Your Feelings are Wrong

Has this little exchange ever happened to you?

You: I don’t like [this software]

Them: Why not?

You: I just don’t. I find it hard to use.

Them: No it’s very easy to use, you need to learn how. Here are the docs. How can you still not like it?

The basic gist is “I don’t like this thing” and the response is “Justify why you don’t like this thing” and it happens all the time. I run into it in all aspects of my life but I find it’s especially egregious amongst programmers.

There’s a mismatch here: I’m trying to share my feelings about something, and programmers are trying to get me to prove my feelings. I’ll admit, I’m often not so good at rationalizing my feelings but that’s kind of the point: I’m not trying to rationalize anything, I’m just saying how I feel about something.

But feelings often seem anathema to programmers, where rationality reigns supreme. If you can’t justify or prove a feeling, then it’s often treated as invalid.

For me, this is a morale destroyer. I’ve found trying to have a conversation with programmers so frequently devolves into an argument (in the “having a debate” sense of the term; a non-heated, civil discussion, but an argument nonetheless), and while arguments are useful for finding logical conclusions, they’re terrible for friendly conversation or chitchat.

I’m reminded of this quote from an excellent interview with Matt Webb:

Do you remember those kids in school who were really good in debate class? When they’d start treating every single conversation or interaction that way you wanted to remind them that not everything is debate. Sometimes you’re just bantering in the park.

And I get it. I’m a programmer too and I’ve done it too. And I’ve done it outside of my programming life, and it sucks. A non-programmer friend of mine bought a new camera and said “Wow it’s so great, it’s got a 10x zoom lens, a 4 megabyte storage—” I interrupted my friend and said “I think you mean 4 gigabyte storage, but go on.” The conversation abruptly ended; my friend’s demeanour went from joy to disdain almost immediately. And I felt like an asshole because I was an asshole.

Programming forces us to be so technically correct all the time we often end up forgetting how to be humans. But not everything has to be justified, not everything has to be correct all the time. There’s more to life than just being right.

See also Denial and Error

Speed of Light