Rethinking knowledge
The day you discovered teachers could be wrong
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When you’re a kid you basically believe anything everyone says to you, you’re gullible. The reason for this is that you don’t have anything to validate these “so-called-facts” against. Probably because you don’t understand the concept of fact checking or source criticism. Which makes sense, you’re a kid and haven’t walked the earth for a long time, which means you don’t have much experience of anything. It’s proven that the human brain can process a very wide range of information through our senses, and most of this information comes from communicating with other people. At a young age you don’t communicate a lot outside your closest friends and family. If an adult says something, you believe it. Especially when it comes to teachers. You learn that you go to school to learn things, and the teachers are there to teach you things. But hopefully the day will come when you realise that your teachers are not almighty gods that have the correct answer to everything. Correct is important to emphasise here, because they might have an answer, but is it the “absolute truth”?

It’s like a when a child loses their milk teeth, at first it’s uncomfortable and new, but give it some time and something useful might come out of it. Like Donald Norman always says, you gather knowledge from the world and start to make sense of it. So when that day comes when you realise that teachers don’t know everything about everything, it’s like you suddenly discovered another part of your brain, it’s like when Columbus “discovered” the continent of North America (you find something which has been there all along, and discovered by thousands of people before you, but to you and some other believers it feels new).

And the definition of facts? Let’s make it simple and say it’s something that has been proven under controlled circumstances. So when I began realising that my teachers did not possess the ability to gather all the world’s facts I started to doubt, not only my teachers but also almost everyone and everything around me.

Find the balance of when to be a smartass

You have to find balance. You can’t question everything and everyone, but you should always be curious about where the fact comes from (especially now, when fact checking is key to a functional “society”, yes/no?). I think I’m still quite annoying when it comes to this, but I also think this pushes me to questioning things I do in my work in a quite healthy way. Relating this back to my work, I love processes and methods, but you have to ask yourself if a specific method is actually what is best for the project, and if this specific method actually is going to solve your problem. Even if you’re using a well known method, it might actually not suit your project the best. Don’t be afraid to explore and tweak methods for your benefit. To quote Löwgren and Stolterman from the book Design av informationsteknik “a method can’t be without criticism, it needs to adapt from project to project”. Find the balance between when you actually need to question something for the benefit of the result for your project.

“A method can’t be without criticism, it needs to adapt from project to project.”
/ Löwgren and Stolterman

Don’t get fooled – you might lose your mother

It is quite hard to find balance when it comes to “time spent with learning a program and the result it can bring”. It has everything to do with “balancing investment and result”. It can be compared with the investment that you put into interacting with a digital artefact and the outcome of it. The idea sprung from the article Anatomy of Failure by William Graver (narrowing and widening information). For instance, an application made to help you with your finances require a lot of data, and the data needs to be accurate in order to stop you from filing for bankruptcy. The effort you put into something needs to match the outcome, otherwise it will feel like a waste of time, and also the outcome will not be valid if the input isn’t. Easily put, “shit goes in, shit comes out”. Here’s an example:

  1. First you have to download the app, which means you have to delete something else because you’re stuck with an old phone with 16GB storage (f**k that), so you have to delete all the screen dumps of cute cats, awesome selfies, and the ones of your family.
  2. After that you have to allow the app to dig deep down into your darkest secrets, your private finances, (studies shows that talking about your private economy is more shameful than talking about STD’s, in Sweden).
  3. Then you have to set up budgets, saving plans and other time consuming stuff.

The outcome of this will be that you now have deleted the images of you and your beloved mother and ended up with an application with a bad interface telling you things you already knew (that you can’t even afford a new pair of socks). And you have to update your budgets like once every month, so f*ck this you say, and you delete the application.

Don’t trust it to work before you have tried it

That is the wickedly stupid balance that many tech products and services have. Balancing when you should question, is just as important as balancing the time invested for users interacting with a product/service. Things are not carved in stone, so don’t blindly trust your teachers. But at the same time don’t forget to be humble, listen, learn and then sometimes even do the opposite. If it goes wrong, tweak it and do it again, you’ve might have learnt something.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
/ Thomas Edison