At the beginning of this century, I lived for a couple of years in Columbia, South Carolina. It was quite a culture shock for me, having lived in the West all my life. I thought I could live anywhere – I was wrong, so wrong! One of the more frustrating cultural phenomena in Columbia was what I called ‘Everybody Knows’. At that time ‘Everybody Knows’ was not just a Southern thing, it was also an East Coast thing.
More often than not, the people that live in South Carolina and even the East Coast in general, come from a long line of generations living in the same place. They were entrenched in their surroundings and way of life. Once, while having my hair done at the ‘Cut and Curl‘ near me, my stylist and I were talking about food. I mentioned an ingredient that was rare in that part of the city. I can’t quite remember what it was, perhaps Tarragon Mustard? She seemed quite interested in the mustard, and I told her she could get it at a shop in Five Points, a shopping area about 6 miles away in downtown Colombia. Her comment was “Oh! I never go that far!”
Things in the South and even small towns across this country continue as they have always been. Thus there is no need to give people information… because ‘Everybody Knows’! The local newspaper declared ‘Fireworks at the Fort on the 4th’ and yet there was no further information listed. Important information, like when? Which entrance? Is there a cost? Where do you park? Pets allowed? All sorts of things that I, being a newcomer, wanted to know! Specifics were not printed anywhere in the paper because ‘Everybody Knows’. There was an array of things that everybody there knows today, and has known forever.
My concern which you may see as a ‘rant’ is that this mindset is spreading!
Certainly, in this age of the internet, the world feels smaller. I’ve had clients as far away as Bulgaria! It feels like technology is taking over our lives. It has taken over so much so that I have a new rule for myself: Only one technological challenge a day!
Much has changed since I first started using computers in the early 90’s. In our rush to get the newest, fastest, wizziest tool possible the ‘Everybody Knows‘ syndrome has taken over. Back when computers were just becoming mainstream there were actually printed instruction manuals. I know, because I wrote some of them! There wasn’t this standing assumption that ‘Everybody Knows’.
These days I can and have spent hours trying to figure out how to use software that I’m supposed to just magically understand. Software that has no Help Function which covers my question. Icons and sequences that don’t make sense to me.
Some examples that I’ve run into include:
- The Triangle, Circle, and Square on my Fire Tablet – I at least grok* 2 out of 3 of these now. (* For those of you who aren’t Heinlein fans, grok is Martian for understanding profoundly and intuitively.)
- How to answer my cell phone. Who knew you had to put your finger on the flashing button and drag across to the receiver icon to answer that puppy? Certainly not me. I kept having to call people back.
- Don’t even get me started on the lack of explanation for how to use mandatory websites for filing payroll taxes.
To my thinking, it all falls into the ‘Everybody Knows’ category. See what keeps happening is that we make assumptions that everyone knows what we know…right? As we do that, we exclude people who don’t know what we know. That is a very dangerous thing to do.
And it’s not just the software that is at fault, it’s how we use it. I keep having this thing happen where I send an email to someone with two or three questions in it. Somehow I only get a response back for the first question. It may not be the exact ‘Everybody Knows‘ relationship, but it’s a close cousin! I’m guessing it has to do with the amount of technology overload we often experience. We don’t take the time to really read the email in its entirety. We read the first part of it and we just zoom it back. I’ve noticed that when I do that I often miss something.
We all need to slow down. If you can’t actually focus on the response now, why not wait until you feel less rushed? Unless it’s a dire emergency people will accept waiting a bit. I notice some people set expectations for when they will respond with tags on their emails like: “You can expect a response from within one business day.” Or you could send a response that says: “I’ve got your email, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Up to my tuckus in alligators at the moment.” Sometimes, especially if I’m tired, I will read a ‘tone’ into an email that isn’t there when I re-read it later. Based on that revelation I have taken to purposely waiting awhile before I come back and answer it. Preferably even overnight.
One thing I think everybody knows is that this lack of patience, courtesy, and respect in our communication hurts everyone. It isolates all of us. It takes away our humanity.
Let’s see if one by one we can’t try and help each other out, understanding this ‘intuitive’ technology, and communicating with each other. Maybe we can finally get to the idea that it’s never simply about us and them — It’s really just Everybody!
Shell Tain, the Untangler
What’s your take on this? Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or leave a comment.
I still use your White Church story to illustrate to people how the “everybody knows” syndrome fosters isolationism.