We’ve fixed the sky before, maybe we can fix it again.

In a year that’s been fairly full of grim weeks, learning that we have 12 years to completely reverse our use of carbon if we want to avoid boiling the sky in 2040 really put me off my beer.

So I’ve been throwing trash out of the window on the Interstate and started a tire fire in my back yard.

Because what else are you gonna do?

Well, I did learn a few weeks back that we actually solved the Hole in the Ozone problem that everyone was talking about back in the 90s.

Remember that? When the sky was broken? Those were also bleak times. The Ozone problem didn’t have the same kind of doomsday deadline that came with the UN climate report, but it sure seemed like a trouble.

Well it got fixed. We fixed it. We took CFCs out of hairspray, hair metal went out of style, and the problem solved itself.

Now, I don’t mean to criticize, and I don’t know who would be responsible for doing so, but I think SOMEONE could’ve let us know that we fixed it!

You know. Help us feel like we have a little momentum in not destroying the planet. It’s helpful to know that we can actually make things happen when we try to do so.

But no.

I had to hear about it, second-hand, from a podcast, like an animal.

Oh and apparently Newsweek tried to tell us in January. But we (I) didn’t hear them:

The hole in the ozone layer was first discovered in the 1980s. This layer of the atmosphere protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts, suppress immune systems and harm plants. Just two years after the hole was discovered, the world jumped quickly to solve the problem. Several nations signed the Montreal Protocol, which would ultimately ban CFCs, the chemicals responsible for destroying the ozone. Fast-forward decades later, and the ozone hole was measured at the smallest since 1988, NASA announced last November.

The good news is that we’ve had the political will and scientific knowhow to solve for environmental crises in the past. The bad news is that only climate change denying political party ON EARTH is in complete control of the US government.

So the big question is, what can we be doing in the meantime?

Flipping the Empath Switch

LInus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, is taking a sabbatical. The New Yorker wrote an article about it: 

On Sunday, the benevolent dictator announced that he would be stepping down temporarily, to “get some assistance on how to understand people’s emotions and respond appropriately.” Torvalds, who is forty-eight and lives with his family outside Portland, Oregon, made clear that he wasn’t burned out. “I very much do want to continue to do this project that I’ve been working on for almost three decades,” he wrote in a post to the Linux-kernel mailing list. “I need to take a break to get help on how to behave differently and fix some issues in my tooling and workflow.”

They pulled some examples of things he’s written in email to build the case of why it might be a good idea:

“Please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place,” he wrote in one.

I found out about this when one of my favorite people on the internet (who is only slightly on the internet anymore), Gabe at Macdrifter, wrote a blog post about it. 

I kept thinking “is it possible to take an empathy sabbatical?” Can we simply will ourselves to feel empathy? Can humans, through time and attention re-factor our sense of empathy? I don’t think we can.

It’s an interesting question. Especially given the Design Thinking Industrial Complex having turned empathy from a human trait into a business buzzword.

Being able to understand what other people are experiencing and feeling is something I try hard to instill in students at the Brandcenter. Not only for the people that they are researching, but also for the creative teams that they are working with. And for the clients/bosses for which they will eventually be working. It’s important to be able to do this. I like to think that it is something that can be learned.

Mark Fenske always talks about reading fiction as a way to build empathy. I hadn’t thought about it until he brought it up, but I think he’s right. Doing ethnographic research is something that helps people become more empathetic with the people they are trying to design for. Seeing how other people live, and talk with each other, and wrestle with problems and celebrate the joys of life, can be powerful.

I think you can become more empathic. I think you can become less empathetic. There’s a spectrum that we all move up and down. Probably on a daily or even hourly basis.

But if that spectrum is a volume knob, there might be a power switch that has to be ON in the first place. Sociopathy might be the OFF position.

And while I think you can learn to move up the spectrum, I have no idea whether it’s possible to learn how to flip the empath switch.

If it is possible, the first step is recognizing that you aren’t empathetic, that it’s a problem to not be empathetic, and to make the decision that you want to become more empathetic.

So, assuming that there’s not something else going on, and there’s no hidden or cynical reason for Linus to be doing and saying this, at least he’s giving it a shot.

Let’s Jabber About Jargon

A quote about jargon came through a UX newsletter today that got me thinking about jargon, how much I hate it, and that maybe, just maybe, there’s another side to the argument:

We can either use language to invite people into a conversation, or we can use language to keep people out. And that’s what jargon is designed to do, keep people out.”

— Dave Trott

In theory: yes.
In theory: I should never have to listen to someone tell me they’ll be out of pocket again.
In theory: I get what he’s saying. I buy it and believe it and do my best to keep bullshit filler-language from coming out of my talkin’ parts.

I hate it when people talk in jargon. It makes me cranky. Especially the business-veneer people use meetings.

“out of pocket” 
“circle back” 
“drop the ball” 

The intended subtext(s):
1. I am a professional meeting person.
2. I am a serious adult.

The received subtext(s):
1. Look at me! I’m a business!
2. I’m full of shit.
3. I don’t respect any of you enough to use honest language.

BUT!

The cold hard bitch of reality isn’t always on the side of what’s right and just.

Some businesses deal with complicated things that require shorthand jargon. Some businesses use it as a marker for professionalism. Some have an infestation of jargon and don’t know it because it’s in the very air they breath.

In a jargon-rich environment, knowing the code is essential to having the conversation in the first place. It communicates that someone is authentically a part of the organization. They know what they are doing. They speak the language. They are professionals.

Not using the code might lead to distrust. To say something using simple language might come across as naive or unprofessional. Or, just, weird.

If you’re from an agency, it might help to communicate that you’re not just some agency ding-a-ling wearing a beret … that you actually understand the client’s business.

It’s not fair. But being flexible enough to move back and forth, from the jargon to human-speak, will be helpful. You’ll likely have to act as a translator between actual humans and businesslings at some point. You’ll also be able to help them to untangle problems complications and misunderstandings that plague corporate cultures.

And over time, after you’ve won their hearts and jargon-filled minds, you can begin the process of walking them back from the precipice of business-talk hell. One day they’ll think you, with a crisply worded thank you card that is full of human feeling and meaning.