You Never Know [en]

[fr] On ne sait jamais d'où (et par qui) viendront les opportunités qui nous permettront d'avancer dans notre vie professionnelle. C'est la raison pour laquelle je préconise de "ratisser large" quand il s'agit de réseautage. Cibler, c'est se limiter. C'est fermer la porte aux surprises que peuvent nous apporter nos "liens faibles". Le monde en ligne est le paradis des liens faibles. Mais pour en profiter, il faut y être en tant que personne, car c'est entre les personnes humaines (et authentiques) que se tissent les relations.

One of the points I strived to drive home during my talk on the professional importance of a personal online presence is that you never know where opportunities might come from.

I do not believe in a guiding hand or external mystical forces which direct our lives. I believe there is no inherent meaning in the world other than the meaning we humans inject into it. This means that I accept that luck and circumstance can play big roles in our lives. Meeting the love of my life “by chance” does not mean that the universe conspired in bringing us together at one incredible moment in time. It just means that it happened, and something huge grew out of it, but it could just have well not have happened.

Left or right

Back to opportunities. Think of the jobs you got, the gigs that came your way. The important people and moments in your life and how they came to be. With hindsight, we deliver sense in everything. But let that go for a minute. Could you have planned for it? Could you have made it happen?

Granted, we sometimes make things happen. Of course. But more often than not, we don’t. We’re happy to overestimate how much control we have on our lives. It’s less scary.

People who have “made it” will come and tell you how they did it. Again, hindsight.

I had a really eye-opening moment about that myself just three years ago, when I was asked to come and give a workshop on how to build a successful online presence for oneself.

I’d already noticed that when it came to social media strategy, most people telling us about their success story would come up with something along the lines of “we had no idea what we were doing, we were lucky, but here is how we should have done it and how you should do it”.

Halfway through my workshop, I realised that I was doing some variation of that: I was giving the participants an exercise to try and put them on the track I had followed — but actually, there was no exercise I could give them, because I had arrived where I was precisely because I wasn’t trying to get there. I had just followed my interests (chatting, people, more chatting, writing stuff, reading stuff, people, chatting) and opportunities had sprung out of that. Then, I had made something of those opportunities. But I had no intentional hand in creating them. It was a very humbling moment.

I think it took the last three years for this realisation to fully mature into one of the cornerstones of the slightly revamped way I present what I do for a living.

Back to my talk. Once you understand that you are not fully in control or in charge of making opportunities happen, you can try to examine what circumstances are favorable to them. And I would answer: “a diversity of circumstances”.

You know how diverse teams are more creative? I think there is something very similar at play when it comes to networking.

A diverse network — diverse in terms of the people it contains, the reasons that connect them, the strength of those relationships — will generate opportunities you could not have seen coming.

So when it comes to building a business, or finding a job, or clients, or partners, or ideas, it pays to have “a good network”. By “good”, I mean “diverse”. Cast the net wide. You never know who amongst the people you know is likely to lead you to the next big step in your career, or your next client, or the breakthrough which will see you out of the problem you’ve been stuck in forever. You never know.

Autour du chalet, colliers de perles

Weak ties are those who open the most doors. These are the people you may not know that well, or be somewhat out of touch with. These are the people you have met in a context that seems completely irrelevant to the work you are doing. They are the people who connect you to networks beyond your own, to schools of thought your network is unfamiliar with. Weak ties make for better introductions, because the stakes are lower: our acquaintances put us in touch with others more easily than our close friends and family, who know our faults too intimately, and may fear the fallback of a failed connection.

For this reason, I see no sense in being overly focused on one’s “personal brand”, or having an overly intentional online presence. Your network is made of relationships, and relationships are had between human beings. In networking, there is more being than doing. Caring gets you further than needing.

Go where there are people. Be open. Be generous. Be curious. See others, so that they may see you. Be helpful. Ask what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you. Find the balance of depth and breadth that suits you: too much depth leaves no space for others, too much breadth will see you forgotten like a business card in a pile of papers.

Don’t sell. Make friends. It doesn’t matter what brings you together, as long as you connect. You never know what it is that you do or say that might attract people to you. So be you. Better to be loved or hated for what you are, than for a mask that you’re wearing.

You never know who will come around to be your most precious business (or life!) contact until that day in the future arrives.

The kind of communication between people fostered by social media is perfectly suited to weak ties. It’s not very intrusive. We can stay connected with far more people than we could ever in the physical world, scrolling through our timelines or newsfeeds. Ambient intimacy creates rapport in sometimes surprising and unexpected ways. Distance and time do not get in the way anymore.

But to take advantage of that, for your online presence to play a role in nurturing your network, you need to be a person.

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Our Relationship To Technology: Is Your Smartphone In Charge, Or You? [en]

[fr] Une réflexion sur notre relation à la technologie. C'est pas aussi simple que "addiction! addiction! au secours!".

Today’s post, again, brought to you by an article of Loïc Le Meur’s: Why are we checking our smartphones 150x a day? (Remember when Loïc was a blogger?) He links to a video with the catchy title “After I saw this, I put down my phone and didn’t pick it up for the rest of the day”.

I have mixed feelings about this kind of discussion.

  • On the one hand, I think we need to strive to be those in charge of our use of devices, and not victims of the operant conditioning of modern technology.
  • On the other hand, I think that framing the issue of our relationship with technology as addiction is counter-productive, as it puts the blame on technology and removes responsibility from users.

It’s also not a new conversation, and it pops up every now and again as “today’s big problem”. Hey, I was afraid I had “internet addiction” back in 1998. I read Silicon Snake Oil and The Psychology of Cyberspace, headed off to my chalet for a week, and stopped worrying.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m online a lot, both on my computer and on my phone, but I still perceive being on your phone when in human company as “impolite”. I try not to do it too much. So, usually, when I’m with other people, I won’t be on my phone, unless:

  • we’re playing with our phones: taking photos, looking at stuff together, etc.
  • there is something I need to attend to (I apologize and try and be quick)
  • I’m looking something up to help us solve a problem or get information we need
  • we’re spending quite some time together and are both having “phone-time”

I’m aware this doesn’t mean much: with the same description I could be glued to my phone all the time. How do you define “something I need to attend to”?

So, some context.

My phone is in silent mode, and I have very few notifications set (same on my computer). It usually lives at the bottom of my bag. When I’m working, there are chances it’s next to me on my desk. It’s often charging or abandoned in another room when I’m at home.

I’ll check it somewhat compulsively when I’m on the bus, or when I’m using it “as a computer” to hang out online. If I’m with other people, as I said, I don’t take it out too much (though they’ll be the best judges about how much — I do take it out).

I suffer from FOMO like almost everyone who is connected today, I guess. But I don’t feel that I’m a slave to it. I read The Paradox of Choice many years ago and it really opened my eyes: today’s world is so full of possibilities. If you don’t want to succumb to the anxiety of too much choice and too many options, you need to be aware of what’s going on, and accept you’ll miss out. I try to be selective. I still struggle, but I know I’m going to miss out and it’s not the end of the world. (It’s in my social media survival kit, by the way.)

Why do we end up compulsively checking our phones and stuff? I think there are many reasons, and that’s why saying it’s an “addiction” is a way to frame the problem in a way that makes it difficult to address.

  • FOMO: with the internet, we have access to everything that is going on, all the time, everywhere. If we want to be “part of it”, hang out with the cool kids, or share the video that’ll get us 20 likes, we feel a pressure to “not miss” what is going on in the real-time stream. So we overload ourselves on the input side. We think we need to consume everything.
  • Operant conditioning: I’m clicker-training one of my cats, Tounsi. He knows that a click means a reward is coming. When I’m reinforcing a behaviour, I use an intermittent reinforcement schedule: he doesn’t get a reward with each click.
    See how this fits with digital interfaces, and even more strongly, social media? I think Kevin Marks is the first one who first pointed out this phenomenon to me, when I was having trouble taking breaks from my computer even though I had bad RSI.
    Suw Charman-Anderson wrote about how it applies to e-mail back in 2008. We check our mail, there might be some candy in there. We check Facebook, there might be a like or a comment. Nothing? It only makes the urge to check again more compelling: the next time could be rewarded!
    Yeah, dopamine plays a role in there. Understand how your brain works so you’re not a slave to your hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Validation: we want to be loved and appreciated, and some of what we’re looking for online is just that. Oh, somebody responded to my post. Oh, somebody sent me a nice e-mail. Ooh. But people who thinks that this is the only thing in play round down our issue with technology to an “ego problem” (very fashionable). It doesn’t help. But yeah, if you feel that your drive for franticly checking your phone when you’re having dinner with a friend is just that, maybe it’s worth addressing.
  • Work: the other time when I ran off to my chalet to find some peace was in 2008, and it was not to escape technology. It was to escape work. Our relationships to work and technology are very much entwined. Often, when people say they’re “addicted to their email”, and you take the trouble to dig a bit, you realise the problem is not “email” but “work”. They can’t pull away from work. They work during the week-ends, the evenings, their holidays. This is, I believe, a bigger issue than technology. Our relationship to work, as a society, is unhealthy. (And: Americans, you have a way bigger problem here than us Swissies.)
  • Not engaging: people often look at “not engaging” as a consequence of excessive use of technology. It’s the message conveyed by the video Loïc linked to in his post. I think that’s missing the point that “not engaging” can be the objective here. Relationships are difficult. Being present is difficult. Being with oneself is difficult. Being present to life is difficult. We do many things to avoid doing all this. We veg’ in front of the TV. We talk about unimportant stuff to avoid dealing with what matters in our relationship. And, increasingly, we dive into our phones.
    In the past, I used my camera a lot to “find my place” in social gatherings that would otherwise make me feel awkward. If I’m the person taking photos, I have a place. I have a pretext for interacting with others. I can remove myself from what is going on to be the observer snapping pics. It’s much more difficult to find my place and be with others if I’m just me, with no escape.
    So when we look at somebody who has his nose in his phone during a dinner party, I’d also ask “what is he avoiding by not being present?”

I think I have a reasonably healthy relationship to technology — and work. I have my drinking completely under control 😉

So, a wrap-up:

  • I check my phone in the evening before going to bed, and it sleeps on my bedside table, on but mute, and it never wakes me up (except when I ask Siri to do so).
  • I generally keep my phone muted and in my bag and my notifications off (also on my computer!)
  • I understand how FOMO and operant conditioning work, I’m aware of my need for validation and how I react to the infinity of choices in the world around me.
  • I stop working at the end of the day, and on week-ends, and I take holidays. Real holidays, not work-holidays.
  • I “switch off” a couple of times a year, taking a week or a few days off somewhere with no internet, where I don’t work and use my computer mainly for writing and having fun with my photos. This helps me remember what it is like to live more slowly, and makes me want to bring some of that back into my “normal” life.
  • I try and give priority of my attention to the people I’m with offline, without being religious about it. If I do need to attend to my phone or online stuff when in company, I try not to “disconnect” from the person I’m with offline.
  • I consider that I am the one in charge of my relationship with technology, and strive for a healthy balance between my ability to spend time totally immersed and connected and multitasking, and my ability to be completely (as completely as possible) present to the “offline”, be it a book, a person, an activity, or myself.
  • Like so many things in life, it’s about having healthy boundaries.

When I shared Loïc’s post on Facebook, he commented that we seemed to have similar points of interest these days. For some time, I’ve found what Loïc is writing about much more interesting to me. It’s more personal. Less about business, more about life. Life has always been the thing that interests me the most. My interest for the internet and social media comes from my interest in how people connect and relate to each other.

Interestingly, this is also the kind of stuff I’ve decided to shift my work focus to. Labelling myself as a “social media” person doesn’t fit with what I really do and want to do, specially in the Swiss context where “social media = digital marketing”, something I have very little interest in and want to stay the hell away of. So I’m moving towards “I help you use technology better”. Helping people have a healthy relationship with tech, use it to do their work or whatever it is they need to get done better. Some of social media fits in there too, of course. But also stuff like (yes, still in 2013), learning to use and manage email properly. (I’m actually preparing a training proposal for a client on just that these very days.)

So, how’s your relationship to technology? Who is in charge, you or the compulsion to check if there is something more exciting going on?

Note: I wrote this article in one sitting, getting up once to go to the loo (!) and checking my phone’s lock screen on the way back (it’s charging in another room) to see if I had a message from my neighbour, as we had been exchanging messages earlier and made a vague plan yesterday to maybe hang out together and look at cat photos this morning.

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Loneliness [en]

[fr] Sur la solitude.

This morning I stumbled upon the article Only The Lonely, in which Stephen Fry talks about depression, wanting to end things, mental health, and loneliness.

Here’s the passage that made me think a bit more about the nature of loneliness:

Lonely? I get invitation cards through the post almost every day. I shall be in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and I have serious and generous offers from friends asking me to join them in the South of France, Italy, Sicily, South Africa, British Columbia and America this summer. I have two months to start a book before I go off to Broadway for a run of Twelfth Night there.

I can read back that last sentence and see that, bipolar or not, if I’m under treatment and not actually depressed, what the fuck right do I have to be lonely, unhappy or forlorn? I don’t have the right. But there again I don’t have the right not to have those feelings. Feelings are not something to which one does or does not have rights.

In the end loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems. I hate having only myself to come home to. If I have a book to write, it’s fine. I’m up so early in the morning that even I pop out for an early supper I am happy to go straight to bed, eager to be up and writing at dawn the next day. But otherwise…

There are two important things here. The first is that feelings are there, and the question of whether you have the right to them or not is irrelevant. They are there. If you feel this way, then you feel this way. That way? That way. That’s it.

The bit on loneliness got me thinking. Everyone knows how lonely it can be to be in a relationship that has stopped functioning. How one can be at a dinner party surrounded by people and still be lonely.

Loneliness doesn’t have much to do with having human beings around you. What makes you “not lonely” is being connected to others in a meaningful way. Feeling recognized for who you are, and not for a social or professional persona you project when others are around. For me there is no contradiction in what Stephen tells us of his busy social life and his feeling of loneliness. It’s apples and oranges.

Having a social life does not mean you have authentic relationships with others.

3rd #back2blog challenge (10/10), with: Brigitte Djajasasmita (@bibiweb), Baudouin Van Humbeeck (@somebaudy), Mlle Cassis (@mlle_cassis), Luca Palli (@lpalli), Yann Kerveno (@justaboutvelo), Annemarie Fuschetto (@libellula_free), Ewan Spence (@ewan), Kantu (@kantutita), Jean-François Genoud (@jfgpro), Michelle Carrupt (@cmic), Sally O’Brien (@swissingaround), Adam Tinworth (@adders), Mathieu Laferrière (@mlaferriere), Graham Holliday (@noodlepie), Denis Dogvopoliy (@dennydov), Christine Cavalier (@purplecar), Emmanuel Clément (@emmanuelc), Xavier Bertschy (@xavier83). Follow #back2blog.

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Drive, Practical Wisdom, Money and Congress, Alone Together [en]

[fr] Quelques lectures, vidéos, podcasts.

A few random thoughts about stuff I’ve been reading. Or maybe, random pointers to stuff I’ve been reading. Or watching.

I had a chat the other day with a friend about needing to make time for “serious reading” (that I want to do!) and we both decided to try and fit in 30 minutes of reading during lunch break when we didn’t have meetings or appointments. I think this has motivated me to get back on the podcast-listening and talk-watching track too. Interestingly, I’m seeing collisions between the various things I’m reading/listening to/watching from various sources.

Anyway. Start with Drive, the book I’m reading. It’s about motivation. I’m around page 30 so far, and it’s talking about the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation stuff I’m so interested in since I bumped into it whilst reading The How of Happiness. Now read I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave, a rather chilling account of what happens on the other end when you order stuff online (physical stuff, that is stored in warehouses, and needs to get to you). No place for intrinsic motivation of any kind in there.

And here’s a TED talk by Barry Schwartz (the guy who wrote The Paradox of Choice) on using our practical wisdom. What’s that? Quoting from memory, it’s about wanting to do the right thing, and knowing where and how to bend the rules to do the right thing. Barry gives examples of how rule-ridden our culture (particularly American culture) has become.

And in the same vein, watch Larry Lessig explain how money corrupts congress, and how it can be stopped. Sobering.

This morning I decided to listen to an RSA talk (I subscribed to their podcast ages ago but haven’t yet really listened to anything). I picked one with a title that appealed to me: Alone Together, title of a book by Sherry Turkle. She talks about two things, mainly. Robots is the second. It’s a huge topic: how willing we are to enter into relationships with machines designed to imitate the behaviours of living/sentient/caring beings — and the consequences of that.

But that’s less interesting for me right now than her thoughts on always-on mobile connectedness: smartphone in hand, we always have the option of bailing out of our lives with each other. She gives the great example of the 15-year-old birthday party. When everyone wants to leave, it gets uncomfortable. They have to talk to each other. Say that they’re leaving. Now, they just “disappear” into Facebook and avoid having to confront that uncomfortable moment.

We have this capacity to leave where we are physically to go someplace else, which is easier. And avoid facing moments where maybe we need to learn something as a human being — growing moments.

Later in the discussion, she talks about our inflated expectations of responsiveness from one another. This is a topic that’s dear to my heart. I strongly believe that we should not cave in to being “always available” and “ever responsive”. Sherry says that before e-mail, when professors were asked if they would contribute to a publication, the average response time was 3 weeks. Now it’s 1.5 days. We’re not thinking anymore. We’re responding as fast as our fingers can type on our Blackberries. She suggests trying to answer an e-mail with “I’m thinking” to see the reaction. Maybe I’ll try. 🙂

Update 16h45: oh yes, forgot this one. More hours does not mean more productivity.

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Drifting People [en]

[fr] On ne peut pas être ami avec tout le monde, ne serait-ce que pour des questions d'agenda. Je crois que j'ai accepté cette limite, et aussi que l'amitié va et vient la plupart du temps, et que les gens invités dans ma vie ne resteront pas forcément pour toujours.

I like people. I meet a lot of them. I connect easily and make friends. I have lots of people in my life, and not just “business contacts” kept at arm’s length.

At some point these last months, I started reflecting on the fact that I want to count as friends more people than I can cope with, from a purely “calendar” point of view. It’s very frustrating.

Four years ago I wrote a post titled “Too Many People“. I’m not at this level of crisis, at all, though the seeds of this year’s realization were undoubtedly sown sometime then.

I think I’ve accepted that people will drift in and out of my life. I’ve accepted that I cannot pursue every friendship worth pursuing, and that when friends drift out of my life, it is not just my responsibility.

You see, for some reason, I tend to look at things as if I was in charge of maintaining the relationship. But there are always two of us, and when there has been no contact in a year, it is also because the other person has not made a move either.

I’m not thinking of any of my friendships in particular, here. It’s more that I think I’ve accepted something about the somewhat transient nature of friendships and relationships, and the practical limits which mean one can’t be friends with everyone one wants to, and feel more at peace with it.

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Defriending, Keeping Connections Sustainable and Maybe Superficial [en]

Yesterday I read Laurent Haug‘s post Defriendization is the future of social networks. (Laurent organizes the Lift conference, next month in Geneva — are you going? Here’s why you should.) I’m not sure I’m with Laurent about defriending. I guess I’m more of an advocate of being lazy about friending. That’s why I have 200+ people waiting in friend request purgatory on Facebook.

It is true, however, that with an online social network, you keep on dragging your past connections with you unless you defriend. In offline life, connections loosen with time, you stop seeing people, stop calling, stop writing, lose track of where they live… and connect again on Facebook. We have two movements here:

  • the fact that people tend to drift out of each other’s lives, and online social networks do not really have a way to reflect that
  • the fact that in a way, we like “collecting” our contacts, even if they’re not active anymore, as a way of making present or tangible some part of our past lives.

Sometimes, reconnecting with people who have drifted out of your life can be a great thing. I think that’s because in many cases, there is no real reason (like conflict, for example) for having drifted apart. It’s more a combination of circumstances and the absence of a strong incentive to not let the relationship dissolve.

I think that one of the obsessions with defriending has to do with having excessively high expectations about what one owes one’s connections. One of my keys to social media survival is “you can’t read everything”, which as far as relationships go translates to “you can’t have an active relationship with all your connections”.

It sucks, I know. I do believe that there is a psychological limit to the number of people we can handle in our lives (cf. Dunbar’s number). I also believe that social media, in a way, allows us to cheat with this — but it’s only cheating. It makes it easier to keep loose ties alive, and reactivate old relationships, but it doesn’t fundamentally change how many people in our lives we can really care about on a regular basis.

If you try to keep your online social network connections as meaningful as “regular friendships”, you can only fail.

I think this is part of the explanation of what I’d like to call “social media burnout” and that we’re seeing popping up all over the place. The links I’ve collected in relation to this theme are of high-profile social media people, but this happens to “normal” people too. They go wild about Facebook for a few months or a year, and then drop it all because they got sucked into it too much. Now, the people I’ve linked to above are not doing the “all-or-nothing” thing, and they might very well not be properly burned out, but they have in common that at some point, they have realised that their social media “life” was not sustainable as is. This happens outside social media too — but I think there is something specific to social media here, in the way that it dramatically lowers the energy necessary to establish and maintain connections.

Though one must never forget that the people at the end of our social media connections are real people, we must also acknowledge that it does not automatically entitle them to a deep, meaningful relationship with us. It’s OK to keep things superficial. It’s necessary, or your brain will fry.

Coming back to Laurent’s article, he points to three links that I would like to comment upon, in my typical rambly and disjointed blogging style ;-). I initially wrote a huge long post, and then decided to chop it up. Keep reading (after the lunch break):

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Interaction Space [en]

[fr] Ce qui compte, c'est qui est dans notre "espace d'interaction", autrefois délimité par l'espace physique autour de nous. Il n'y a rien de mal à attendre le bus au téléphone avec un ami plutôt qu'en échangeant des mondanités pataudes avec les inconnus qui se trouvent à l'arrêt.

At the bus stop, I’m listening to music on my iPhone and the two other women waiting are talking on the phone, smiling, but not to each other. That’s when I understand: what’s important is who is in your “can interact” space, not who is in your physical space.

Physical co-presence used to be important because it defined who you could interact with. That is not true anymore: your interaction space is not limited to your physical space.

There’s nothing bad about being on the phone with a friend rather than exchanging awkward mundanities with strangers at the bus stop.

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A Thought or Two on Social Capital [en]

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a nice afternoon in Geneva (a surprise for me!) sipping an ice tea on the terrace of a café in the Quartier des Bains. The people around the table were interesting, as was the conversation. At one point, I was trying to explain how I viewed “social capital” and the meritocratic nature of the connected lifestyle.

As with many things, the Internet has not really created anything new, but given more visibility or weight to something that already exists in the offline world that everybody knows.

As an individual, I have certain connections with other individuals, and a certain reputation. If I’m respected and appreciated, then I have a certain amount of social capital that I can either accumulate or “spend”.

Here’s an example of “spending” some of my social capital: I’m organizing a conference and ask people to blog about it or introduce me to possible sponsors. In “normal” speech, we’d simply say I’m asking for favours — and that’s what it is.

The amount of favours people will do me depends on how much “social capital” I have — how much they respect, regard, appreciate me. It’s pretty simple, really. “Social capital” is just an expression (like “whuffie”) used to give a name to this “thing” that people have more or less of, and which gives them power as an individual in their network.

Social capital can be well spent, or dilapidated. It can also be lost by doing stupid things (the kind of things that “ruin a reputation”). I think it’s a better expression than “popularity” or “reputation” because it stands a chance of being understood as multi-dimensional.

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End-Of-Travel Musings [en]

[fr] Peu de photos, d'articles, ou encore de vidéos de mon mois de voyage en Irlande, au Texas, et à San Francisco. Thierry trouve dommage, mais pas moi. J'apprends à prendre la vie un peu plus à la légère, à ne pas me mettre sous pression plus que nécessaire pour tirer toujours le maximum de profit de tout ce que je fais, tout ce que je vois, tout ce que je visite, chaque personne que je rencontre. A force de documenter sa vie, on court le risque d'oublier de la vivre.

Retour de San Francisco le coeur un peu lourd, car j'aime cet endroit et il abrite des gens qui me sont chers, mais heureuse de rentrer à Lausanne, que j'adore, et de revoir mon chat, bêtement. J'ai appris à "lâcher prise" concernant mon réseau social éclaté, à moitié en ligne, et dispersé aux quatre coins de la planète. On se recroisera, je le sais. Dans une conférence, lors de mes voyages ou des vôtres. On est à quelques clics de souris en ligne, jamais très loin. On est partout, au fond.

These two weeks here in San Francisco have been really nice. I got to relax and catch up with some friends (not all of them, unfortunately, and some less than I wanted to), make a few new ones, and also make good progress in the work department. I caught up with most of the stuff I’d fallen behind with during the previous month (stress and travel), and amongst other things, this means that [Going Solo is now ready to accept sponsorships](http://going-solo.net/2008/03/26/be-a-going-solo-sponsor/). It’s also time for us to strike up some media partnerships — get in touch if you’re interested. For media partnerships: [email protected] — that’s me! — and for sponsorships, [email protected] — Lily Yacobi is managing sponsor relations (she’s great!).

My travels started in a rather intense manner, with BlogTalk in Cork and SXSW in Austin. Two conferences back-to-back, one presentation on a new topic to speak about for me, two panel moderations (I’d never moderated a panel before), and a conversation to co-host (great format, by the way). Lots of people, new and known, two 2-hour nights before even landing in the US — I can tell you I reached Austin in a sorry state. Thank goodness I had a little halt in Dallas (thanks again, Adam!) to help me land.

[As I mentioned](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/14/conference-experience-evolution-and-the-paradox-of-choice/), the solution I found to survive SXSW without burning out was to keep a low profile and go with the flow. I kept that up somewhat in San Francisco: not too many plans, low expectations on what I wanted to accomplish, no frantic blogging/photographing/visiting/videoing. Some people [think it’s a shame](http://seesmic.com/v/9GNlZx3cPG), but I don’t.

Sometimes documenting your life can get in the way of living it, and I know that the pressure I put upon myself to “make the most” out of every occasion, every trip, every conference, every visit, every relationship, and simply every moment of life is wearing me down. I’ve been learning, over the past six months, that I need to cut myself some slack. Miss out on things.

So this trip, I hardly took any photos. I didn’t do any tourism. I stuck with what and who I knew, mainly. There is a whole bunch of people and businesses I regret not seeing/visiting (have I said it enough), but I don’t regret pacing my life so that I can leave here more rested than I arrived, and less stressed.

[Going Solo](http://going-solo.net) is a lot of work, but though I have a great [team of advisors and helpers](http://going-solo.net/about/), I remain the only one in charge, and I’m slowly learning how to delegate. Delegating is not something I’m familiar with or ever really had to do in my life, so I’m learning the skill — and it’s not easy for me. In the end, I end up with the feeling that I’m carrying too much weight on my shoulders, and that giving some of it to others creates even more. (See the idea?) Not to be dramatic, it’s a great experience and I think I’m doing well with it — it’s just not a trip to the beach (who would have thought that!?)

So, here I am, terminal A of San Francisco airport, at the Firewood Grill, where they make pretty decent cheeseburgers. I’ve eaten here before, I remember, a bit over a year ago after [my first trip to San Francisco](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/01/12/im-really-liking-san-francisco/) “in this life”. I like the music they’re playing on the radio, and I’m trying to sort through the mixed feelings in me.

I’m looking forward to going home, of course. I’m very attached to my hometown, as many of you have noticed, and whenever I’m away, I miss my cat a lot. It’s silly, but oh well. My brother will be home too, after a year spent in South America. It will be good to see him again.

But I’m leaving San Francisco with a heavy heart, too. I’m leaving behind the sunshine and people who are dear to me, as well as a community (however you want to understand that word) which means I get to bump into people I know when I go to parties. This happens in Lausanne, too, of course — bumping into people I know. Lausanne is a small village. But strangely, the San Francisco geekworld seems even smaller. And I like it. To state the obvious, “things are happening” here and it’s nice to be around. I like the city, too — even if I sometimes struggle a bit with the differences in culture between here and where I grew up and live.

I think I’ve become more relaxed about when I’ll see people again. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I will be. I’ll bump into you at a conference, or at a geek dinner somewhere when we’re both travelling. Maybe we didn’t get to say goodbye, but we’re just a few keystrokes away online anyway — so is it really that important? I don’t know what my life will be like in a year, and neither do you, probably. We live and work in this fast-changing world, somewhere on the edge, and we eat [Black Swans](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/15/reading-the-black-swan/) for breakfast.

We’re everywhere.

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Too Many People [en]

[fr] J'ai atteint un point où je n'ai plus envie de faire de nouvelles connaissances. Je n'arrive déjà pas à voir les gens qui me sont chers autant que je voudrais. En ligne, les relations "délicates" (asymétriques, par exemple) sont plus faciles à gérer qu'hors ligne. De plus, les outils de "réseautage en ligne" nous aident à rester en contact avec plus de personnes qu'il ne nous serait normalement possible. Quand tout ça passe hors ligne, cela frise l'overdose.

This is a post in which I expect to be misunderstood, judged, and which will probably upset some. But it’s something that needs to be spoken about, because I’m certain I’m not the only one going through this, and I think it’s strongly related to what changes the internet is bringing into our lives when it comes to relating to people.

I’ve argued many times that online relationships and behaviors in general reproduce what goes on offline, so it may seem that I’m contradicting myself somewhat. But I think it’s also clear for everybody in this space that technology does change the way we live with others. Right now I see that our world is changing — it’s a bit blurry ahead, and actually I’m quite scared to see more clearly — and in our lifetimes, chances are the nature of human relationships will be deeply impacted by the technologies we are using and developing.

If all this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. I’m not sure I understand what I’m saying myself. These might just be the tired rantings of a burnt-out and frustrated node in the network.

“Being an online person”, as I call it, means two things:

– there are people out there who know you, sometimes quite well, but that you have never heard of
– the “presence” dimension of our social tools allow you to keep in touch with more people (and better) than you would be able to offline

With their consequences, when your “online social life” goes offline:

– micro-celebrity, micro-fame, fans
– more relationships to nurture than the limited space and time permits

Our online social network does not necessarily translate well offline.

Let’s have a look at a few aspects of our relationships with others that we are maybe not necessarily the most proud of:

– we like (or even love) some people more than others — or perhaps simply differently
– we find some people more interesting than others
– some people we are happy to spend long periods of time with, but infrequently — if we saw them every day they would drive us up the wall
– some people we are happy to see a little each day, but would not want to spend a whole afternoon with
– we sometimes want to spend time with one person (or some people) at the exclusion of others (others who can be people we care about, too)
– we keep in touch with some people or are nice to them because they are *useful* to us
– we like some people less than they like us (and vice-versa)
– some people are business contacts to us, but would like to be our personal friend (or even get into our pants)

I think that if you look honestly, you will recognize yourself here. These facts about our social life are uncomfortable to deal with, and awkward. We don’t like thinking about them, much less talking about them. And we very rarely deal with them directly in the relationships they apply to.

Offline, we deal with a lot of this social awkwardness by avoiding it. This is why I argue that contact tagging, if done to structure our personal social network, must remain [a private matter](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/05/04/groups-groupings-and-taming-my-buddy-list-and-twitter/). We don’t tell some people certain things. We don’t mention that we’re meeting with Judy after lunch. We act a bit more distant with Tom than with Peter, hoping he’ll “get the message”. We tell Susie we’re too busy to see her, but drop everything when Mike invites us on a date.

Online, it’s even easier. We don’t respond to IMs or e-mails. We read certain blogs but not others. We chat absent-mindedly with Joe who is telling us his life-story, while we have a heart-to-heart discussion with Jack. We mark our status as DND but still respond to our best friend. We receive Twitter notifications on our phone from a select few, and keep a distracted eye on others’ updates. We lie more easily.

So, online, we actually have more freedom of movement (mainly because our emotional reactions are not so readily readable on the moment) to deal with some of these “awkward relationships” than offline — particularly, I would say, what I’d call the asymmetrical ones. From a networking point of view, being online is a huge advantage: the technology allows you to “stay in touch” with people who are geographically estranged from you, with a greater number of people than you could actually manage offline (“[continuous partial friendship](http://www.hyperorg.com/backissues/joho-may04-07.html#twitter)”), and it also allows you to keep in your network people who would probably not be in your offline circle, because it helps you tone down relationship awkwardness.

Conferences have lost their magic for me. I know, I know, I’m coming to this 18 months after everybody I know (I mean, I know I’m not alone and this is a normal process — but I’m still interested in analysing it). The first conferences I went to were bloody exciting. I got to meet all these people who were just names in my online universe, or with whom I’d been chatting for months or years, or whose blog I’d been reading in awe for ages. I made a lot of friends. (Maybe they wouldn’t agree, but that’s what it was like for me.) I met many people that I found interesting, likeable, wonderful, even. Some of them who also seemed to appreciate me back (as far as I can tell).

Over the last six months, conferences have become more and more frustrating. I’m speaking only of the social/networking aspect here. A dozen if not twenty people I really like are in town, sometimes more. Getting to see them offline is a rare occasion for me, and I’d like to spend half a day with each of them. But there is no time for that. People are here, and gone. They also have their other friends to see, which might not be mine.

To some, maybe, I’m “just another fan” — that I can live with, even if nobody likes being “just another fan”. But does one have to make conversation and appreciate every reader of one’s blog? If you like somebody’s blog, does that automatically mean they’re going to like you? Find your presence or conversation interesting? The hard reality of celebrity and fandom, even micro, is that the answer is “no”. It doesn’t mean that as a fan, I’m not an interesting person in my own right. It doesn’t mean that if I got to spend enough time with the person I’m fan of, they wouldn’t appreciate my company and find it enriching. But the fact I’m a fan, or a reader, doesn’t earn me any rights.

And increasingly, I’ve noted over the four or five last conferences I attended that there seem to be more people who want to get to know me than people I want to get to know. Or people who are interested in me for business reasons, but of the type where they get something out of me, and I don’t get much out of them. Or people who have been reading my blog for ages and are happy to be able to talk to me, but I know nothing of them.

I’ve reached a point where **I don’t want any more people**. I can’t keep up with *my people*, to start with. I feel spread too thin. I want to deepen relationships, not collect superficial ones. *Contacts* are useful for business, and though I’ve said many a time that the line between business and personal is more and more blurred, *business contacts do not have to become personal friends*. I know there are lots of wonderful people out there I don’t know. Lots of wonderful people I’ve maybe brushed aside or pushed away when suffering from “people overload”, when all I want to do is climb into my cave and stay there.

But you know, there are way too many great, interesting, fascinating people in the world to give them all the attention they deserve. Even if the *world*, here, is just “Web2.0-land”. But there is also a limit to how many meaningful conversations one can have in a day, and to how many meaningful relationships one can fit in a life. Those limits are personal. They vary from person to person. Some have them low, some have them high. But when the limit is reached, it’s reached.

So at some point, I need to choose who I spend my time with. In a very selfish way, I choose to give priority to the people in my life that I care for, and who bring me something. I’m there for me first, others after. I consider that one can only truly give and bring value to others when it is not at one’s own expense. I think this is valid in the economy of social relationships too. Being spread too thin impairs my ability to care — and I don’t want that.

Choosing who I spend my time with online is rather easy. I can tell the umpteenth guy who wants to “be friends” with me on IM that I have enough friends, I’m not looking for more, don’t chat with people I don’t know, and really can’t chat with him now. If he insists, I can ask him to leave me alone, and tell him that if he doesn’t, I’m going to have to block him. I can keep him out.

Offline, in a conference, it’s way more difficult. Maybe we need to take inspiration from [Aram Bartholl](http://datenform.de/) and hang status messages around our necks, or chat windows (with curtains?) that we can close. I’m kidding, I honestly don’t think there is a real solution apart from being honest — in a socially acceptable and non-rejecting way (easier said than done).

I think we need more awareness of the complications offline to online transitions bring about. Maybe we’re going to have to start being explicit about these “social awkwardnesses” that I mentioned above — because changing the setting from online to offline makes it much more difficult to resolve them by ignoring them.

We’ve all been through the very unpleasant experience of being “stuck” in a conversation we don’t find interesting, but which is obviously fascinating for the other party. It happens even with our friends: I’m talking with Jill, and hear with my spare ear that Bill and Kate are talking about something much more interesting to me, but I can’t just dump Jill, can I? But what if Jill is somebody I’ve met 3 minutes ago — does that change anything? And of course, this dreadful thought: heck, could it be that I’m his/her Jill? Have I been the dreadful boring person one tries to shake off, without noticing?

These are human problems — they’re not technological. I feel I’m getting tired now and before I ramble too much (I feel I’m not very coherent anymore), I’ll don my flame-retardant suit (you never know) and hit publish. I’m looking forward to reading your reactions — whether you agree or disagree with me, of course.

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