Mopping the Floor in a Flooding Room

Ruined by Design is one of the most important books I’ve ever read for my career. I knew I was in for a ride when the foreword described a classic scene from the early days of psychology field.

I don’t know Mike Monteiro or Vivianne Castillo. They sound like good people. I don’t know, and I might not care. We need more people from inside the industry saying these things.

The book spends most of its time critiquing the “evil” tech companies, their leadership, and the people who idolize them. When I read it, I kept thinking, “Thank goodness I don’t work there. My company has actually made the web a better place.” But my conscience still felt a degree of unease. I didn’t feel off the hook, and I recently realized why:

Those of us lucky enough to work on an honest, valuable, and resilient product aren’t exempt from the problem. We could still be in our own slowly flooding rooms. If we take our work for granted and just keep mopping along, one day, we will inevitably drown too.

When that happens, that’ll be one more part of the free internet dead without the walled gardens even having to do anything. The best defense is a good offense. We can fight all we want, but we have to make sure we’re strong, too.


In the early 1900’s, some psychiatric hospitals gauged patients’ readiness to integrate back into society through a simple and peculiar test. The patient was ushered into a room with a sink, where the hospital staff would place a plug in the sink, turn on the faucet, and wait for the sink to overflow. As water bubbled over the ledge and splashed onto the floor below, the patient was then handed a mop and the staff would leave the room, closing the door behind them. If the patient turned off the water, unplugged the sink, and mopped up the water that had spilled onto the floor, they were deemed as ready to go home and enter back into society. But if the patient opted to frantically mop as the water gushed over the sink, failing to turn off the faucet or remove the sink’s plug, they were deemed insane and prescribed more time in the psychiatric hospital: they failed to acknowledge and address the root of the problem.

Many of you in the tech industry are frantically mopping.

Foreword by Vivianne Castillo, in Mike Monteiro‘s Ruined by Design