Passion Projects

"The world is a museum of passion projects" - a reminder not just to be grateful, but to be careful

Everything around me was someone’s lifework“.

Something that was brought home to me some time back when I started learning app development.

How each click, swipe, font size, color, position of a button – you barely notice these features, and yet, someone actually thought about each of them and built them.

Everything – every thing – takes so much effort to create.

And is all too easy to take for granted.

A gym is only a gym, after all.

But someone had to arrange for and put each piece of it together – the lighting, equipment, mirrors, flooring, counters, washrooms and benches and much more. And someone still has to look after it all.

To a consumer though, it’s just a place that’s always existed, a place you go and do your thing and leave, and don’t think any more about.

It’s the same everywhere – a shop or a café is so easy to think of as just a shop, just a café.

Underneath that though, they’re passion projects no less than any others.

Once, there was no gym, no store, no café. Someone made them happen.

Someone had been thinking over the idea, and finally decided to act on it, probably already seeing a picture of what they wanted.

Identifying a site, the equipment, perhaps raising or saving money to make the purchase, dealing with all the compliances to start work, dreaming up the design, finding partners to build it, and then running it.

None of that, of course, is visible to the casual visitor who can take their existence for granted.

This is only scratching the surface.

The laptop I’m using didn’t come up on its own. Someone made it happen.

And that’s saying so much more than that someone, or some people worked in a factory to build it.

The equipment they used had to come from somewhere; first someone had to make that – and before someone could make that, someone had to invent how to make that, so that others could spend years learning that, and finally execute what they learnt. And the equipment had to be made somewhere – so other people had to construct a factory.

And someone must have spent a lot of time thinking before deciding to enter the business of making laptops, or components, and then even more on how to go about it. And then decided to risk a lot of money, perhaps unsure whether he’d recover the investment.

But people can’t just make machines or buildings or laptops at the drop of a hat. Behind it is years of education to gain the knowledge necessary.

And that knowledge didn’t drop from heaven. It was the result of years of toil, discovery and innovation on the part of many individuals, perhaps undertaken without any immediate tangible gain.

So some people spent decades of uncertain effort to create knowledge that others would then spend years imbibing to acquire skills which someone with the appetite would risk a lot of money on to create things that others might find useful enough to spend money on.

And that’s not without getting into all the other functions going on simultaneously – transporting, raising money, marketing and selling, legal compliances, regulatory paperwork and so on.

Just writing about it is tiring enough; executing so much more so.


It’s so easy, and so natural to take everything around for granted.

In fact, that’s because things are designed to be taken for granted – it’s the hallmark of good design.

Abstract – meaning take away – all the details, so that life is easy for the end user.

Products are black boxes to users – I have no idea how most of the stuff I use works, and that’s not a bad thing.

It frees you to focus on learning what you do want to know.

You don’t need to know anything to use the remote for your TV beyond the fact that clicking a button does some particular thing – and that’s because other people did their job so well. Just as you don’t need to know how to produce food to eat it.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.

Alfred North Whitehead

Maybe it sounds like a bad thing, this ‘dumbing down’ of people into animals who too don’t know how anything around them works, but I’d disagree.

It’s interesting to learn about how stuff works – and you can still choose to if you want to.

What abstraction does is remove the compulsion.

You don’t need to learn what goes on behind the scenes in your phone, but you can if you want to.


It’s this specialization of labour that advances civilization – people get better at some things at the cost of being worse at others.

Just as every choice to do something is a rejection of every other thing you could do – the inevitable opportunity cost, inevitable because everything comes at a price.

But because abstraction is so successful, it makes everything so easy to take for granted.

The first – and most glaring – implication when you realize that ‘everything around you is someone’s life work’ is the idea of gratitude.

When you see how hard it was to make something happen, you appreciate the effort it took.

But there’s something I think which is even more powerful.


If you see how much effort everything requires, you might realize how valuable everything is, and that is what leads you to gratitude.

But you might also realize how valuable effort itself is.

If even the smallest of things is going to take so much out of me, then it’s all the more reason to be extremely careful where my effort goes.

It’s like going to a restaurant where everything costs a lot – you can’t order everything, so you think before you order.

I’ve never understood how some people can spend so much effort on things I consider so useless. And the lack of understanding is mutual – it works the other way too.

Which is as it should be – people should be free to make their choices, spend on what they value, even if others find it senseless. It’d be sad if the world marched to one person’s tune.

But it always reminds me to look where my own effort goes.