You Can't Have It Both Ways

Published: 30th August 2007

Once upon a time I was musician; it's what I did at college and what I planned as my career. But that didn't work out. I went through a stage of hawking my tunes round various large and small record companies, and encountered variations of essentially the same situation.

We like your music, they'd say, but it isn't really commercial enough to sell. We like the fact that it sounds like you — that it has a strong personality and individual character — but we need it to fit with an established genre. Have a listen to some of this... And then they'd play me some other tunes, bits of this and that, to give me an idea of what they were looking for.

So off I'd go, back to the lab, and I'd come up with something more akin to their suggestions, then I'd take it back and play it to them. Yeah that's more like it, they'd say, but it doesn't sound like you anymore.

Of course it doesn't sound like me — it isn't me — it's you.

Now I, along with many other people who've trodden a similar path to me, work in the web industry. We advocate, almost evangelise, what we think is best-practise; the best ways of doing things, in terms of accessibility, usability, and user-centric design. And we gain a certain respect in the industry that keeps us in gainful employment, because we have this attitude — because of who we are.

And yet, we're still asked to compromise our principles in the name of business logic. Because if we didn't do that there would be no jobs. Because that business logic is what pays for our principles. Except that isn't really true; I think the exact opposite is true — our principles sustain business logic.

Companies, fundamentally, don't give a shit about you. A nappy manufacturer doesn't care if your baby lives or dies, they only want your money. And they succeed in getting your money because, within the machinery of capitalism, breathe individual humans who do care, and it's them who make the system work; it's them who create the illusion that the machine itself cares. Without those people, the machine would fall apart.

You can't have it both ways.


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