29 October 2004

On Being An Artist

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker yesterday.
Before I get to that though, here's some background:

  • I'm getting ready to leave the company I've been working at for the past 5 (almost 6) years, and move on

  • There is a major rollout underway currently which I have been heavily involved in, and which is in its infancy.

  • This project, if architected correctly could have a dramatic impact on the company, and completely change the way the business runs.

  • This company has had a pretty rough time of it for the past 3 years or so, and there was recently yet another wave of layoffs.

Bottom line is, at the moment, I'm the only one left of the folks that did the research and initial architecture for this project. So, now that you know all that, back to the conversation.

It went, at one point, something like this:

Me: I'm trying to explain why what we have is wrong, and let you know that I understand what the business is attempting to accomplish, but this needs to be redone before we can do anything.

Co-Worker: Well, you need to understand that I have to take everything you say with a grain of salt, because you're a short timer and on your way out the door. What you're saying may be right, or it may not, but I've got to question what you're saying, because why should you care ?

This was a very interesting question to me, and I've thought about it for the past day. As I've tossed it around in my head I came to realize two things, though I think they are actually the same, just twisted differently:

1. This person has not got any clue how I think.
2. Geeks and Managers will never understand each other.

After coming to those conclusions I realized why I cared.
I'll give you a hint: It isn't because it will help the company.

I care because it's the technically correct thing to do.

See, tech is an artform to me.
Since I have an artistic background, I actually consider it an extension of my talent; basically, 'geek' is another medium for me just like 'pen and ink', etc.

I want this done right because it's a source of personal pride.
My hand is involved in the architecture, so it had better be done right, because to do anything less is insulting to my craftsmanship and ability, not to mention a waste of my talent.

My coworker will never get that, because in his position there's not a burning passion to do things because doing it right is a thing of beauty. It's all about buzzwords, bottom lines, and 'strategic partnerships'.

At his level, it's all about who you know, and which people you do and don't piss off. Anything you need beyond that you get from skimming the headlines of trade mags.

That's why geeks and management don't understand each other.

It's the same reason that an advertising exec can't understand how an artist could spend tons of money on supplies so that they can go sit on a street in the middle of a city, and spend hours, or even days, creating a huge chalk mural which will be washed away in less than a week.

It's not about the money. (or in my case, the company and/or my loyalty to it).
It's about the art.

Maybe you already knew that, but I just figured it out

22 June 2004

Is It Just Me?

Time sucks.

Rather, the lack thereof does.
Actually, what I should say is, the “apparent” lack thereof.

We all complain about how little time we have, but I think we’re mistaken. I believe that when we say “I don’t have enough time”, we actually mean to say “I don’t have enough time to do what I want to do”, or “There’s never any time for me.”

At least, I do.

For me there simply is not enough time to do what I want. So, I’ve been wondering lately: why is that? And, is that a bad thing? I wonder if people a thousand years ago (or so) felt as though they didn't have enough time, or if it’s a relatively new social phenomenon?

As I considered those questions, I was surprised to find that the answers to them are fairly complex.

Let’s start with the problem. In this case, the issue is that I do not have enough time to do what I want to do. Note that I use the phrase "do what I want to do", and not "do what I need to do".

I've been thinking about that difference quite a bit lately.

I wonder if the "good old days" seem so much simpler to us because we have an impression of that time as one where folks simply did what they had to do, and not much more than that. We contrast that to our modern society, which has us all scrambling like rats trying to get a bunch of random crap out of the way, and it seems simpler.

At what point did we move from purposeful tasks, to scrambling?

Life a thousand years ago was certainly harder in some ways. Travel was slow and painful, and just getting the basic, life sustaining, tasks accomplished was a tedious, drawn out process. Certainly we have it better than that.

However, because it was so difficult, at the end of the day, you knew what you had accomplished. You knew it, because you had food to eat that night; You knew it, because the horses, or cattle, or chickens were in the barn, happily fed and falling asleep. (Everyone was a farmer back then, we all know that!)

You knew it, because there was freshly chopped wood to burn, that would help take the edge off the crisp autumn air. What’s more, you had time to appreciate things like the crisp autumn air, and the warmth of a nice fire back then.

That’s because life wasn't about "where do I need to be after I leave this place I’m at now; and when can I get out of here anyway?” the way it is now.

Life was hard, but because it was hard, I think folks cared more about it.

I think there's something satisfying in toiling for the things we need that is missing from our society today. I think our comfort has caused us to lose our sense of purpose. And I think because we have lost that, we are doomed to be miserable.

I also think that because we don’t really have to think too much about how we are going to live, we become more concerned with what we want, and miss out on taking joy in having our basic needs met.

Often, we choose instead to view doing those things we really need to do (getting food, keeping our living spaces clean, etc.) as a burden.

Why do we see them as a burden?
Because they prevent us from fulfilling our wants of course.
This is a mistake I think, but we do it anyway, and I’m no different.

Think about what you do for a living.

I work in an office. At the end of the day, do I know what I’ve accomplished?
Not really.

I know I put in my time, so I’ll get a paycheck at some point. And I know that I will be able to go to the store and buy some food because of that. That is how society works today (in the US anyway). I don't need to grow my own food, I just need to be able to buy it. And that’s fine, I certainly would rather buy my food, but what did I really do?

I think we (the people) are generally miserable, and I think the reason for that is simple: We get no satisfaction out of the things we're doing because we have no idea what we're really accomplishing by doing them.

Don't get me wrong here; I like what I do for a living.
I like it so much that I do it between 12 and 20 hours a day (depending on how shiny the new technology I’m playing with is.)

However, it is ultimately not satisfying.
Not in the “I worked hard, and here’s the results” way of the past.
Something inside me needs more than this.
Something inside all of us does, I think.

We're ignoring those promptings that are telling us we need more than a paycheck coming in to be content, and I think we're doing it to our peril. How long can a society that is unhappy exist before things start to break down?

I think we're going to find out fairly soon.

Then again, I could just be in a bad mood, because I don't have enough time to do what I really want to do...