Jangles

Another good reason to have a weblog is when you come away from a morning appointment that leaves you with the jangles and you just want to find a place to go with the flow for a bit until you can open up your Eclipse installation and write some Java code and tweak an Oracle database, and later in spare time, work on that nifty JavaScript application.

Luckily, one of the first posts to show up in my aggregator today was one titled Your Passion Underwhelms Me, by Dare Obasanjo. Dare responds to a post by Mini-Microsoft on the recent Vista slippage. In particular, he’s responding to Mini’s exultation of the passion of Microsoft employees:

And this partly explains the passion of the comments you will read on this post at Mini-Microsoft.

Skewering the Microsoft leadership. Calling for heads to roll. Frustration. Disgust. Dark humor. Cynicism. Optimism. Pessimism. Rage. Love. Hate.

Another reason — big reason — why the Microsoft commenters are so passionate: They give a damn. Whatever else you may think about their comments, their Give-A-Damn meter is registering in the Green. Sure, it may seem like I’ve got it ass backwards and they’re pegged out in the dreaded Red zone.

Rather than respond directly to Mini’s passionate embrace of the passionate Microsoft employee, Dare points to an must-read post by Rory Blyth: Ten Minutes of Sincerity – Enthusiasthma. What is Enthusiasthma and why is it bad? According to Rory:

Again, like communication, passion is a good thing. It’s good to talk. It’s good to be excited.

But, it’s gotten to the point that the passion has become a sort of disease. I call it “Enthusiasthma” (if you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s a combination of the words “enthusiasm” and “asthma”). People act so excited about things that they can hardly breathe. And they live their lives this way. They show up for meetings out of breath, and present on topics with their voices notched up a whole octave. You can really hear the passion.

Except that you can’t, really.

This notion of constantly being excited is exhausting. It’s not healthy. It isn’t normal. It’s downright stupid and counter-productive.

Rory’s writing is triggered by the recent Microsoft discussion, but what he’s describing is pandemic — it’s scarier than bird flu. It’s this notion that one has to be continuously up, brimming with enthusiasm, embracing new and newer, embuing our speech–written or verbal–with a chain of exclamation points, sticking up like barbed wire at a Gulag. As if by sheer will, by passion we will beat life until it submits to our will, dammit.

What happens instead is we’ll die young, but not so young that we won’t bore most folks around us, first.

I am a tech, and I enjoy working with technology. I enjoy it more now than ten years ago because there’s so many terrific technologies with which one can work: Ruby and RoR, PHP, MySQL, RDF, the fact that XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript finally work with most browsers–I’ve even rekindled my appreciation for Java, thanks to Eclipse. But I find that every time I get passionate about something, my ability to work with my team and my effectiveness to the team decreases as the passion increases. I have a hypothesis as to why: the rushing of blood to my head drowns out what other people are trying to say. The only thing I can hear, then, are the folks who are echoing my words.

More than that, though, is that I come away feeling let down when other people don’t rush to passionately embrace what I passionately embrace. It’s the same feeling you get when you’ve eaten a piece of very surgary cake, and have managed to bounce around the walls for a time, but now the sugar’s out of your blood and you have a headache, and you’re tired and you just want to sit and drink a cup of tea. The primary difference between the two is that you don’t annoy other people when you eat cake.

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11 Responses to Jangles

  1. jcwinnie says:

    Yeah, but I bet the Bangles never posed in greasy overalls.

  2. Ian says:

    Hi Shelley,
    Interesting post, and some good questions you raise. I first discovered Kathy Sierra’s blog through a posting of yours here, and something in her message about passionate users really speaks to me. But at the same time I hear what you’re saying about letting our own passion rule us, and letting that getting in the way of measured discourse. Kathy, of course, rails against committee-centric consensus design, and it’s a fair point, but it’s also important to respect other people’s point of view and really hear what they’re saying. I know I’ve been guilty of "shoot from the hip" responses that have gone awry in the past, and doubtless will do again. We can but try to do better!

    Of course, since our modern lives are so much faster and closer to the zone of instability, small perturbations – like over-hasty emails – can have big effects. I have difficulty imagining some of the blogospheric teacup-storms of late happening among the 19th century scientific community, where responses to letters happened over weeks and months, rather than today’s minutes and (if you’re lucky) hours.

  3. Al says:

    Great post but I would have made a finer distinction between passion and zealotry. Myself, evangelicals always give me the creeps whether they are advocating a platform, a religion or the wonders of open-source.

  4. ARJ says:

    I’ve always seen passion as important to the creative process. You brainstorm and think of crazy ideas in enthusiasm-filled binges. Then you roll up your sleeves, pick the things that make sense, and get down to methodical work, leaving passion in its place.

    I wonder if enthusiasthma is an attempt to over-compensate for the stereotype that technical work is boring and dry.

  5. This notion of constantly being excited is exhausting. It’s not healthy. It isn’t normal. It’s downright stupid and counter-productive.

    Oddly enough, this reminds me of a remark that Suzy Bright made recently. Someone interviewed her about the erotica she’d written, and asked her why in erotica it was such a common motif for people to be insatiably lustful. The interviewer pointed out that in real life none of us can actually live that way – none of us can be isatiably lustful all the time. Why was it such a popular motif in erotica? If I recall right, Suzy Bright remarked that erotica is just fantasy, a fantasy of how we’d like things to be, in some alternate world where we can be perfectly sexy and sexual at all times.

    “Enthusiasthma” seems to be the corporate equivalent of that fantasy.

  6. Paul Morriss says:

    …unless the cake’s got blue icing on it, and you’re under 5 years old. Boy you should see the kids bounce when that happens.

  7. Phil says:

    “Enthusiasthma” seems to be the corporate equivalent of that fantasy.

    MBA porn (Yes! Again! That was so good for the company!). Except that they get to make the rest of us act it out. (I’ll stop now as I’m scaring myself.)

  8. Seth Russell says:

    Hey can i get excited about Live Clipboard ?

  9. Scott Reynen says:

    I totally agree that this drive for constant passionate is unhealthy, but you seem to be going to the other extreme when you say:

    my ability to work with my team and my effectiveness to the team decreases as the passion increases

    I think passion, like everything else, is good in moderation and bad in excess.

  10. Geoff says:

    “What happens instead is we’ll die young,” Any prove that this is the case?

  11. Shelley says:

    Check back in a year or so, Geoff