Cruft: Urban Slang or a Life Lesson?
By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus
Each and every day, new and different words make their entrance into our collective lexicon of language.
This is a topic we often discuss—see for yourself in our post right here about an in-depth review of words—as it will never be a static conversation. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that we ran into a word we have never seen before during a researching session.
When it comes to words, Jillian has an amazing gift (especially with the written word. Chuck, well, not so much (we all have our own set of talents, right?) Since neither of us had heard of it before, we decided to look it up. That was the first step on our journey to create the blog you are reading today.
According to its definition, cruft refers to something that is extraneous matter—whether it is physical or ideological. It is thought that this was first used to describe the portion of grain that could not be utilized for any particular purpose—so, it was essentially just discarded.
In other words, cruft is something that is leftover, not needed, and is potentially considered obsolete.
Now that we have done a little group vocabulary lesson, you are probably wondering—why is this word the subject of our weekly blog?
Stick with us, we will get there.
Audio Pallets, Fake Vents, & Tailpipes: An Ode to Cruft
Many of us—whether we believe it or not—have not moved on from our old ways. Instead, we cling to them fiercely, reminiscent of a kindergartener on the first day of school who relentlessly holds on to their mother’s legs.
There is no doubt that kindergarten will be a good, healthy, and safe environment for the child, but they do not (and often, cannot) see it that way. They do not want to let go of what they know and trust—their mother.
And honestly, can you blame them? Letting go is hard.
Still, once the child meets new friends, starts learning, and realizes how much they enjoy playing at school, it is highly likely they cannot wait to go back.
This scenario begs the question: if we were able to let go in kindergarten, why do we hold on so much as we get older?
Now, back to cruft.
A prime example of cruft is what we are experiencing right now with NFL football. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many games in 2020 were played in stadiums that were empty of fans and spectators. However, the networks felt that, as viewers, we would be uncomfortable without hearing the background noise of the crowd, so they recorded crowd noise and piped it in during the broadcasts.
The NFL even paid extra so that each team had a “club specific audio pallet” (or rather, crowd noise created for each club) and has developed very specific and stringent rules on how many decibels the sound can be played at.
There are different sound pallets—one is for the broadcast audience and the other is played while the game is going on in the stadium so the players can hear it.
If that is not cruft, I do not know what is.
There is no crowd, right? So, why fake the noise? All in all, is it not the same as piping in the sound of engine and tailpipe to a Tesla because it is too quiet?
Think about the money needed to develop, design, and regulate the fake noise that is being used simply because we, as the audience, cannot seem to adapt to just watching a quieter game.
If you look at some of the most expensive, performance-based automobiles, you will find that we are paying extra to add in fake, simulated air vents on the sides of the car. Think about it this way: it has been over 30 years since most vehicles needed exterior side grills or vents to cool the engine. However, because of nostalgia or just our inability to accept change, the car manufacturers install fake vents and in turn, we perceive a car that is faster and sportier than one without fake vents. (At least, that’s what the marketing gurus tell us.)
The same is true with tailpipes. Many of today’s cars only need a single exhaust pipe—but often, manufacturers and designers split the pipe to simulate a dual exhaust look.
Dual exhaust pipes were once needed as a mechanical advance, but now, we can function without them—so why are we paying more for something to just be tacked on in order to convince us it is aesthetically pleasing?
Cruft, that is why.
A World of Cruft
Once you understand what it is, you will start seeing cruft everywhere.
Think about it in terms of wine. Once, there was a time that the dimple or ‘punt’ (the indentation on the bottom of expensive wine bottles) was a necessary design because it gave the wine bottle much-needed added strength during a time when they were made by glass blowers.
Nowadays, though, machines make all the glass bottles—dimples are unnecessary, and frankly, they are more complicated to design. But still, we keep doing it because, as one wine magazine stated, no self-respecting vineyard would put their wine in a flat-bottomed bottle.
Do we need it? Nope. But still, we cannot seem to get rid of it.
The list of cruft is seemingly endless and truly, will probably never go away.
And that is not because cruft serves some functional purpose. By definition, it does not. But more because our aversion to change is so strong.
How useful is that little pocket in a 5-pocket pair of jeans? We tell ourselves maybe we will carry loose change in there, but seriously, when was the last time you did? That pocket was put there for cowboys to have a protected place for their pocket watch. Besides, who carries around change anymore?
How about those copper rivets on those cool jeans? Those are leftover from when denim was used as a tough, work pant—not our pre-washed casual wear.
And our favorite example of cruft comes from outstanding author and marketeer Seth Godin. Currently, many people pay extra to put fake grids on our windows so they resemble little, rectangular panes of glass. But the only reason windows had panes in the first place was because glass was so expensive to produce that it was cheaper to produce small, tiny pieces instead of one, large sheet of glass.
In today’s manufacturing world, though, it is less expensive to produce a large sheet of glass than small panes—but we still pay extra to have a large sheet look like it is a bunch of little panes.
Why? Because we do not accept progress or change.
What Is YOUR Cruft?
So, our question today is actually two-fold:
What systems or cruft are you bringing in 2021 that are no longer needed, that are obsolete, or are just left-over from a bygone way of doing things?
How much actual drag, inefficiency, time, and additional cost are you willing to put up with just to keep your life nostalgic (at best) or oblivious to the real change that is going on around you (at worst)?
We encourage you to look at your own life—your habits, your stuff, your way of thinking—and try to identify cruft. How much do you see? Are any of these bits and pieces actually serving you the way they were intended to, or are they just leftover from being unwilling to let go and accept change?
If this is the case, do not be afraid to move on—cherish that stuff for what it once was, then identify it as what it is now: cruft.
If you are looking for advice on how to identify and do away with the cruft in your life, your career, or your business, we can help. We are always here to share tips, advice, and offer support. Simply reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch!