Writers I Read: Ian P. Hines

For this installment of “Writers I Read,” I’m sharing my conversation with Ian P. Hines of ianhin.es & intrv.ws.

Stephen: Ian, thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I’m a huge fan of ianhin.es and intrv.ws. Your interviewing skills are great; I hope I don’t embarrass myself too badly in this process.

This series is all about getting the know people behind the blogs I love. In your Colophon, you describe yourself as a “modern do-gooder.” Can you unpack that a little?

Ian: First of all, thanks for asking me to be interviewed. Interviewing others is certainly something I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what if feels like to be on the hot seat.

So “modern do-gooder,” eh? I first stumbled upon the phrase in a column by David Brooks of The New York Times, and wrote about it a bit here. Basically a modern do-gooder is someone with:

  • an orientation towards public service;
  • a belief in the power of the free-market of ideas;
  • a relentless focus on measurable results and accountability; and
  • a deep respect for people who pursue excellence in what they do.

Let me break those down a bit deeper.

By an orientation towards public service, I’m speaking specifically of doing for others as a matter of course. Now, that could be in your job, or in your spare time. Whatever. The point is that you feel it’s important to do work — in the broadest sense — that makes a positive difference in the lives of others. It’s not just about making money.

The free-market of ideas is an important concept, because it implies that the best ideas will naturally win out over the long term, assuming that experimentation and debate are allowed to occur. This is the biggest reason why too much top-down uniformity can be a bad thing. We need a diversity of approaches, as the first idea is rarely, if ever, the best one, and might very rarely makes right.

Results and accountability? Well, if you’re afraid of those two things you really shouldn’t even be involved in whatever you’re doing. Show me it works, and I’ll embrace it wholeheartedly. But prove it. We’ve spent far too long trying to fix problems with solutions that are based on a “gut-feeling,” but never pan out. We simply don’t have the time to guess anymore.

And lastly, pursuing excellence. I mean this in every context. If you’re a father, be the best father you can be. If you’re an employee, the best employee. Etc. Don’t settle for second best. Ever. People are counting from you; expect great things from yourself, and they’ll happen. And visa versa.

The number one thing that attracts me to a writer online is that I recognize these characteristics in them. And most especially the last one. Patrick Rhone, Shawn Blanc, John Gruber — these guys are so well read and so well respected because they approach everything they do with a zeal for quality. And in a world where everything is right at your fingertips, acceptable isn’t enough. People are looking for stellar quality. And that’s what I shoot for every day.

Stephen: I’m not sure my questions are grilling enough to term your spot the “hot seat,” but we’ll see where this goes…

I really like your definition of a “modern do-gooder.” While I don’t write much publicly about it, I work for a large, faith-based non-profit as my day job, and it’s very rewarding to see what good can come out of caring for someone that society has forgotten. While I don’t spend a lot of time on the front lines, I support those who are, from an IT and multi-media standpoint.

But enough about me. How do you get to flesh these ideas out in your every day life?

Ian: By being kind to people. By remembering to focus on little things. By doing my best work. By constantly re-examining the ideas and conventions I encounter at work–looking for the best approach, solution, etc.

But, let’s face it. I fall far, far short of the goal. We all do.

I just wake up every morning thinking, “I want to be a good person.” Then I try to do that. I look to my faith to guide me when I’m not sure how. I used to look to political theory–to politics–but that’s not the way to find truth or wisdom.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said “The truth is the truth even if no one believes it, and a lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.” I believe that. It’s important that we recognize that everything is not relative–that there are objective rights and wrongs in the world–and that we need to do everything we can to act properly towards one another.

So, I don’t know if that answers your question or not. But it’s what I think on how to live your life as a good person. Adopt a strong moral compass rooted in a proper understand of right and wrong and follow it unflinchingly. It’s hard, but it’s the only true way to live.

Stephen: Thanks for letting me pry into your life a little bit with that question.

I see your desire to do good all over your online presence. Your writing online is always respectful, even when you are disagreeing with someone. You are open about how things are, not how they should be — putting truth above all else. I respect that.

So let’s talk a little about your writing. In a post titled “Content”, you said:

There is nothing inherently wrong with short-form content, except that it cannot be the end-all be-all. Blogs, or tumblelogs, filled only with links, photos, reblogged items, and the like fail to grasp the true potential of blogging: to share who you are as a person with the wider world.

You don’t have to be controversial; you don’t have to be particularly interesting, or thought provoking; you don’t have to be anything at all. What you should do is endeavor to be yourself because your life, inherently, is worth sharing with others.

When I’m reading you work, the whole experience is authentic. You seem to have created your sites to be as transparent as possible — putting the emphasis on the content, rather than the vehicle for content.

You mostly write about the Macs, design and doing good. How do you see those three things being tied together? How much energy goes into the content we see?

Ian: I think that good design makes the world a better place, and that Apple’s product line is one of the prime examples of good design in the modern marketplace.

The reason I feel that way about good design is because good design is the result of a continuous process of reexamination and revision, with an eye towards making the best possible product. That’s really what life’s about, no matter what you do: an endless process of reevaluation and revision, with a goal on doing the very best job possible.

Take religion, for example. You don’t normally hear people compare religion to design, but work with me for a moment. No human being perfects the practice of their faith on the first go round–no matter how hard they may try. Rather, living one’s faith is a constant process of reexamination and revision of habits, with a goal of living up to a great ideal. So, too, with design.

Did Apple make the perfect computer when they release OS X? No. Sure, they made a damn good one, but they knew they could do better. We can always do better. So, unlike Microsoft, they are engaged in a constant process of refinement and improvement, with a goal of doing their best every time.

So, I guess for me the real unifier between those things is that they’re all focused on doing your best all the time. On making things better than they are now. On constantly improving, even if it sometimes means returning to basics.

Stephen: I love that bit about faith and design. I really do.

You’ve answered the ultimate question I want to ask the writers I read — why you write what to you do. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken chatting with me. I love both of your sites, and will continue to read with a greater appreciation of what you’re doing. As a parting piece — what advice would you give to someone wanting to make a splash in the blogosphere?

Ian: Be yourself. Take your time. Focus on what you love. Always strive for excellence. Be kind to others. Pay attention to detail. Read voraciously. Say hello. Disagree without being disagreeable. Obsession Times Voice.