Eccentricity

People employed in tech have come to rely on an idea:  Everything can be measured.  Every interaction a user has with a website or application we’ve built – where their cursor goes, how long they last on any given page.  It can all be measured, it can all be tested and compared.

Countless consultants, technologies, entire businesses have sprung up to facilitate the aggregate measure and analysis of this kind of data.  How do users respond to a slight change in verbiage?  Will users react favorably if we change the order of a checkout flow? Does the color of this button matter?

With enough data, with enough users, with enough measured interactions, the shape that materializes is seems to be the average customer, user, human.  The context is often pretty narrow (“How does the average human visiting my site behave?”), but still – people are tirelessly working to distill broad, generic, useful insights into how the average human thinks and behaves from the specific actions of huge swaths of people.


Growing up, I’d classify someone as “eccentric” as a way to put a friendly spin on reality, which is that I thought they were so odd as to deserve to be identified, categorized, as something distinct – outside of the circle of “acceptable social acquaintance”.  I’d willingly interact with them, even be a friend, but all this was done in spite of said eccentricity, certainly not because of it.

People who dressed a little weird – not in a way that demanded attention, just off.  Or who were a little too into something.  Maybe a sport.  Maybe religion.  Or who couldn’t quite get what was acceptable to like, to dislike.

As an adult, I find myself characterizing it by anything that raises an eyebrow.  Or maybe anything that elicits a reaction – a reaction like “That seems like a waste of [time|money|effort]”.  “That seems silly”.  “I can’t believe they did that”. 


I can’t help to start to overlay the same types of big data aggregate analyses onto real life people, people I see and interact with every day.  Why we wear what we wear (shoes!), why we eat what we eat, read what we read, what we choose to spend money, time, and effort on.  How much of what makes me me is really just manifestation of the average human in my demographic?

Against that background, it feels like the only thing that differentiates, that matters in identifying who a person is is where they deviate from the norm.  The scenarios in which one person clicks a link  but very few others do.  Maybe a person’s eccentricities – the collection of behaviors, actions, reactions – which baffle or even concern their peers and acquaintances, are actually the most meaningful things about them.

Most of us manage to fit the norm most of the time – either because we just do naturally, or because where we don’t, we’re trained to avoid sticking out.  As a result, the eccentricities – the rough edges, the pieces that don’t fit – can be identified as being somehow so deeply ingrained in us that we can’t smooth them out, or because we care about them so deeply that we’d prefer to leave them as they are.

And that’s interesting.  That’s all.

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