The agenda for most ambitious startups is to “change the world”, which usually means creating products or services that will improve people’s lives and make them happier.
Capitalism never sounded so altruistic.
In reality, the impact of true change is never simple. It is a complex butterfly effect.
The automobile helped us reach our destinations faster, but now road injury is one of the leading causes of death worldwide.1
On one hand, social media has fostered greater communication and awareness between peoples, and democratized the dissemination of news and information. On the other hand, it has enabled (and continues to enable) systemic, anonymous, and unregulated bullying and harrassment.2
Smartphones have brought humanity’s collective knowledge to our literal fingertips, but we are quickly becoming addicted to our devices, and conditioning ourselves to expect instant gratification. 3
If you really want to change the world, keep in mind that you will not only change it in ways you intend, but in ways you won’t intend. Some of those ways you may not even like.
So ask yourself why you want to change the world, and be careful what you wish for.
Last week I read an article on Medium by Jake Knapp about his experience removing all but the essential apps from his iPhone. I won’t repeat his story here. You should just go read it. I was inspired, so I did the same.
I switched off all push notifications (even email, as it is by far the worst) and removed all apps except for ones I use for some constructive purpose (read: browsing Facebook is not a constructive purpose). The others I classified as noise and deleted.
Here’s my home screen now:
(The second screen is just folders of Apple apps I can’t delete)
No Tweetbot (that was a hard one), Instagram, Facebook, games, news apps (I allowed myself to pick one and one only - I went with Prismatic), location apps (don’t use them any more), and a host of other apps that, while they may be ‘cool’, resulted in a net loss for my productivity and mental health. My newly trimmed screen is not as extreme as Jake’s (his criteria were far stricter), but it still took some courage hit ‘X’ on some of those shaking app icons. I actually started by removing Chrome and disabling Safari, but I reinstalled Chrome as I was finding there were legitimate, non-time-wasting times I needed a mobile browser (but it means I need to be disciplined in how I use it).
I am no longer distracted by an email notification whilst concentrating or socializing. (If you honestly ask yourself, there are very few emails that are that important to notice right now). I check my email on my phone when I decide. It’s empowering.
I spend my “down-time” waiting in line at a cafe or on the train thinking, talking with people, reading (a book), enjoying a podcast, or just appreciating my surroundings.
I don’t spend hours per week sifting through photos of other people’s lives that don’t mean much to me.
I engage with social networks when I choose to, not when I receive a notification, or am bored.
I have a newfound respect for my time and energy.
I have a newfound respect for my phone, and try to ensure that I’m not filling it up with stuff I don’t use.
Are there any downsides?
I haven’t encountered any yet. At least, they haven’t been significant enough to warrant me going back.
If you use a social network in earnest I’d wager that there is someone you follow whom you can’t stand. Everything they say online 1 comes across as condescension, ignorance, or downright stupidity. They may be someone well-known in society, they may be someone familiar. I find this behaviour exceedingly common amongst programmers and geeks, for reasons probably best left undiscussed here.
Now, I’m as guilty of this as the next opinionated programmer, but there came a point when I felt enough was enough. I was tired of it. Whilst the emotion in the moment is strong, over time it damages the value you get through those social networks, and maybe even damages relationships. Plus, it’s exhausting.
Internet rage is unbecoming, not very Zen (if that matters to you), and, like real-life hatred, hurts you more than it does the recipient. This applies even if you never actually post anything but let yourself quietly simmer in the emotion without trying to get past it.
If you are struggling with getting angry or upset at people online, you have two options 2 1) you can “unfollow” or “unfriend” that person, which is the dignified thing to do (don’t like, don’t listen), or 2) you could try to resolve it, an option, in my opinion, much better for everyone, especially you. So, I have a simple lifehack that worked for me, and may help to resolve your feelings towards the object of your ire:
Give the person a compliment.
It may not work all the time, and it certainly won’t work if the compliment is insincere. But it is much better for you (and them) than wishing a pox on their house, silently or not. If that person responds to you with thanks or a kind word, I can guarantee even if you previously hated their guts, your anger will fizzle out almost instantly. You may even find a new, valuable relationship.
It is much easier to get angry at someone on the Internet as there is no face-to-face contact. If that person said the same infuriating comment in person, your reaction may well be different. ↩
The implicit third option is to follow your emotions and “engage the rage”, but since these suggestions imply you are trying to overcome rage, I left it out. ↩
We commonly think of temptation having the upper hand when people are down, weak, and fragile. In this state our emotions seem more powerful than the muscle of our conscience and willpower thus making us more vulnerable to the temptation of making regrettable mistakes, or giving up whatever work we are doing.
A mentor of mine once told me that there is another state of mind in which temptation can easily usurp us: when we’re strong. This may sound like a paradox, but you’ve heard it before. It’s the classic hare and tortoise fable. Get too far ahead and you become lazy.
I’ve been going to the gym recently, in an attempt to complement my relatively inactive lifestyle. One week I went to the gym several times, each for a substnatial workout. Felt pretty good about myself too. Can you guess what happened the next week? I didn’t go at all. I succumbed to laziness because I felt like I had achieved a lot the previous week.
Another example. I was working last year on an app for myself. Since this was a side project, the time I spent working on it were irregular and squeezed between the rest of my daily schedule. Some weeks I worked on it consistenly, others not at all. The same scenario was at play as the gym example: after a week of solid investment in the app, the subsequent week (or two, or more) was lazy at best.
It’s also not just in human lives we can see this dynamic. In business strategy, there’s this concept of leapfrogging, in which a new entrant to a market overtakes the incumbent leader in market share. One of the main reasons the incumbent fails to maintain their position is essentially arrogance. They becoming too comfortable with their success and ignorantly dismiss the new entrant as a threat based on their current position. Rather than give an example of a company who fell to this sword, I’ll do the opposite. IBM is a company who dominated hardware in the 1980s, largely thorugh an (initially) exclusive agreement with Microsoft. They were able to carry this success forward in the 90s as well, even after they lost exclusivity with Redmond. Toward the end of the 90s, however, they realised that the future of the hardware industry would not remain the cash cow it had been for two decades. So they sold off their consumer hardware business to Lenovo to become primarily a software and consultingbusiness.
What’s the solution? “Don’t hold on to your achievements” comes to mind. “Slow and steady wins the race” is another. But as all wisdom it’s easier said than done and most of the time we know the right thing to do already. We just choose to do otherwise in the moment.
So choose differently.
I get how companies like StackMob are trying to make it easier for developers to get their apps up and running quickly and take a lot of the hassle out of setting up boilerplate services. I’ve played around with StackMob and the tools certainly seem helpful and easy to use. Wholistically, I think they’re doing a good thing.
The disappointing side of the rise of these kind of services is that new developers may be tempted to opt in for a vendor like StackMob to provide an API endpoint rather than face the challenges and thought-processes involved in writing it themselves.
Writing a core service yourself gives you fine-grain control over your business logic. StackMob does let you upload custom code, a feature I admittedly haven’t tried yet, but the concept seems clumsy (you have to JAR up your code then upload it).
Further, needless to say, you learn a lot when you do something yourself. You don’t just gain mastery over the technical steps involved, you can also achieve big conceptual milestones when you need to deeply think about a problem on your own. There’s a big difference between hearing someone tell you that HTTP is a stateless protocol and learning what that actually means.
In doing something like setting up a REST endpoint you will probably reach the same ultimate destination as the current best-practice thought, simply because you will make mistakes that teach you why these patterns are considered best practice. More power to you.
At the end of the day, think of it this way: which would a potential employer value more: your familiarity with a vendor SDK or some lessons learned from the school of hard knocks?