HACK / MAKE

Empathy and the CODE Keyboard

The Two Sentence Review

The layout of the CODE Keyboard is similar to the Filco Majestouch-2 tenkeyless that I’ve been using for a couple years but the feel of the CODE’s MX Cherry Clears aren’t quite as nice as the MX Cherry Blues. The CODE is much quieter though.

In Conclusion / A Seemingly Trivial and Unadorned Example of Where I Was Not Empathetic

As people who seek out nicely crafted items, desire well designed software, and are particular about the way we do things, we are familiar with tradeoffs that exist in choosing these items like the extra time it takes in the morning versus the taste and experience of a good cup of coffee or the cost of buying a finely crafted watch versus paying rent. But we might not always be taking the right things in to consideration and missing important tradeoffs.

I’m beginning to see impacts of how my decisions to prefer one product over others, this habit over that, or a certain attitude about something is affecting other people around me in a way which I never noticed before. I don’t think I’m oblivious to what the people around me feel but I think I’m slowly getting more in touch with not just that but how my choices don’t just impact me. Call it maturing, I guess, but I doubt I’m the only one reading this that could improve at that.

I think a lot of office workers avoid a clicky keyboard because of the sound. Not wanting to annoy coworkers is a legitimate reason but if you’re like me and didn’t empathize with your coworkers in your decision making, you may think, “oh the keyboard is not that noisy, it’s fine. It’s a busy office so the sound will just blend in.” And it kind of did just like the ongoing jokes about my 1990’s keyboard and the intense sound it makes.

The running joke was fun. People would come by my desk and comment on the keyboard and how they used to have one like that when they were running DOS, or how it reminded them of the office ambience in Mad Men, or an airline customer service rep typing in to their outdated terminal while apologizing for the inconvenience because your flight is yet again delayed. “It’s got a great feel, and I’m typing all day long so why not use something that feels good,” I’d say. “I really like it… But she’s not as big of a fan”, pointing over to my desk mate five feet to my left while letting out a little chuckled. She’d laugh too and kind of roll her eyes being a good sport and playing her part in the joke so that it would survive for another week.

And then I actually asked her about it. I wanted to know if it did really bother her. She said some days she’d actually have to work somewhere away from me because the noise of my furious typing would be too loud she couldn’t concentrate.

I was hit with a layered feeling of dread. The outer layer was a realization that for six months I was pecking away at that sweet, clicky, Cherry Blue keyboard, proud of and satisfied by the sound it made, projecting (to no one but myself, really) a desire for only the highest quality experiences but in my desire for “productivity” I was distracting those around me. Deeper than that, it hit me that in striving for better things—tools, process, gear—I wasn’t taking other people in to account in the process of choosing those things. Deep at the core of the dread that was knotted in my gut was a feeling that I had made this assumption that people weren’t bothered that much by my clackity sound but when I actually asked, I learned that my assumption was wrong. Are some, many, most of my assumptions wrong? What else am I wrong about it that I just need to ask about to find out?

Empathy needs to be at the root of the decisions we make. When we make decisions about what new things we take in to our lives we need to deeply consider if and how those better tools also make us better at loving and helping the people around us.

So maybe the CODE keyboard doesn’t have the best feel but it’s a better experience for me and the people around me. And that matters more.

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