For those of us in relationships, we dread those awful words, “It’s not you, it’s me.” They are the precursor to the end of a relationship, the end of something into which we’ve given our everything. While there are plenty of self help books to navigate people through the disasters of breakups, I’d like to focus on relationships once again. You see this is the great success of the internet — relationship building. I’m not talking about the online dating sites, although those can be used to support my argument, but I’m talking about building relationships where none existed before; with people, ideas, and knowledge that would have been inaccessible years before. The internet does this.
Yes, even after the fall of Net Neutrality, which actually just brought us back to 2015, we still have access to everything we had access to while under Net Neutrality. The internet didn’t end. Relationships are still being made. I’m building relationships with knowledge today that would have been impossible years ago. I’m learning languages, different perspectives about historic events, about cultures and people that live on the other side of the globe – all through the internet. And while this is helping me grow, I need to realize that it doesn’t just benefit me, it benefits others as well. By becoming a better human that can empathize, I can help contribute to a world that benefits other humans.
Designing websites is a big part of this. Contributing to open source is another part. These are the things that help facilitate the flow of information on the internet. And in order to succeed at this, instead of the disastrous, “It’s not you, it’s me.” we’re now learning to say:
“It’s not me, it’s you.”
It’s all about you, or rather, the other person. It’s not about me and my desires, it’s about making something that benefits you. It’s about the user’s experience, the user’s problem. It’s about helping you through the journey you call your life. And in order to understand your experience, or your problem, I need to understand you.
This is the mantra of today’s builders. Empathize and learn about other people to ensure we build something they need. And not everything we build fits into the same category. Some things are built solely to be used by that person to benefit their life specifically. Maybe that’s wearable tech, or a device that peels potatoes easily. Other things are built so that people can help build other things. This might look like Sketch or MacOS or Slack. At Automattic, we build tools to help people organize and share knowledge. We help build the internet.
Before we build, we need to learn and discover. This involves the repetition of “It’s not me, it’s you” because we need to discover more about you. We try to connect with you, we set up empathy challenges to experience what you experience, and we don’t just create personas of stereotypical users but rather build for real people with real problems. During this process we’re building relationships on the internet.
I recently wrote an article about how to gain pageviews when I realized one of the solutions that our marketing gurus expressed was to comment on other people’s posts. This creates honest interest in who you are. People click around to learn more about you and end up increasing pageviews to your own site. In an attempt to solve a business problem, I found that it helps to solve a human problem first.
As we sift through the pages of the internet, remember access to knowledge never existed like this before. We have so many opportunities to learn and grow by acquiring more knowledge and yet we wall ourselves behind feeds of curated content. Don’t confine yourself to the Facebook bubble of like minded people. Break away from those feeds and reach out to build a relationship with something or someone you never knew before. It’s an amazing experience.