It’s morning in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s a grey, cold start to Thursday, 12 May 2022. I know it’s cold because the five year old is insisting on wearing shorts because “it’s not cold” and “anyway, I like being cold sometimes”.
We all know how this is going to go. (Well, Robin does. I am here typing, she is going to be corralling everyone into the car for the school run).
Listening to: the 1985 Tammy Wynette and Mark Gray cover duet of Canadian Dan Hill’s Sometimes When We Touch, because look, you really don’t want to know.
I’m making progress and have signed up a few more people at the Boss Level support tier, for those of you with Professional Expense Money. Maybe that’s you as well?
Yesterday1 I wrote about what caught my attention about Tanya Basu’s “Chore apps were meant to make mothers’ lives easier. They often don’t.”, in the MIT Tech Review.
I did a thing where I write about it in a newsletter, then write about the newsletter in a Twitter thread, and a whole bunch of extra stuff comes out in the thread that I’m annoyed I didn’t think of for the newsletter. So now I’m adding it here, in some horrific ouroboros of content.
One thing I realized when thinking more about Basu’s article and its perspective on these chore management apps was the premise that they’re solutions to problems. If I were to make a broad, sweeping generalization, it would be along the lines of something like this:
Calling technology – in this case, apps and software – solutions instead of tools was a major mis-step and, well, a lie.
Sure, I can imagine people saying, it’s not exactly a lie though, it’s… marketing. It’s puffery. Everyone doesn’t really think it’s a solution. And yeah, there’s a fine line between making something easier, and making it go away because it’s solved. And making it go away because it’s solved is what, you know, the word “solution” implies.
In this case, the whole household administration and management domain only really gets solutions when people work together. And computers and software are mainly an information technology tool (duh). They can certainly help with communication. They can certainly help with making decisions. They can even, if you want, provide some absolution from making decisions until your lack of responsibility and accountability come back to bite you in the ass. I’m looking at you, corporations and governments and large entities that rely on automated bureaucracy at scale or, “the algorithm did it”.
Anyway. The promise of chore apps is that they promise a solution or a shortcut, which is all we ever really wanted in this western hegemonic late-capitalism culture we live in. Faced with a claim that something will be no effort at all, versus slightly easier but still quite hard, we’re more likely to go down the “oh, this’ll fix it” side.
But task management and scheduling among humans in a co-living relationship, and in most cases a heterosexual long-term relationship like a marriage is, I don’t know, like a complex three-body problem (ha)? Humans are complicated! The task management and scheduling only gets you so far. Hell, even brain-computer interfaces are going to get you so far. In the end, all we have is each other and talking to each other and desperately trying to understand and connect with each other. Sometimes we get lucky and it’s glorious and sets you on fire for days to years to a lifetime. Other times it’s gut-wrenching pain that kills.
So chore management apps aren’t just task management or project management apps. They’re task management and project management apps that exist in a ridiculously complex, subtle and dynamic context of human relationships. At least as complex as a work context, and in some ways I might uncharitably say “worse, more complex than a work context”. And, you know, they should be.
Everything is just so layered. A chore management app for equitable distribution of household management, administration and maintenance from execution of task through to high-level decision-making and the agreement of long-term strategy (ugh, but… you know… true) is hard and difficult and just like “being a manager” doesn’t have that much training and you can get promoted into it by accident likewise can we wily humans end up in relationships like this by… accident, or somewhat unintentionally.
If you’re in a well-functioning, healthy household relationship then sure, task management and scheduling might be what you need and might be all you need. But if you’re not, and if you’re in the position where the distribution of tasks and responsibility is inequitable, then it’s likely causing resentment and no app, no amount of design thinking, no amount of material or flutter or react or nosql, none of that is going to fix it. That’s a problem that exists in your head, the other person’s head, and the ineffable information that transfers between the two (or more) of you and what gets lost in translation.
So no, chore management apps aren’t a solution to inequitable distribution of tasks. They were never going to be, no matter how much we wish them to be. And I thoroughly understand that those designing and developing these applications are most likely doing so with the best of intentions. And I will still tap on the sign that says: “technology isn’t the answer you think it is, but it is a tool that could help you”.
A household Slack can help you share information or find it better than email. Spreadsheets of what’s important and to make comparisons can help you choose a school together – if you even have a choice. A shared calendar can be helpful, but I guess only if the venn diagram of work/personal/household calendaring weren’t a complete clusterfuck.
Which, actually, is a great example. Do you know why the venn diagram of work/personal/household calendaring is a complete clusterfuck? I mean it is not just because most of the people who have been able to develop software and have the resources to do so and the access have been people who think the problems around calendaring have been trivial and don’t see the need for better work/personal/household calendaring.
No, it’s not just that. It’s because sitting in the middle of the venn diagram of work/personal/household calendaring is, you know, the complexity of human existence in a web of ever-changing and dynamic relationships. You want to figure out social software? You want Close Friends or whatever on Instagram or whatever it’s called on Twitter now? You go figure out the best, easiest way to mesh your work, personal and family contexts together in an easy to use application that integrates data from other people, too.
But I digress.
What you probably really want, what you probably really need, if you’re taking that step to use a chore management app, if you’re in a relationship of, say, 0.5 gigaseconds2 and you start recognizing that actually you’ve got some deep-seated resentment in long-term inequitable distribution of responsibility and the general shitness of the current state of gender roles and relations, and let me be absolutely clear I am not and do not intend to Well Actually anybody here, what you probably could do with, is couples counseling.
And it won’t be in an app. It’ll be with people. Sure, I mean, an app might help, in that it might help you find someone who can help, or it might help you practice noticing and changing your behavior and how you react and think about things. It will take time because it’ll turn out you have a bunch of your own shit to deal with and everyone else who you wanted to use that app has their own shit to deal with. And if you do that, then yeah, your task management/project management/scheduling app is going to have a better chance of success.
Because we’re all just people, talking to other people, trying to do our best to not be in pain.
Hey, I have a favor to ask: if you like this newsletter and wouldn’t mind writing something like a quote or whatever that I could use publicly (or anonymous, just let me know), then I’d really appreciate it. Just write it in a reply?
And, as ever: how have you been?