Being critical

April 2018

Not too long ago, I had the misfortune of getting into a discussion with somebody about Tim Cook. The person in question didn’t appreciate my being critical of Apple’s CEO. “You have no right to be so judgmental,” he said, in a tone which almost seemed to convey that personal feelings had been hurt, “after all, you don’t know what it’s like to be the CEO of a company that size.” The poor soul then went on to call me a troll as well. Still, I thought this rather amusing. “Will you,” I said in return “do me a favour then and stop criticising Donald Trump? After all, you don’t know what it’s like to be the president of a country that size.” This person shuns me now. Rationality apparently hurts.

It should be obvious: if you think like the creature above, no one who’s not a film director could ever criticise a movie again, the only people allowed to say something at restaurants would be chefs, and forget about judging books if you’re not a writer.

Let me be very clear: I don’t appreciate the mentally negligible setting the bounds of what I can or cannot say – and it appears that they are particularly keen on the cannot say bit: They love censoring other people’s speech. And, due to a misguided sense of politeness or political correctness on the part of society, they seem to be getting away with it quite often too. I, however, will not stand for that. If people like the one mentioned above don’t like my critique that’s fine. But if that’s the case they will have to come up with a better argument than mine and not tell me to shut up.

Why I started this blog

Apart from blatant self-advertising? Well, I’m genuinely interested in improving the state of things around me. And that’s something you simply cannot do if you’re not allowed to point out problems when you see them. Does this make me a troll? An obnoxious nitpicker who’s complaining all the time? I would say no. I am a designer and as such I have a keen eye for details¹ and for finding mistakes. Call it an occupational disease if you want but I’m certainly no troll. I try to always apply the scientific method to my thinking and thus I can make my case using reason, logic and evidence. That’s a far cry from being a troll.

And while I may appear to be quite harsh or cynical in my critique from time to time I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing: Ambrose Bierce’s definition² of cynic was “A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.” That’s how I like to see myself. You have to be honest with what you see in your surroundings. Otherwise you can’t even think of beginning to improve them.

I care about design. About the quality of goods and services. About efficiency and innovation. I’m good at noticing problems in the world around me and I try to understand them as best I can. And there’s nothing better to help you understand a problem than to write about it.

  1. Charles Eames once said “The details are not the details; they make the product.” I consider this one of the basic principles of design. ↑
  2. Ambrose Bierce, amongst other things, wrote a book called “The Devil's Dictionary.” In it, you will find a nice definition of “Idiot” in which he describes the kind of people I was referring to at the beginning of this article: “Idiot – A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but ‘pervades and regulates the whole.’ He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.” ↑

If you want to see real cynics go no further than the german speaking world where you will find a lot of people, on blogs and in comment sections, that were critical of Elon Musk for sending his Tesla into space. Their argument for sustainability – or the lack thereof in that particular undertaking – I could almost understand. However, at least one of the bloggers revealed his true colours when he argued that “of course Musk sent up a Starman and not a Starwoman.” If that’s your reaction to someone just having demonstrated that a private company can build a scalable and reusable rocket system that can go beyond low Earth orbit, then you’re the bloody cynic. And regarding the “Starwoman”: I’m relatively certain that gender studies and identity politics will never get anyone to Mars (or feed anyone on Earth for that matter).