Trophy Barbershop is a magical place—with wild game stuffed and mounted on the walls, leopard skin chairs, and scrappy old tattooed barbers slinging shears.
It was the place in Baytown, TX, to get your standard-issue bowl haircut when I was a kid. My barber’s name was Randall Ashby. I loved being there, sitting on my booster seat and listening to stories while Randall feigned interest in my own. In a place where such humdrum work happened day-in, day-out, it wasn’t the haircuts that made Trophy Barbershop magical, but the people in it.
I’ve always found recursive jobs like that to be charming; hair will always need to be cut, oil changed, and crops tended. Because the end product isn’t permanent, one tends to delight more in the experience itself and the people involved. Part of me has always seen building for the web in a similar light. That isn’t to say that epic stuff doesn’t happen online, just that floating a div sure as shit ain’t it. Technology will eventually render my creation obsolete, and when it does I’ll build something better. For me, what matters most isn’t the code or pixels, it’s the users, clients, and friends who share it with me.
I suppose there are lots of places prone to the numbingly mundane, but the web excels at that because the medium makes it so easy for us to disengage. It’s not hard to forget that behind all the stats, conversion rates, and avatars are actual people with families, feelings, goals, and problems. Trophy Barbershop could have just been Acme Barbershop, where hair was cut and nothing more. In the same way, the web can just be a place for websites, email, status updates, and nothing more if we fail to see the opportunities behind those interactions.
I want my online community to be a Trophy Barbershop. For that to happen, I’ve got to make the most of my interactions by making them as personal as I possibly can.
Use email for purposes other than unloading tasks. Taking time to go out on a limb and say something kind can go far. Just the other day, Kyle Meyer sent me an email just to say hello & that he enjoyed meeting me at SXSW. I beamed.
Use likes & favorites however you want to. Places like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and Dribbble are peppered with star, heart, and thumbs-up icons. I often use these mechanisms for different reasons, like a digital ‘high-five’, or a non-intrusive way to say, “I’m there with you, man.” This may sound silly, but when I found myself at a dinner table with Yaron and Josh, having not seen them since October, it paid off. We were able to spend all our time talking about what’s going on now as opposed to catching up on the past 6 months of our lives.
Invest in your friends and colleagues. Buy their stuff and support their projects. I like my Meditate T-shirt, Cake poster, and Colosseo letterpress, but I love them because Kyle, Aaron, and Cameron made them. Also, I bought 8Faces and supported The Manual, and The Shape of Design on Kickstarter because I believe in Elliot, Andy, and Frank. While the products are, and will be, excellent in and of themselves, I was thrilled to simply support what they’re doing.
Show Gratitude. There are a lot of free or almost-free resources online. I’m not keeping score, but I estimate that I owe Chris Coyier close to $1000 for all the time he’s saved me by regularly blogging about his CSS adventures. If you gain from what someone publishes or shares, why not do something nice in return. I preemptively sent Chris an Amazon gift card in hopes that he won’t now send me an invoice for $1k.
Cut People Slack. We’re going to argue, get things wrong, and step on toes. Road rage happens because drivers aren’t face to face. The same happens online when all we see are avatars. Nonverbal cues, no matter how subtle, can carry a lot of weight—a lot more than emoticons can :)
It’s easy to forget that underneath this fragile layer of markup, HTTP requests, IMAP, and avatars are people, and it’s those people that make my workplace, the web, fantastic.