David Chartier on Shit work and technocentrism


Zach Holman:

The problem with shit work is that no one likes doing it, but an awful lot of people say they do.

I disagree with almost everything in this piece. It’s based entirely on one core assumption that is wrong in so many ways, I told Siri to set a timer for how long I can take to respond to this.

Holman hates managing Twitter lists, Google+ circles, email folders, and task priorities, and leans on a couple anecdotes and process-alergic indie contractor Merlin Mann to argue that no one actually gets any value out of doing these things. That’s fine for the people who don’t really get these things, or those who don’t work in an environment where they are ever necessary. But a lot of people do get value from these processes in a variety of ways, from simple entertainment, to maintaining privacy while sharing online (which Holman shrugs off), to staying on top of crazy work schedules and informed on current events. Aside from the inevitable edge case examples, developers aren’t spending all this time on features no one asked for.

One of Holman’s punching bags is Twitter lists. He doesn’t like them, doesn’t see the point, and doesn’t know anyone who thinks otherwise. I love and increasingly use Twitter lists, and I personally know a bunch of people who do as well. Stepping beyond my single anecdote, though, you don’t have to spend much time to find plenty of others who do as well. I also found great Twitter clients that do good things with lists and make them easy to use, and isn’t that half the challenge almost any work imaginable? If your tools suck, doing the work will likely suck.

I don’t need to trudge through every one of Holman’s “shit work” examples for you to get the picture. Just because you or like Merlin Mann doesn’t get or like a process doesn’t mean there’s no value in it, or that it’s “shit work.” Plus, leaning on a couple anecdotes to judge the big picture is just plain lazy. Writing these processes off because you don’t get them or don’t work in an environment where they can be useful is arrogant and ethnocentric.

I read the post by Mr. Holman and I came to a similar conclusion. If Mr. Holman doesn’t like those tools, fine, but writing them off because of it, is self-centered punditry that we can do without.
It’s black-and-white thinking of the highest (lowest?) order: “If a tools isn’t perfect from the get-go, the way I want it, it is shit altogether and nobody should even try to make it useful for them!”

To be clear: I don’t cherish the fact that I sometimes have to sit down and sort people into Twitter or Facebook lists. But the 15 minutes I spend doing this increase the value of both tools immensly for me. Same goes for RSS feeds; fairly regularly I weed through them, checking which ones are still worth reading and which aren’t.

Here are two examples:

  • Twitter lists: While I don’t follow many people, I have a few key lists set-up. One of those is a list of friends and people whose opinion I value. Using this list in Tweetbot, I can quickly catch-up on recent happenings and discussions when I don’t want to go through 10 hours of my timeline.
    Mr. Holman might object by saying that this isn’t the way to use Twitter. Who in their right mind will spend time reading tweets so far back? Well, I sometimes do.
  • Facebook’s new subscription feature: This is one of the most welcome additions to the service for me so far, because it allows me to select whose updates appear in my timeline. There’s a number of people I am friends with on Facebook, that I simply keep there to have a means of getting into contact without giving them my email address, but I don’t need to see every update of.

Alex Hoffmann @mangochutney