When understanding only comes from the outside

I had a thought in the shower this morning.

It’s this: there are some things that you can only understand when you’ve looked at them from the outside. By outside I mean from a perspective that is different to the one when you’re in it.

Take social media. I was in Twitter right from the off, a crack-style addict for many years. I’d sucked on other socialz, done them all, maaaaan, but Twitter was it for me for many years. And then I had a bit of a run-in with someone and had a bit of a revelation: this place wasn’t nice any more, it wasn’t even vaguely fun any more, and I had an issue with my relationship with it. So I gave it up for a bit, and then a bit longer (I’d had previous givings-up but had always come back..) and then after a couple of years I just deleted my profile and…what a relief. I couldn’t be happier that that shit isn’t in my head any more.

Same with Instagram. Same (long time ago) with Faceplant. Oh, and WhatsApp.

From out here in my life, where there isn’t much social media in sight, in there looks like a terrible clusterfuck. There’s a loony running it, loonies wanting to hold each other to ransom over the tiniest little slip, other loonies demanding free speech for all and some insane wokies being insane and woke and calling everyone who disagrees with them “Nazis” or “Fascists”.

But – ask pretty much everyone what they’d do without Twitter / Insta / Facebook and they look at you funny, like you’d just suggested they hand over one of their limbs. Without being outside it, the outside looks insane.

Or – another example:

When we lived in London, we could see no way that anything existed outside of London. Salaries looked appalling. There was no way on earth that we’d be able to afford it – how on earth could anyone live on £X-20% of £X?? How could we survive without all those galleries and buses and tubes and STUFF?

…and then we left London and, yup, life works, and it works better than it ever did when we were there. We’re not broke, there’s no buses and very few galleries but hey, it’s ok, it’s alright, things work out.

Or – understanding audiences and user testing:

This has been happening to me for the 20+ years I’ve worked with museums and galleries but it’d be the same with any segment / audience / niche: you have to step outside your (museum) domain in order to see that words like “gallery” and “collection” and “curate” and “exhibition” mean either nothing or very different things to people from a non-domain angle. This is at the heart of any user testing – it’s pretty useful being an expert at a thing at some points in any project but to really understand how people respond to it, you’ve got to step outside and try and be them rather than being you.

Or – freelancing: from the apparent comfort and safety of being employed, it looks crazy scary being beholden to the inevitable “boom and bust” of freelance life. But then you come out here to where the self-employed are – and things look very different, very much less scary and very much more flexible.

There are many parallels to be drawn here, some with Buddhism (the merging / loss of “self” – ie “what does it actually mean to be me vs being you, and is there really a difference…?) or maybe even with notions around beginner’s mind, coming at something from an angle that is innocent and free from prejudice, even if that prejudice is “informed prejudice” which has roots in knowledge and domain experience.

Taking a step away from what you know, sometimes over a threshold of fear, is quite often the only way you can begin to understand what that thing actually is in its entirety – but it’s quite rare – often because of this fear – to even consider a move in that direction. Sometimes, of course, it’s a terrible mistake (not everyone is comfortable living a freelance life, and I wouldn’t even suggest that everyone would be happier not being on the socialz) – but if you don’t try, you’ll never know…