Sun, 13 Jan 2013 22:16:39 +0000

I'm currently writing a piece about journalism, and it begins like this:

In a recent argument about a project, I blurted out a phrase I thought I’d heard before:

“There is no such thing as neutral design!”

I gave the example of a park: If you want to plant a tree, you can never put it in a neutral location.

Putting a tree in the center would change the behavior of pedestrians, as would putting it in any corner. In addition, choosing to not plant the tree would be a conscious decision not to change behavior.

In the 1990s, Stephen Covey's book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" was wildly popular, and but I think his advice can be summed up in a few sentences: Your actions cannot be neutral. You can either:

1) Know your goals and live to achieve those goals or...

2) Do what you feel like doing with no articulated purpose.

I can't stop thinking about Aaron Swartz. He was the internet activist who killed himself yesterday; I've read dozens of obituaries this weekend and one thing always sticks out: He was great at articulating his mission. He believed something was fundamentally wrong with the world and he worked to change it.

I've been bad at articulating, to myself, my goals in life. This leads to many nights where I browse the internet with no purpose; many days when I might as well be flipping burgers, because it serves no purpose.

So time to articulate. I guess they call these resolutions...