Looking for a place where I can hear your thinking.
Sometimes when I get on the phone with a friend and they share a significant development around job, health, or family, I’ll say “hmm, gotta go through your story and tweets again. I must have missed that. ”
That typically results in an audible chuckle from them. We both know in 2019 there is no way they will have felt comfortable in making that part of their life accessible to a larger group of people via an app on their phone. Today it feels like no matter how much someone could use twitter or IG or snap, you are still going to be in for a real surprise when you begin talking with them on the phone or at the coffee shop.
The significant developments of our lives (new job, emerging relationship, relocation to a new city) are important. But given their rare occurrence, they play a smaller role than we think in our mental, physical, and emotional energy. It’s the the week-to-week rollercoaster of learning, failing, experimenting, and thinking in all aspects of our lives that is the real pulse of life.
If the richness of our own life experience is represented by an iceberg, it feels as if though today’s social networks only scratch at the very surface of what really matters.
I think we all know the jig is up. It has just taken us a few years to truly accept it or at least be open to the idea that consuming each other’s story isn’t really moving the needle on bringing us closer.
A dozen social and interest-based networks can give the people around you a sense of your life. These networks make different parts of daily life accessible to a range of audiences. Sometimes this is done via an explicit share [hold+record…tap, tap, tap →post] or passive awareness [w/ background GPS we can place you at this location].
When and where did you burn 450 calories this morning? What bar are you at last night? Where are you currently living your best life? What new announcement does your company have? Who did you just hang out with? What meme did you find really funny?
Those small slices of daily life are all nice and good. They really are. I’m glad we have them as it builds a, albeit hazy, picture of what friends, family, and modern friends are up to. But the real question in my mind is, what are they each thinking?
What. are. they. really. thinking. The black box of our lives right now.
There are now (positive) cultural and network norms around sharing thoughts on a loss of a loved one, a ten year transformation, an anniversary, a friend’s birthday, a new job, or even being laid off. But again, those events are all far and in few between.
What are they thinking? Something I can’t consistently be aware of for the people I care about.
We typically learn about what’s on their mind by talking remotely or in the same place. We don’t rush to a social network or platform. We don’t rush to see their profile or timeline because we know that will yield little.We go to a physical space and co-exist to listen. We go to a digital space and listen while we play together. We become an outlet on the phone.
Coffee, ketchup calls, long meandering walks, and shared activities are the tools we have today. No thumb tap on my phone serves as an adequate substitute.
The community and network that help us hear each other’s thinking will have to be specifically designed for it. It’s brand, copy, canvas, and focus will be on making this part of our world accessible. Sharing permissions, cadence and format will be bold and opinionated.
It will slowly eat at our reliance of physical space to get the down-low. We won’t be completely in the dark before picking up the phone to hear more and lend our support. A friend moving across the country won’t be a deathblow to the relationship.
If and when this exists I just be able to stop having to ask…
So what’s really on your mind?
— Something’s There ;)
What about group chats?
Group chats certainly allow for the expression of one’s thinking with others. They can be magical places to share jokes, concerns, stories, and updates with those we trust. However, I think this is more a case of accommodation rather than intended design. Group chat is simply a series of free pipes distributed via an app for you to send images and text through. ‘You’ as a group get to decide what is ok, normal, and expected to be shared. Rarely is it ever an explicit “decision”.
That places a large burden on one or many individuals to have to outright determine or influence over time what is ‘fair game’ to make accessible there. When you download discord, imessage, whatsapp, groupme, or slack, the only understanding is that you use it to talk with friends or co-workers. But what do you talk about when there is a blinking cursor in a white text box? It’s a blank slate for the most part (gaming and work collab aside). They are not marketed or designed with a particular slice of life in mind. You may just make accessible what you’ve always made accessible or what seems easy and convenient.