Tech Life Understanding not want

The Shop I Want

Until recently, I’d never been to IKEA, mostly because of fear. I knew there would be things I wanted, but the IKEA reputation kept me away.

What I heard:

  • It’s huge
  • It’s a maze
  • You can’t get out in less than three hours
  • It’s full of people.

While I guess I need flat-pack design furniture at affordable prices, this is not the shop I want.

You know, Everything

Back when eBay was novel, I played a game with the family before a Thanksgiving dinner. As a means of introducing the idea of eBay to them, I asked each member to describe a thing they wanted that they believed would be hard to find. The sister wanted an antique printer’s box, the Mom was looking for a vintage lens, and the Dad, an electrical engineer, requested a now forgotten device that I will dub a hibblygizmo.

“Ok, so these are things you want that you believe would be hard to find, right?”

Collectively, “Yes”.

“And how would you go about finding them?”

Again, collectively, “No clue”.

I spent the next ten minutes confirming what I already knew. All of these items, however esoteric and including the hibblygizmo, were readily available as active auctions on eBay. I printed out each of the auctions and handed the paper to each member of my family, saying, “Happy Thanksgiving. You now live in a world where a shop exists that has everything.”

Unfortunately, this is also not the shop I want.

Regarding Abundance

The shop I want is owned by a person I know and respect. Inside of this shop are two button-up shirts, a pair of jeans, three pens, a desk, and a small white marble polar bear. Each of these items is picked out specifically for me, and more importantly, they are items that, given my own devices, I would never choose or possibly even discover for myself.

As I walk in this shop, the proprietor sees me and grins. “Rands, I have the perfect desk for you.”

“I don’t need a desk.”

“You need this desk. It’s vintage Stow Davis. It’s walnut with solid brass and wood handles. It’s the perfect size for your Cave.”

“I don’t need a desk.”

“Stow Davis. Founded in 1879. Did you know Frank Lloyd Wright commissioned them to produce furniture in the ’30s?”

This mythical person is not going to stop until I’ve purchased this desk because this person knows me and knows that this desk is perfect for me.

I Said, Everything

We’re in a world where you can find anything you want, which is great, except when you realize there’s a lot of everything. Google was created and thrives attempting to solve the everything problem for us. Google has made it wonderfully simple to find a thing, but just because you find a thing doesn’t mean you care about it. As you stare at a PageRanked list of stuff, you have a choice:

You can sit back and be force-fed the decisions and opinions of others. Many of the people who are making these decisions are not evil. They are well-paid, well-intentioned, bright people whose publicly traded companies have built astoundingly profitable businesses building and marketing things they want you to think you need.

These people think they know you because they’ve done the math. They believe you fall into the Stow Davis-inclined IKEA-fearing writer slash surfer demographic, and that’s a strong demographic. Knowing this demographic, they can answer the question: “How can we move 72,000 more of those things on this demographic? How are we going to give the impression the mundane is unique?”

Or…

You can have an opinion. It sounds like work, but it’s really not. An opinion is not the definitive view or judgement regarding a thing; it’s you staring at that desk and saying, “You know, I like the look and the feel of those brass handles. I also like the drawers that squeak just a bit when you open them. It speaks to the character of the whole desk.”

It’s not that I want a Stow Davis desk, it’s that I want to find that desk. I want to go to seven different antique shops and spend a weekend developing an opinion about the state of antique desks. I want to find someone who knows the entire history of Stow Davis desks and won’t fucking shut up about them.

Half the fun of having an opinion is the quest to find one, but the everything problem remains. You don’t have the time to have an opinion about everything, but someone has the time.

My Shaving Cream is Crap

It is. It’s waxy pumpkin-smelling crap and when I ran out, I thought, “Good riddance”. I am now faced with two problems: first, I need new shaving cream, and second, my instinct is to spend the entire goddamned weekend researching shaving cream in a compulsive quest for complete understanding of all there is to know about the shaving cream world.

While I want to have an opinion, I do not have time for this exquisite shaving cream expedition, but someone has already completed this quest and has an opinion I can trust. I just need to find them, so I do:

About Shaving Cream

An amazing thing happens when you ask for help, people respond. In their response, not only do you get their opinion, you also get brief glimpse into how they tick, and whether or not that ticking is aligned with yours. When I asked on Twitter for shaving cream help, not only did I learn more than I ever thought possible about wet shaving, shaving cream, straight razors, and a bevy of other shaving topics, I also found five more people to follow because in 140 simple characters, they told a story that reminded me that the best way to search the Internet is with someone you trust.

The Shop I Want is Full of Stories

The shop I want does not exist because this impossible shop is full of people spread across the planet. There’s Tasha who can explain anything about grammar. Scott can tell you anything about the Smashing Pumpkins and he also makes a Mac’n’Cheese for which I will fly across the United States to reverse engineer his recipe. Boris is in this shop and he’ll talk about scuba diving until I ask him to stop. I’ve collected each of these people and placed them in this impossible shop because, at some point in the past, we discover a common trait or idea that tied us together – we discovered that together we could explain the world to each other.

I don’t need flat furniture nor do I need a desk. I have enough pens and journals. My closet of full of shirts and while I still wonder what a hibblygizmo is, I’m certain I don’t need one. What I need is shop full of people with opinions — because it’s not what I know that I’m worried about, it’s what I don’t know that’s really interesting.

The shop I want is full of people who are dedicated to their opinion. Who are happier understanding a thing rather than wanting it. These people will happily tell the story of happened upon this opinion and I want to hear it because the opinion of someone I trust is just as valuable as my own.

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33 Responses

  1. The more I think about stuff like this and User Experience, the less satisfied I am as a consumer; and the more annoying I am to my wife.

    I probably shouldn’t have read this and related so much.

  2. This shop is becoming the internet in various facets, where reviews and recommendations are possible. Amazon “knows” our thoughts. Various movie engines recommend things. They aren’t human, but if you look at it more thinly, their recommendations are actually probably superior to those of our human counterparts, who don’t have complete information.

    It’s fun being told the exact thing that comes with not going into a store looking for something asymmetrical to that – but I think there’s something to “stuff” thinking and minimalism and stuff where we identify with knowing that “if I don’t think I need it, I don’t”.

    Your happiness isn’t lowered knowing you don’t have something until you are made aware of it. This applies to goals, life expectations, and more.

  3. I used to sell things. Appliances. I was a teenager. I didn’t like the job but I was able to do it reasonably well.

    One day, I discovered utter joy in my job: The Dyson DC14.

    It was unlike anything else sold in my department: Exceptionally, exquisitely good at its task. Its construction was at once practical yet attractive. Modern without even the barest sense of fragility. In a glance, there was no mistaking what this thing existed to do: it was a cleaning machine.

    The Dyson looked good because it worked well. Everything on it had a reason for existing, from the thoughtful one-button dirt-dumping bucket to the integrated extension cleaning wand. When you pushed this beast around the carpet it glided with an absurd grace that belied its weight.

    In a word: Delightful. I simply loved using it to clean up at the end of the shift.

    Selling it was so easy because I had an opinion: This was one of the finest achievements of human ingenuity. My enthusiasm for it was infectious. I wouldn’t — couldn’t — stop talking about it to anyone who so much as glanced in the direction of the vacuum aisle.

    Almost a decade later, I still miss selling that thing.

  4. As you already admitted, you’ve found your shop: Twitter. I’ll bet my lunch (usually 2.55€) that anything you ask opinions for on Twitter, you’ll get at least one that you’ll Notice. I congratulate and envy you.

    Me? I’m still Googling around for opinions. It’s been two weeks, and I still can’t tell whether a VW Golf Variant or Skoda Octavia Combi is a better buy.

  5. Your reblog of that guide to shaving – shortly after the aforequoted tweet – encouraged me to head over to my local fancy shaving store and try some stuff out. Already the best shaves of my life, and I’m sure I’m doing it with less-than-ideal tools and techniques.

  6. Yeah, but you are in essence a twitter celebrity. Although I’m quite proud of my carefully cultivated twitter crowd, I imagine that my list of followers pales in comparison to yours. How then does one build “the shop I want” without being the target of geekish affection worldwide?

    😉

  7. Marco Rogers 7 years ago

    At one point, I thought this is what facebook would turn into. That they would provide facilities for getting opinions about stuff from your friends.

    But the reason, IMO, that this never materialized on facebook and why it’s a very difficult problem is the typing problem. There is a large population of people with opinions who will never put them on the internet. Because either they don’t like typing, don’t want to take the time, or aren’t very good at it.

    Typing could also be read as “writing”. My girlfriend really wants to share her ideas about music and cooking. The things she loves. But whenever she sits down to the arduous task of formulating a coherent and interesting blog posts, the feeling dies. And the rest of us are left wanting.

  8. Alexis Christoforides 7 years ago

    What Mr. Martinez said. You have a lot of people who would love to make a good argument of their opinion because of your status. So it’s not really Twitter you’re using, it’s fame.

  9. Alex and Joel make good points – the currency you use to buy opinions with is your own opinions.

    Personally, I like the blogosphere more than the twittersphere – I can’t form an understanding of someone when they speak in haiku. (If you can, more power to you!)

    I’ll always have a soft spot for LiveJournal, where there’s community (like twitter) and depth (like blogging). If only I kept up to date with it like I used to 🙂

  10. Interesting article – it harkens to my desire to find stores/vendors who can truly tell me about a product (without resorting to quoted marketing-speak) and if it will satisfy my needs.

    While I don’t think it’s practical that every single customer needs to hear a complete breakdown of an item vis-a-vis their needs (some customers simply want to purchase something, and sometimes I’m just looking for a new gizmo!), it is refreshing to encounter an informed individual instead of the typical “big-box store with minimum wage sales ‘associate’ that barely has a clue” experience. (You’re called an ‘associate’? But you don’t know anything about the products, nor do you seem to care if I purchase something from you. I think you’re really a “clerk”, which is fine in certain situations if you’re doing a basic job or just biding your time until something better comes along).

    Recently we purchased several thousand dollars worth of hardwood flooring from a specialty store instead of going to one of the chain stores for a “deal”. While some salespeople at a couple of the chain stores were fairly informed, the specialty store has been very helpful and a source of great information – even when faced with people such as ourselves who were doing a first-time installation. We showed a willingness to purchase the right materials and tools, and listened to their advice (instead of countering with “well, the guy at Big Box Discount said I could get away with doing X”).

    Give me your opinion on the product’s strengths/weaknesses/suitability, don’t give me the standard “trying to close a deal to reach this month’s commission threshold” speak. Sadly, many companies think they need to operate like the latter case.

  11. seems like a stackoverflow for common life questions.

  12. El Jefe 7 years ago

    “seems like a stackoverflow for common life questions.”

    Sounds like Yahoo Answers… *shudders*

  13. anotherMike 7 years ago

    I know this sounds like a lame answer, and isn’t exactly what you’re asking for…

    …but amazon is the best shopping experience for me.

    Each item has a boatload of opinions.

    Each item has items other people bought instead. What people actually bought is sometimes stronger than an opinion.

    Each item has related items.

    You can search for something, then sort by review score.

    Ok, so it’s not trusted friends, but I’ve found that trusted friends usually don’t have strong enough opinions about just what I want. Meaning the car that my most trusted friend would buy isn’t the car I would buy by a longshot. Different people optimize for different things.

  14. I have been to this store you write about.

    Twitter is close (if you have a sufficiently large follower count), but the true name of the store is ask.metafilter.com. I originally heard about it on Keven Kelly’s Cool Tools blog.

    Good news, a lifetime membership is only five bucks.

    No interest, just a satisfied customer for nearly five years.

  15. What’s your point?

    People with opinions, particularly qualified opinions, are rare – and hence expensive because building those opinions takes a lot of time and effort. If you want to pay their price, I am sure you can find the advisors you are looking for.

    With the big and easy money apparently being in mass-market stuff, you’ll be a bit of an outlier then and probably want to give up being a patron of those mass-oriented businesses with unqualified staff. That may make things a bit more tricky when needing to get stuff on a day-to-day basis.

  16. Erick 7 years ago

    I also agree that you get more motivated opinions when you have 100,000 followers and are somewhat of a celeb, but there are effective ways to use twitter to get some response. Notably, the hash tags. I saw your original tweet didn’t take advantage of them, because you have a pool of followers who you deem vetted and trustworthy.

    BUT, for those of us with relatively few followers, we can tag certain words to engage others in the twitterverse who might be searching on twitter for like-minded people.

    Example: I was looking for good coffee in Chicago. There are far more places than I’ll ever actually go to and was somewhat bored with reading 100 yelp reviews of every place I could find, but simply by tweeting and including #Chicago #coffee, I had local, twitter savvy coffee shop owners engaging me for my patronage. And to tell the truth, I appreciate that and will probably in the near future check them out. On top of these direct ‘sales pitches’, I also got some trusted feedback from other friends that I will place on my list of places to visit. Works well enough for me and takes less time than researching the history of every mom and pop business in town.

  17. I can definitely relate to what you’re saying. Part of the trick isn’t just finding people with opinions, but people with useful opinions that know you well enough to know what is worth mentioning.

    Tweeting questions with hashes help, but without a familiar relationship, it only gets you half way there.

  18. Some call me Tim 7 years ago

    Sounds like Aardvark, a recent Google acquisition: http://blog.vark.com/

    As I write this, it’s down for maintenance, but in general it’s an awesome way to just “ask a question” of the world, and get answers from people who enjoy talking about the exact topic you’re asking about.

  19. I re-arrange my shop all the time to create my ideal shop – my google reader. This is the closest I get to the ideal shop you’re talking about. This only works with RSS world…

  20. With apologies to Warren Ellis – we are now all on each other’s Global Frequency. Just among my own friends, people I know, people I work with, I can find everything from German business protocol to guidelines on nonverbal communication recognition to native Hawaiian speakers to the woman at National Geographic who actually was the first to re-see the Afghan Girl. And thanks to the cunning use of cellphone, Twitter and the like, they’re everywhere, all the time.

  21. You nailed it when you said the shop you want is full of stories – because stories are created by people, not automated recommendation engines.

    Maybe Amazon “knows” our thoughts, as Ross Hudgens commented above, but people are still much better at selling, even if automated recommendations are superior. Human’s just aren’t rational in that way – we trust other people more than we trust algorithms.

    If you could get instant and relevant opinions by people you feel you can trust as a response to your every query, now that would be a Google-killer. Yahoo Answers is nowhere near that of course, and neither is Mahalo. The barrier to Twitter/Facebook delivering that right now is what some commenters here mentioned – that unless you’re a twitter celeb with lots and lots of connections, you’re unlikely to get instant good responses.

  22. Able freeman 7 years ago

    I found that standard soft soap works great. It also seems to not deteriorate the blades as quickly…. For shaving that is.

  23. Hi Rands. You rock, man. I just finished your book. I stumbled across it while looking for a PHP OOP book at Barns & Noble. I laughed out loud no less than 100 times. I want to work for you! haha

    Anyway, you had a shit load of typos in that thing man. Holy God who proofed it?

    Got another for you that’s in this article.

    The second to last paragraph has a typo.

    “My closet of full of shirts and while I still wonder what a hibblygizmo is”

    should be “My closet is full of shirts”

  24. Hi Rands. You rock, man. I just finished your book. I stumbled across it while looking for a PHP OOP book at Barns & Noble. I laughed out loud no less than 100 times. I want to work for you! haha

    Anyway, you had a shit load of typos in that thing man. Holy God who proofed it?

    Got another for you that’s in this article.

    The second to last paragraph has a typo.

    “My closet of full of shirts and while I still wonder what a hibblygizmo is”

    should be “My closet is full of shirts”

  25. Klaatu 7 years ago

    Rands:

    IKEA’s marketing is so clever at hitting my demographic that I can’t get out of an IKEA store: I end up examining and buying items that weren’t on my shopping list.

    As for writing opinions on products and services , the field is wide open. Facebook has yet to realize the potential like Angie’s List or Thrillist.

    An entrepeneur could set up a Facebook page and write reviews.

  26. >>Marco: tell your girlfriend you’ll help her make a video. Of her in action, cooking something. Nothing arduous there.

    This is brilliant stuff. Thank you for sharing it.

  27. You don’t have to settle for crap shaving cream. Take a look at the Goodfella Shaving Soap http://www.goodfella.com/shaving_soap.html and tell me that you would not like one

  28. bonjour et félicitation pour votre blog bien fourni je vais revenir souvent !Je suis la webmaster de ce site internet. Ma spécialité, le contenu optimisé merci à tous !

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  33. Darius Dunlap 3 years ago

    The last sentence of The Shop I Want is broken.

    Wonderful piece, otherwise. I’m still learning to have the patience and focus to write as well as you. I’m 50.

    All the best,

    d.