The Cost of Timestamps

Growing up, I loved getting mail. I recall waiting for the mailman on days when I was home. How much mail does a pre-teen get anyway? Not a lot. Some postcards, a note from my aunt stationed in Germany. Eventually, college packets and other junk would arrive as I got older. Instant messaging had at least a modicum of friction because it existed in a world where most people at home weren’t always online. I recall putting up an away message or letting people know when I’d be back, so there wasn’t an expectation they were being ignored.

These days, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everyone wanting a second of your time in one form or another.

In her book, Alone Together, Shirley Turkle explores this modern conundrum.

“Texting offers just the right amount of access, just the right amount of control. She is a modern Goldilocks: for her, texting puts people not too close, not too far, but at just the right distance. The world is now full of modern Goldilockses, people who take comfort in being in touch with a lot of people whom they also keep at bay.”
― Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Nobody talks about the price of stamps as much as they used to, because we so rarely send personal letters. Postage matters when you care about Amazon sending you a flat rate package faster, but gone are the days of obsessing over the right amount of stamps for sending individual letters to your pen pal or friend across the pond who you haven’t called in weeks because it’s too expensive to do all of the time.

As marketers and product people, how often do we consider people’s time in our design? I’m not talking about page load times or the opaque “time on page” metric in Google Analytics. I once joked on Twitter that app designers should make their apps with the idea that people are driving 60 mph reading whatever it is on the screen. It’s a horrifying thought at first, but how much are we considering the stress cases that are a lot more unique than our ideal personas would have us believe. Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher explore this in “Design For Real Life”:

“As you write your personas and scenarios, don’t drain the life from them: be raw, bringing in snippets of users’ anecdotes, language, and emotion wherever you can. Whoever picks these personas up down the line should feel as compelled to help them as you do.”

Designers need to ask better questions about our complicity in a world that makes people more anxious through tools aimed at making our lives better. It’s not only an exercise in self-control, it’s recognizing the unwitting ways that our desires for connection leave us tethered when we should be more present. It might sell fewer widgets, perhaps fewer people will check into your app more. But what about thinking aloud about being human in the ways that we construct and design for real people? So much of our design is created for an aggregated populace; we traffick in habits and trends rather than real experiences. This construct makes it easier to detach ourselves from the impact and outcomes of design decisions made in an open-office somewhere far from where regular people are using what we make.

As apps proliferate, we have to ask ourselves whether every intrusion is warranted. Instead of thinking of our product as the one solving problems others leave behind, we need to confront each interaction as an intrusion. Every time we ask someone to track what they did, when they did it and assume they meant it as a result, we’re creating an imprint that might trigger a domino effect that transforms their life — not always for the better.

Things Worth Reading (2/12/17)


Living with a parent most common young adult living arrangement (Pew)
For the first time in modern history, more young adults in the U.S. are living with parents than any other living arrangement.

Capturing James Baldwin’s Legacy on Screen (The New Yorker)
The documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro” is filling up screens all over the country. It’s an interesting look into the legacy of Baldwin from his own words and juxtaposed against the modern landscape of race in this country.

Toronto man found after 5 years, living in Brazil. (CBC)
Part of his journey to Brazil included periods of walking barefoot, but his family found him after losing touch and worked on finding him help for some struggles.

Joyous African Take The Rails, With China’s Help (NY Times)
China is investing billions in African countries, aimed at precious natural resource deals and creating more jobs for their own citizens. These extends to creating rail access in widespread parts of African countries that were previous inaccessible.

Sisterhood of the Skateboard (NYTimes)
A story I read earlier last year, but wanted to share for the audio edition of this newsletter, about a group of young girls who skateboard through Upper Manhattan and The Bronx.

The Blazer Experiment (99% Invisible)
From a podcast, 99% Invisible, this is a story about the Menlo Park Police department who in 1968 decided to experiment with putting officers in blazers rather than uniforms as a method to improve relations with local populace which was strained at the time.

Book: A Square Meal: The Culinary History of the Great Depression
Music: Priests – Nothing Feels Natural (LP)

Reflecting on a digital footprint

For the past week, I’ve been doing this thing where I read old posts. Not old posts on work things, but personal blog posts. Across the web, like a virtual office strewn with coffee ringed papers, I have content I’ve been saving for myself off and on. A lot of these breadcrumbs were not written deliberately for me to revisit, I simply wrote them at the time because it’s how I felt. I don’t do much of this anymore, because it seems passé to write longform blog posts ranting your feelings.

What’s been interesting about going back and revisiting the past, is the assurance I take from understanding my journey at the time and what was ahead of me. It feels like a long time ago and at the same time, it feels very recent. Thinking about that context, makes me start to realize that the next 4-5 years will look and perhaps feel very different than what life right now feels like.

It’s easy in the midst of frustrations, to feel like things are permanent. Getting a sense of perspective is especially difficult when you move a lot, because the people in your world only have a sense of your immediate life and not the roads you took to get where you are now. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of about mindfulness and arranging my life in ways to stay present with what’s happening now.

Going back and reading my archives has helped immensely, because it allows me a chance to reflect on thins that no one else would know. I can conjure memories of complexities and thinking aloud how I would get from whatever space I was in, to the next stage of my life. I can recall often feeling marooned and plain-old stuck. Reminding myself to be grateful for the progress and the process has been instructive.

1. Curbing my social media usage

The post-Trump world of Twitter is surely a mental drain. I just haven’t been as engaged to participate. Not only about politics, just about anything really. I can recall feeling like for a long time, the only true friends I had were living in other places and I’d use the web as an excuse to communicate with them since it didn’t feel like at times the people in my everyday life really “got” me. I realized over time, the problem wasn’t the people, it was me.

Cutting back my usage has been helpful, though I backslide. Instead of feeling like I need to post a photo everytime something happens, I’ll sometimes take a picture and record it later. I’m also more judicious about what I share. For a long time, I didn’t really have much to post about, so I think there was a long period of time where I felt really good to have things to share and would share EVERYTHING. I’m over it, now.

2. Please Remember Rule #6

Don’t take yourself so seriously.

3. Defining discipline for yourself

Maybe it’s the fact that I spent four years in the Air Force that makes me view the idea of “discipline” as something hard-faced, stoic and downright painful. In reflecting on my challenges with the notion of discipline, I’ve had to interpret my own notions of what discipline means for me and how to configure a life where discipline dictates the parameters of things I’ll do and won’t do. For instance, I’ve never been drunk. It’s not because I want a medal for it, I just can’t bring myself to drink anything to excess. That’d discipline, but I never thought of it that way before.

4. Being a contribution

Instead of spending days wondering precisely what will happen, I approach days with a question, “How Will I Be A Contribution Today?” I’ve long been mindful of contributing, I’d just never put it into those terms before.

Reflecting has brought me full circle with my past. I think there’s still a strong element of figuring out where the future leads and how to trudge that road. But knowing how you got where you are, has a lot of value for orienteering your way to the next port.

Stuff Worth Reading (2/7/2017)


It’s the February 7th edition of “Stuff Worth Reading” on the #Adulting podcast. I’m your host, Ron Bronson.

So in case you were under a rock for the last episode of the podcast, I announced a change to the format. We’re going to do narration of interesting articles worth reading. If you download the Casts app on iTunes or Android, it will actually link you to the articles listed in the story without you having to subscribe to the newsletter. How cool is that? Other podcast apps might do it, too. I just don’t use them.

You can subscribe to the newsletter version of this podcast episode at Tinyletter.

How to Fail for a Month, A Week or a Decade and Still Be Okay (The Hairpin
This is from 2013, but still had some good bits about the ways to deal with imposter syndrome without ever using that term.

8 Ways To Read More Books in 2017 (Harvard Business)
I read a lot and friends often ask me how I do it. This article dovetails a lot of my own homebrewed reading practices honed over the years.

The Curious Rise Of Secret Facebook Groups (Good)
An article from last August, talking about women in secret FB groups and how they feel safe interacting with people from all over, sharing common interests and bonds despite the bad rap Facebook gets for pretty much everything.

The Secret Taxonomy Behind IKEA Names (Quartz)
Super interesting story behind how IKEA products get their quirky names, for a non-so-quirky reason.

Maybe Just Don’t Drink Coffee (Eater)
This semi-serious screed on the joys and pains of java, made this tea drinker laugh a bit.

What I’ve Read Recently
The Art of Possibility – Rosamund & Ben Zander
At the risk of thinking I’m asking you to read self-help hokum, if you work in the creative industry you probably read this book when it dropped in 2001 or something. But I hadn’t read it in a really long time and appreciated its mantras around mindfulness. Seriously, it’s changing my entire approach to my year. (Though every day is a work-in-progress.) It’s a quick read, too.

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls In Schools – Monique Morris
Books like this can often parade in tropes that end up obscuring their message. Not so, for Dr. Monique Morris’ important work about the ways that public schools marginalize young African-American girls and stigmatize them from the minute they arrive. A lot of these things are structural, but it’s fascinating to think about the unwitting ways that systems are complicit in negatively impacting a wide swath of our population. She offers constructive ideas for moving forward, too. I know it’s not a breezy or fun summer read, but it’s important even if just to skim the stats she provides and the history/backstory too.

The Black Russian – Vladimir Alexandrov
Okay, so I didn’t read this recently. Still, it’s a historical work on Frederick Bruce Thomas, a real-life man who ought to be a movie character. He went from Mississippi, the son of former slaves to one of Russia AND Turkey’s most famous nightclub owners before the revolutions in both countries cost him his fortune. A well-researched book absolutely worth your time.

What I’m Listening To
The barista at my favorite coffeeshop here in Bloomington (Hopscotch Coffee) was listening to some Ghanian highlife music. I knew this because I got into the genre a few months ago. Anyway, he shared his Spotify playlist with me and now I’m sharing it with you. It’ll make your day instantly better, I promise.

I’m also still listening to too much shoegaze. Big surprise. 

Recipe of the Now
Sorry to my vegan followers… but I’ve been craving Hainanese Chicken & Rice since I first heard about it. I bet one of the restaurant here makes it, but I haven’t searched yet because I don’t want my first time to be disappointing. I could make it myself, but I prefer typically with authentic dishes to have them somewhere good first and then go home and make them. But seriously, it’s all anybody is tweeting about these days on my feed — at least among the people I know in bigger cities (probably west coast.)

Shifting Gears (On The Podcast)


I started the latest iteration of my podcast last year. After a few dozen episodes, I rebooted the idea last summer with a new premise. But in 2017, I think it’s time to do something closer to my interests and frankly, that does a better job of being informational rather than just ranting.

So I’m going to tentatively keep the same name of the podcast (though, if you had ideas for a new name and want to send them to me..there will be a prize.) but the new direction is going to be focused on recent articles from across the world I’ve read. I’ll also share a music recommendation or two and it’s me, so you know there will always be a surprise or two.

I feel like in the era of fake news and alternative facts, having a personally curated news report showing up from someone you (probably) trust, could be a boon. Plus, it’ll get me closer to my own roots. While I work in tech and strategy, I was an economics major and a liberal arts student who has done all sorts of things from lead policy for a non-profit in Wyoming to start a shoe brand. So I feel like giving you a glimpse of the world from my varied perspectives could be useful.

If you want to get the accompanying articles to each episode, you should subscribe to my already existing newsletter for this. I’ve been sending out a curated newsletter of interesting stories to people all over the world for over two years now and this podcast will just become a broader extension of that.

I’m excited about the new shift. You won’t have to resubscribe, you’ll stay subscribed even if the name changes. Stay tuned for the first episode coming early this week. And remember, if you have a naming idea, email me at ron [at] ronbronson [dot com] or find me on Twitter @ronbronson with your ideas.

Thanks for always being so supportive.

Doing your own year in review slidedeck

2016 was an interesting year for me.

It’s easy when you set goals, to lose sight of the things that went well to focus on the things you’d wish had gone better. I was talking to a friend about his own work and he mentioned doing an annual review that was just for his partner, because he’s independent. I think it’s a fascinating idea to assess your own work over the year — your successes, what didn’t go right — and develop a roadmap for the upcoming year. Even if it’s only internal (e.g. just for you), it can be a powerful way to focus yourself on the things you deemed important and to take stock of your successes.

Rather than overthink every thing you did, I spent time just highlighting big things that happened through the months. You can pick and choose — after all, it’s your review — but again, the goal at the end is to feel good about what you accomplished and if you didn’t do enough, taking stock on each month and how to be proactive in the new year.

Did you do an annual review of your year? Which ways to do you take stock of your work?

I’d share my template with you, but part of this exercise is about sharing what you’ve done internally and not feeling the need to itemize for the crowd. It’s less about showing off (though if you contact me offline, I’d probably send it to you…) and more about taking stock and re-assessing what the next steps are going to be.

Happy planning!


On writing & the new year

For a while, I’d worked into a solid routine with blogging. Part of the challenge now, is that it’s a lot easier to write on Twitter than it is to form an entire blog post about a topic. Last year, I wanted to increase my productivity on my newsletter and managed it. This year, I’m going old school and back to writing more on the blog. Not only about UX/Digital transformation or whatever, but also about the other things I care about or have a background in.

I’ve learned that being demure about things I’ve accomplished or even as I work out ideas hasn’t served me well. I do wish I had a regular editor for some things, especially on Medium, but I’m slowly working on developing a group of folks who write and read each other’s work. Anyway, I just want to do be a better job of being consistent here.

We have much to talk about in 2017.

On setting sail

Having lived in a lot of small places, I’ve seen a familiar blueprint. Communities across the country are littered with well-intentioned people adamant about “attracting investment” whatever the hell that means. This usually involves giving already rich people lots of tax breaks to trickle down jobs to plebes. The other thing these folks love to do, is build edifices that are supposed to be able to give people what they need to start a business. After all, the old model of businesses involved people having physical structures from which to make/sell/distribute their wares.

It’s almost 2017 and the landscape is different now. There are companies that do not have physical spaces, comprised of teams distributed around the globe proving themselves capable of developing and maintaining world-class products. Other firms inhabit spaces where a critical mass of talent converge to make cool things happen. I’ve lived in these spaces before and visited others. The thing that makes places like Boulder, Austin, Portland and Brooklyn cool has nothing to do with how many “tech parks” they have. It’s not even about the number of awesome bars, restaurants or shuffleboard bars that have cropped up. The difference is attitude.

People as they get older stay in places for a few reasons: perhaps they get a job, they partner with someone who doesn’t want to leave, they have family nearby and/or it’s a good place to raise kids. That’s about it. For people who have options, the choices are vast and the decisions are not much different than they were for people decades ago. You want to be someplace where cool things are happening. For this generation, many choose cities over the sameness of suburban life and that trend does not seem to abate.

So how do smaller cities — under 100k for this example — compete with bigger cities if they’re not a suburb of a larger one? Well, being unique helps. The other thing is giving young people the opportunity to compete at a level where a larger place not let them. You give them a seat at the table. The other thing you can do, is create a culture where standouts get utilized and a climate where contributors feel part of the puzzle. The hardest thing in any place — even when you have a partner — is making friends. People who have lots of family nearby never think about this, because their lives are preoccupied with the sorts of day-to-day things that having family around is comprised of. For people who make their family where they go, having a community where you can participate is vital and not in a superficial way.

When you have options, it gets harder to resist the siren sound of greater pastures. Even if the challenges are great, the annoyances more rampant, the opportunity to know you’re boxing in a higher weight class has value when you’re the sort of person who wants to know you’re actually challenging yourself, as opposed to settling for whatever you can get. At a certain point, it stops being worth it to remain moored to a port that’s too expensive to keep your boat and where you don’t feel like you’re truly welcome.