, and the academic user styles.

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If you can, support our work and lobby your employer to join the Green Business Network. To my colleagues who work in technology: I implore you to join me and look for a career in social-good fields. Our skills are sorely needed even more than within the tech industry. We can not let the purely profit-driven world of the previous generations and the assholes at the top of startup culture destroy the future. The pay scale may not be as attractive, but be it in a newsroom a not-for-profit, or any other venture, you will be contributing directly to making society a less sucky place. And that can be a very satisfying, indeed.

2013.09.20

The iPhone is not a saber-toothed tiger

…so stop judging it as if it is.

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There are times when instant judgement is absolutely necessary: firefighting, avoiding pedestrians while driving, running away from a saber-toothed tiger. The announcement of a new phone is not one of those times. Yet whenever a tech company releases something new, we instantly lay on the praise and critiques based on marketing presentations and without any in-depth knowledge of their design, how they work, or any evidence of how people will use them. If they include new features that are similar to others, we critique the individual pieces without considering the whole. But the biggest problem is that we hold tightly to our initial beliefs (and I catch myself doing all of this as well). We have turned the first impression into our only impression. That’s not making good judgement, that’s dogma.

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We tend towards snap judgements not because we are intentionally dense jerks, but because our minds are geared to taking new input, judging quickly, and moving on. In the wild, we had to immediately analyze a new situation to see if it was harmful. We couldn’t stop to think deeply because it could be a snake or jaguar about to strike. And even though we (well, most of us) are no longer surviving in the wild, the last several thousand years is not enough time for our brains to evolve beyond making snap judgements1.

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First impressions are often useful but they are also dangerous, especially when they continue coloring our judgements long after we know better. A lot of research has shown that we often make up our minds and then post-hoc rationalize2. We must train ourselves to step away from our first impressions and stop jumping to judgement3. Look long and hard at the complexities and analyze the details. I call it train, because that is exactly what we must do. Rationality is not a switch that we can turn on, it is a habit. Delibrately being deliberative takes a lot of work and a lot of energy4, just as a runner needs to train up for marathons, we must train up to stop ourselves from jumping to conclusions.

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Holding off on judging new technology is only the tip of why training ourselves to work beyond our initial judgements. People depend on our opinions. It is not just about being able to provide the best unbiased technology advice to our less technology-literate family and clients. This is about judging people unfairly based on our own biases without trying to understand their problems. This is about empathy and caring for each other. This is about making our communities better for everybody.