Where does the heap begin?
As a hole-all-over specialist, I sometimes wonder — when to stop?
Is excessive attention to grammatical correctness hypersensitivity, being a “grammar Nazi?” If the other side of the conversation understood the message, why bother with the details? Maybe these are truly “unnecessary”? Since it’s more or less clear what someone means when they say “we was,” is there any point in suggesting they should say “we were”?
Errors in punctuation, pronunciation, and syntax — is this “nit-fucking-picking” or “attention to detail”? Or is it a sense of superiority lined with snobbery, hidden so deep that it is hard to admit even to oneself?
Or, finally, are these purely academic discussions that nobody cares about, because we all got shit to do and don’t have the time to worry about whether to say “who” or “whom”?
Where is the finish line? Where to put on the fucking breaks?
Where does the heap start?
The same holds true in the fields I’ve been professionally involved with for decades — technology and design. I think about where this constant under-design, never-ending under-delivery, and pushing the boundaries of the concept of something being “good enough” comes from? And why does it ultimately result in a decline in the quality of everything and everywhere? Where does “it’s a little uneven” end and “I don’t give a fuck” begin? Is creating the MVP (minimum viable product) more harmful than helpful, setting the performance tolerance slider ever closer to the “whatever” value?
Noticing that something doesn’t work as it should; that a process doesn’t make sense; that something is ugly, crooked, or impractical — also in the context of one’s own work — is this striving for perfectionism? In small doses this can be digestible and sometimes helpful, maybe even justified, while in excess it becomes a distractor, a destructive force paralyzing further development.
If the devil is in the details, then by neglecting more and more of those details, aren’t we helping that devil of mediocrity, poor workmanship, and sloppiness to take over more and more of our space and attention?
Writing some time ago an article about how the world needs average designers, I posited a thought that not everyone needs projects on a high level of quality, unique and revolutionary in their class; that not everyone was born with a talent and sense of aesthetics allowing them to create world-class projects right off the bat. The vast majority of the designers I know started from things that were (to put it mildly) weak, and the development from scratch is usually a long-term process in which everyone goes through their different stages of “looks like shit”.
Now I wonder, though, if the cultivation of mediocrity is not a one-way street leading towards lowering the bar even further.
I’m not saying everyone below some arbitrary level should not be allowed to function in public (after all, who would enforce such a thing). But if we agree to co-exist with “bad design”, we only have ourselves to blame for the poor quality of communication reaching us, and creative director of every advertising agency out there for patting each other on the back, under the semblance of innovation and “unconventional approach” to promote poor and miserable projects, while giving themselves praise and awards left and right.
As with everything in this world, it would probably be best to find the golden mean, the point of balance between the extremes of perfectionism on the one hand, and I-don’t-care-izm or I-don’t-give-a-fuck-izm on the other. On the third hand, as Mark Manson has interestingly observed, we are all basically average at most things. The trick, though, is to find liberation from the fear of being average and focus on finding the things that are important to us instead of the things we are “reasonably cool” at.
Searching for the end of the pile of mediocrity and the moment when it stops being a pile of weak anything and starts being valuable something doesn’t keep me awake at night (other things do, though). Nevertheless, it seems to be a problem worth paying attention to. In times when we question values infused by previous generations — the need to chase happiness filled only with possessions, forced by the need to develop the market and multiply capital; When we critically look at the definitions of love, relationships, gender, or humanity as such; When we increasingly look for our own terms to describe the happiness we want to experience.
When do we recognize that we have reached a watershed moment when our inner pile of “average” shakes out, and we start adding to the pile of “good”?
When is the moment when there is no longer “a little” and there is “a lot”? At what point we achieve a critical mass that initiates change? When is the reaction to a situation (correcting a linguistic error) just that (correcting an error), and when does it become “nitpicking over irrelevant details”?
Or is it, once again, looking for a hole all over that I specialize in with pretty good results? Is the imposition of social mechanisms and mental shortcuts together with the collective consciousness allowing us to overcome communication deficiencies just enough to convey the meaning without focusing on details? But is it semantic snobbery to pick on when someone uses the word “functionality” in the context of “function”?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, I’m still looking for them. It’s also possible that I will never find any valuable answer. This is one of those adventures in life whose sole purpose will be to satisfy my curiosity. And that curiosity and the search for knowledge have over the years become my modus operandi, which I’m not going to give up just because every answer leads to another set of questions.
One who asks, only has more questions?