Cuckoos and connections

There’s a cuckoo clock hanging on my living room wall. We ordered it from Amazon years ago, but it’s imported from Germany because really, where else are you going to get a cuckoo clock? It’s relatively small as clocks go, and simple. It has ornately carved trim at the top and bottom, a maple leaf pendulum, and a single cuckoo, who announces the hour and half hour with not-particularly reliable regularity.

It is also very loud.

The clock can be clearly heard on any floor of the house. It tends to disrupt sleeping guests until they get used to it. At midnight we’ve been known to pause the TV until the cuckooing is done. It makes itself heard clearly on conference calls, even if I move into the office.

And it is, by far, the most commented-upon thing I’ve ever had intrude upon a conference call. People will ignore dogs and children, hold their tongues on your taste in music, but absolutely cannot believe you have a working cuckoo clock in your house. (The most popular comment is of the “Is that commentary?” variety; the second-most is “What app is that?”, and the third is “Huh.”)

I have a cuckoo clock because my parents have a cuckoo clock, and before them my grandmother did. We’re not of German origin. I don’t know why or when my grandmother got her clock. The clock is neither metaphor nor nostalgia, though it’s tempting when writing to make it so. It’s the background music of everyday life that I miss if it isn’t present.

My co-workers have a mental model of the kind of people who own cuckoo clocks; pink-haired 40-year-old UX designers in Pennsylvania don’t fit that model.

That’s OK. I have a mental model of a member of the Cherokee tribe, and an accomplished web designer and developer living in Seattle doesn’t match that map, but I know one.

I also know a collared-shirt-every-day office-worker statistician trained in the art of punching a cow in the face if it gets too rough.

The men who repaired a window for a family member recently had to leave early to attend a funeral at the same home where that family member used to dig graves — twenty miles and fifty years prior.

The world’s biggest pinball tournament, next July, could potentially include a former NBA player, the lead singer from Barenaked Ladies, an autistic man being featured in a documentary, oh, and me again, the pink-haired 40-year-old UX designer with a cuckoo clock.

We are each a surprise to someone. We each wreck someone’s mental model of what it means to do something, be a member of something, own something, act some way, or effect something.

We are all connected in ways we can neither predict nor discount.

It’s not enough to say that we’re sharing one network. While we we have much more in common than a pulse and a voice, our commonalities are far from homogeneous.

We are each members of many different networks, some large and some small, some we choose to join and some that are thrust upon us.

We are more than endpoints on the networks. We are each both node and connector, endpoint and router, participant and outlier, for every network we’re in. Our homogeneity brings us together in small groups, and our individuality connects us with every other group.

As designers, we rely on mental models, personas, and similar tools to help us find the commonalities in audiences or user groups. It’s arguably true that we’d get nothing done if we concentrated on human individuality. At the same time, the cuckoo clock in my living room is a stark reminder that our mental models have no hope of withstanding the reality of who we are, unless we actively recognize that models are just that — models — and it’s the outliers that make the models interesting.

From the Editors

It is a truism that writers need deadlines. And it’s certainly true that the three of us co-conspirators have needed deadlines to write more regularly. We found our deadlines, for a little while, by writing at The Pastry Box. When they finished their fantastic run, we immediately started talking to each other about some way to keep writing and keep giving each other and ourselves deadlines.

It was good to have an outlet for the kind of writing that lived there: writing about the personal and the professional, about how our lives—personal and professional—intertwined. Sure, we could write on our blogs, we could write on Medium, but we wanted something more.

And we wanted to read that kind of writing more from other people, not just from each other or from ourselves. We wanted the feeling of growth, surprise, and empathy that comes from hearing someone else’s stories and realizations.

In talking about it (or rather, sending emails, Twitter DMs, Slack messages, and co-editing a Google Doc) we realized that we had a vision that was more detailed and specific than we’d planned on!

The name was the hardest part, as it always is. For several months, it was just called Electric Boogaloo, because a part 2 of anything is always Electric Boogaloo? Then it was the unnamed project, and finally, while Anne was on her way to something, running on three hours of sleep, she threw a ton of name ideas out, and then looked for domain names that were kind of close. Much to our surprise, was available, and perfect.

We are interconnected in complicated webs of professional and personal experiences, and our personal and professional selves are just as interconnected. The time we live in, of emails and texts and Skype and WhatsApp, of tying people in formerly remote parts of the world together, of the voice of the people sharing recipes and toppling corrupt governments at the same time, is one where we delight—and strain—at the new connections forming between us.

The Interconnected is here to explore what these connections mean, not from a technical view, but from a human view, and how each one of us is learning to live a little better in an age where interconnectedness is the rule, not the exception.

So, welcome.