Interview With Diego Petrucci of Il Mac Minimalista (Part 1)

This is the first of several part of an interview by Diego of the wonderful Italian website, Il Mac Minimalista. Conducted originally in English, it will be translated into a far more beautiful language for the readers on his site (here’s the Italian version). I wanted to make sure to share it with you as well. It is, by far, one of the best email exchanges I have had in a very long time. I plan to share the reasons why in a future post at my personal site because there are lessons to be learned from it, the main one being is the idea that just because we can communicate at light speed does not mean we always should. The best part… It’s not over yet. Look for Part 2 sometime in the future.

When did the idea of creating Minimal Mac come up and why? I mean, is there a real need of reducing, using less, in this era of abundance?

It actually came with very little forethought and practically full formed. I describe what happened in great detail here: The 24 Hour Idea

I think it was driven by a desire to join the ideals of buddhism and minimalism that I have long subscribed to and my ideal approach towards technology – specifically Apple products, since that is what I use. I think this idea immediately resonated with others who, in this time of seemingly limitless technology, massive storage, and ubiquitous connectivity, were feeling as overwhelmed by it all as I was.

I wanted to create a place where I could curate both my original ideas on the subject, and include others images, software, hardware, and examples, all exploring the theme of “enough” and what that means today in the area of technology.

Many “geeks” (including myself) have serious problems handling the enormous number of incoming notifications, where by notifications I mean stuff like facebook notifications, incoming emails & calls, updated feeds, and so on. What’s your advice to them?

I think the first piece of advice is for people to realize that they make the choice on how many “inboxes” to have to a large extent. I think if you make your intentions on how to deal with these well known, up front, people then know what to expect.

I’m old enough to remember a time before email, before voicemail, before answering machines. When someone called you on a telephone, and you were not available, the responsibility was on the caller to try again, not you, the receiver. There was no way to know if you missed a call.

Technology has changed this behavior and the expectation. The responsibility is now placed on the receiver and not the sender. Therefore, it is up to us to make known how we plan to meet that expectation.

For example, in my last job, I let all of my coworkers know that I only looked at and responded to email twice a day for 1 hour. Once in the morning at 9am and then again at 4pm. Also, I set the email to manual checking so that, what I retrieved at those times was all I was going to see for an hour. If someone sent me an email at 4:15pm, I would not see it until 9am the next morning. It took a short time but, eventually, my coworkers learned that if it was something that required my immediate attention, the last thing they should do is send me an email. They called for urgent matters and questions instead and I had less email to deal with.

If you let people know what the expectations are and offer alternatives, everyone will be happier. I let people know how much I hate Facebook, rarely use it and only keep it for friends that use it to send invites to important events. Therefore, it is not an “inbox” one should contact me through for anything other than that.

This said, I do think it is rather sad that we live in a world where we have to “train” others about how we wish to interact. There was a more simple time.

For example, do you have tons of feeds that only a part of them is daily read or you just keep the numbers low? Do you think solutions like Fever (the feedreader) are worth? I mean, the idea that it gives is that we aren’t able to handle the “incomings” and we have to be helped by a software. Is that the sad truth?

I have a writeup on how I manage as many feeds as I do here: My RSS System

That said, I think it is important here to realize that we are better editors of our own capabilities than any software could ever be. We simply need to assume that responsibility. I consider keeping my eye on a wealth of incoming information part of my role and responsibility as a Curator. The very idea of the term is someone who looks at a lot and knows which things are important and representative of the theme and, perhaps more importantly, which to say “no” to. I am able to have a ton of RSS subscriptions because I know which ones are truly valuable and which ones I can safely ignore.

I think we owe it to ourselves to do this with most everything in our lives. Find your limits. Find your loves. Respect each deeply.

Great Expectations

Meet Joseph Zimmerman.

Meet Joe

You may not know who he is by name but, what he invented changed the very fundamentals we hold at the center of our modern communications. He likely did not understand the gravity of his invention at the time. He likely saw it as the first successful implementation in a long series of attempts by many others before him to create a device that would be a boon to businesses everywhere, help their customers, and perhaps save them some money. Little did he know that at the heart of what he invented was a ground breaking paradigm shift. Something that would shift responsibilities and expectations we hold for others in basic ways. So, what was this device?

The answering machine.

That right. Humble on it’s simple mission, yet so very subversive. You see, before Mr. Zimmerman’s device, when someone called you on a telephone, and you were not available, the responsibility was on the caller to try again, not you, the receiver. There was no way to know if you missed a call. To businesses, lost calls meant lost customers. Therefore, operators and secretaries were often hired to take these calls, take down a message, and deliver it to the right person. To an individual, a missed call was simply that and no one but the caller held any responsibility for action.

The answering machine was welcomed by businesses and, by the time I was in my early teens, existed in many homes. If we called and left a message, we expected a return call. It alleviated much of our own responsibility for further action and replaced it with expectations we then placed on the recipient. For instance, expectations of a timely followup that are not agreed upon, are largely based upon what the person leaving the message feels is such, yet can only be the responsibility of those on the receiving end.

Of course, such responsibility shifts have multiplied further with the advent of email, voicemail, mobile phones, etc. Now, not only do we expect a response but we, more often than not, expect it in a time frame we have wrongly set for others. Without negotiation. Without agreement. A time that is generally and largely based upon our own response time and the expectations we place on ourselves. We, in general, mistakenly assume that everyone else is just like us. Therefore, if one is the sort of person who is always connected and reads and responds to email in minutes, we wrongly expect that everyone else is, or should be, doing the same.

But how do we counter this expectation? One way is to negotiate and set reasonable expectations for others. For example, in my last job, I let all of my coworkers know that I only looked at and responded to email twice a day for 1 hour. Once in the morning at 9am and then again at 4pm. Also, I set the email to manual checking so that, what I retrieved at those times was all I was going to see for an hour. If someone sent me an email at 4:15pm, I would not see it until 9am the next morning. It was the sort of job that took me away from my desk and the ability to check email easily so this agreement met with little resistance. It took a short time but, eventually, my coworkers learned that if it was something that required my immediate attention, the last thing they should do is send me an email. They called me on my mobile phone for urgent matters and questions instead and I, in turn, had less email to deal with and therefore could handle it in the allotted time frame.

While this may sound reasonable enough to do in a work environment, where one can address many people at once, in order for this to really work for everyone we communicate with is to have dozens of these little negotiations and agreements about how we handle all of our communications. Frankly, that is somewhat unreasonable. Must we help others with adjusting expectations on a near case by case basis? I mean, seriously, how does that scale?

Perhaps, instead, we should simply and collectively adjust our expectations of others. Perhaps we should all accept the responsibility that we are so easily and readily inclined to shirk upon others. And, maybe, just maybe, we should realize how valuable time itself is. How little of it we all have. Conversely, take the time to communicate to those important to you what they should reasonably expect. Maybe put it in your voicemail greeting or email signature. Replacing expectation and responsibility with compassion and understanding on all sides will reduce the stress of not knowing.

I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions. I simply have observations and the same struggles keeping up with the great expectations increasingly placed upon us all.

home/ books/ newsletter/ dash/plus/ archives/ info/ rss