Thoughts on Doing Things for Other People

This February, my friend went dog sledding in the far reaches of frigid northern Canada. An older Chinese woman, intent on sharing pictures of the adventure with her friends, insisted on sitting in front. She wasn’t really interested in dog sledding, she said, she just wanted everyone to know she went.

It made me wonder: why do we sometimes do things (tweet, post pictures, write status updates) just for their effect on other people–who, we hope, will deem us cool, funny, and gorgeous? Somehow, this led to a discussion of Twitter, and whether the Twitter cofounders cared how people used their platform.

As it turns out, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey (who, by the way, recently saw cofounder Biz Stone leave the company to work on a startup called Obvious Corporation) is clearly supportive of using Twitter for social change in this Huffington Post interview. When asked what causes he is particularly fond of, Dorsey responds, “My position is really to build technologies that speak to any cause; that’s what I want to do all the more of.” In other words, he wants to build a versatile platform that users can shape to their unique purposes. But, presumably, Dorsey means good causes, not including the various Ku Klux Klan Twitter accounts.

The fact that startups are open and even eager to iterate means they recognize that users may develop surprising, new, and even better uses for their products. But once the final (or relatively final) product is out, I can’t imagine that how it’s used is irrelevant to the creators. Creating something of value is fulfilling in itself–witness the failed companies whose founders don’t regret a moment of their journey–but seeing it used in valuable ways must add even more to the sense of pride and accomplishment.

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