Let death find us as we are building up our matchstick protests against its waves (Alain de Botton – The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work)
I chose Alain de Botton’s video because I enjoy his brand of accessible contrarianism. In his Sunday Sermon, and in his books, de Botton draws attention to the futility of existence and the absurdity of our day to day lives.
To me, his pessimism feels both human and invigorating – in that it is meant (I think) to pays tribute to the human spirit and to all that we’ve achieved in the face of probable tragedy and certain death – hopefully motivating us to focus on the things that matter. Even if you disagree with his perspective, it’s an interesting starting point for a discussion about the true value of life.
Some of the things de Botton talks about are directly applicable to the design of self-care systems. Obviously, his work reminds me that however well we design systems to help people maintain or improve their health we are simply forestalling certain death. Death is, I suppose, the ultimate design constraint. For me, this prompts me to think about designing systems we should do so with a sense of humility in the face of certain failure; aiming for small amounts of progress rather than complete mastery, lowering expectations – or at least keeping them in check, prioritizing relationships and leaving room for warmth and pleasure. It should be possible to design a system where the user can fail, but still prosper and learn.
Another really interesting theme in de Botton’s work is the influence of chance/fortune in our lives. We simply don’t think about our successes as being accidents, and we look upon those who have failed as – failures – rather than people who simply rolled a 1 instead of a 6. Now, when I think about designing a self-care system I think that being conscious of randomness, chance, serendipity and tragedy will be very useful. Instead of thinking “the user will do” I could instead thing “the user might do” and “the user probably won’t”.
De Botton’s perspective on life offers a very strange starting point for us – we start out on a design challenge knowing that success will have a lot to do with luck and that ultimately we’ll fail. I suppose the beauty of life, and the absurdity of life, is in the trying. So, let’s try.
Read comments posted by your classmates on The School of Life Sunday Sermons from this week. Select a new video to watch and provide your reaction as a comment to this blog post.
Tell us why you chose the sermon, what you learned, what, if anything, you heard that you’d consider incorporating into a system of self-care as an idea, a method, a design constraint, etc. Include the video’s title and link.
Choose one of the sunday sermons from The School of Life (24 to choose from). I’d like you to write a reaction to the video as a comment on this blog post. Tell us why you chose that particular sunday sermon, what you learned, what, if anything, you heard that you’d consider incorporating into a system of self-care as an idea, a method, a design constraint, etc. Include the video’s title and link please.