Please tell me you have a junk drawer, a rumpus room, an area in your house that looks more like a chaos demon’s hideout than part of your living space? These are the homes of things like whats-its, do-hickeys, and dongles. The type of stuff that looks useful, it might even feel useful, but at the end of the day, it usually isn’t. It just takes up space, money, and time.
Liz Jackson, co-founder of The Disabled List and a talented designer, has this concept called the disability dongle. She argues, rightfully, that a lot of the technology on the market marketed to fix disability-related concerns are little more than nuisances made up to feel like they are doing something. Whether that’s as a marketing gimmick, a grad school project, or a regular old attempt at crip-friendly capitalism, a disability dongle is more sizzle than it is steak. Or, as Jackson puts it:
“[They are] A well intended elegant, yet useless solution to a problem we never knew we had.”
Now, this can take the shape of the newest wheelchair that is meant to walk upstairs (insert eye roll here) but it can, I think, apply in the world of productivity advice as well. For every tool, there is an endless sales pitch about how it’s bound to fix all of your issues. That it can be a catchall—ignoring, always, that to do so is both impossible and would take a hell of a steep learning curve even if it were sensible to dream of such a thing.
One of the biggest issues when it comes to unwanted disability-focused innovation is that it usually assumes that disabled people don’t know what they want. Or, sometimes, that a certain group of disabled people know exactly what all other disabled people need. Hopefully this newsletter rarely slides into that territory as it continues to grow and I continue to learn.
I think a disability-infused productivity framework has a lot to learn from the concept of the disability dongle as well. For one, it gives a tangible way for us to look at when a productivity tool or strategy is just simply not serving our needs anymore. In a world where a lot of disabled people (rightfully) tend to pin their/our hopes on the next sensible thing to land in our laps when it comes to becoming more like the selves we would like to be, it’s really hard to let go of that inherent hope. I wrote earlier in the week about the dangers of the cure narrative, about how it’s foundational to a lot of the self development space, but fundamental to any cure narrative is hope (real or imagined). It can be hope for less symptoms, hope for a miracle drug, hope for a better government program, hope for family and friends to take us more seriously. Whatever it is requires a certain amount of belief.
Disability dongles, just like supposed productivity cure-alls, prey on that hope, but we need to guard our hope, I think. We need to be judicious with it, to hope fiercely but to understand the limits of our own capacity to believe. Down that path, dear reader, burn out comes. Cynicism and regret are close behind. All of this is to say that today, as I write this, I’m thinking about which productivity advice I hold too sacred, which ones I don’t believe enough in, and hoping (to paraphrase the serenity prayer) that I have the wisdom to know the difference.
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.