Getting Older: How I Use Technology [en]

At lunch my colleague ordered delivery for us. On her phone.

Of course I know this exists. But it hasn’t “worked” that well in Switzerland for all that long, and I think I’d never ordered food with an app. I felt like a fumbling doofus not knowing where to find the fries in the menu.

This got me thinking (and we had a chat around this topic with a bunch of my – quite – younger colleagues, and one my age).

The idea that you can easily and cheaply get food delivered is very new to me. This is not something we could do when I was young. I think I only really started ordering food during lockdown (when Quintus died, actually), and I only did it a handful of times. Maybe once before. But I call, speak to a human being, place my order. I don’t really feel confident doing it through a website.

Weird, huh?

We were also musing on why so many people seem to want paper versions of certain documents when a digital version can be sent instantly by e-mail (and printed, if need be). Some people just aren’t comfortable having important things on their phones. I recalled how long it took me (me!) to be comfortable travelling with only a “phone” version of my airline ticket. In all honesty, depending on where I’m going, I still am not really.

So, here’s a little list of stuff I do and don’t do with technology.

  • I use ebanking and cash transfer apps (I’m almost completely cashless)
  • I use an app to track my public transport use and bill me at the end of the day
  • I order(ed) books and CDs online from amazon, before I went completely digital
  • I buy plane and train tickets online (but am always slightly uneasy not carrying a print version when abroad)
  • I make concert reservations online
  • To book a restaurant, I’ll call them up
  • I chat and interact with people I “don’t know” online all the time
  • I’ve been meeting people “from the internets” for over twenty years (completely blasé about it)
  • I never managed to really get into snapchat or tiktok
  • I rarely print things, I tend to photograph paper stuff to digitally store it
  • I order groceries online when needed but I’d rather go into the store (when needed: post-lockdown, overworked)
  • I message people, rarely cold-call (except with family or purely utilitarian stuff, I generally schedule my calls)
  • I don’t order clothes online
  • I rarely print photos, they are first and foremost digital beings
  • I trust digital storage at least as much as physical storage
  • I know how to use a paper map
  • I navigate using google maps most of the time
  • I don’t have a CD or DVD player anymore
  • I have a Kindle and prefer most of my books as e-books
  • I type rather than write on pen and paper
  • I dictate to my phone regularly (my thumbs get fed up though I thumb-type really fast)
  • I rarely send people voice messages (never without consent – I hate receiving cold voice messages)
  • I have a location tracker on my cat, and home surveillance cameras (for the cats) but haven’t connected the cat-flap to the internet

When I was talking with my colleagues, I realised that the first phone I had which could usefully connect to the internet (through GPRS) was around 2007 or so (it wasn’t an iphone). I could check my mails and even Twitter. Load slow web pages that weren’t mobile-friendly. I was 33 in 2007. So until that age, I lived and functioned without a constant connection to the internet. And I’m realising, now, as years turn into decades, that I’m starting to see my age in my level of comfort with certain technology usages.

Quoting Douglas Adams:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

What about you?

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.

Boundaries and Outsourcing Our Brains [en]

[fr] Réflexion sur le fait que notre utilisation de la technologie consiste à déléguer certaines fonctions cérébrales (calcul, mais aussi stockage/mémoire), et sur la nécessité de chercher un équilibre dans notre connectivité en posant des limites, sans pour autant fuir dans la déconnexion complète.

I went to a lovely dinner party the other night, put together by the no-less-lovely Cathy Brooks of DoAT. At some point of the evening, we shared our thoughts on what we were seeing that qualified as “most disruptive”. Where are things going, according to the diners?

I have to admit I drew a bit of a blank in the “disruptive” department — I’m trying to quieten down these days. However, there are two things I see going on that seem important to me.

The first is that we’re outsourcing our brains. It’s an evidence — a huge amount of what computing does for us is that. The internet, mobile phones, better interfaces — all that accelerates and facilitates the process.

We don’t just use machines to outsource long complicated mathematical calculations anymore. We use them to decide where to eat. To remember what we need to do tomorrow. To know who acted in which movie. Where we met people, and when. Who they are and what they do. What we did when and where.

We’re using machines to remember stuff. Does it scare you? It doesn’t scare me that much, to be honest, because as long as that information is almost instantly available to us, does it make a big difference if it was stored in our brains or elsewhere? Have you read those SF books (like Alastair Reynolds‘s Revelation Space series — I love his stories) where humans have implants that connect them permanently to a kind of “cloud” or “network”? I mean, it’s just what we have now, with a better interface. I think we’re getting there.

We’ve been doing this with people forever. When you have a close relationship with somebody, you outsource (or delegate) some of your cognitive processes or data storage to them. I can’t remember if I read about this in Blink or The Tipping Point, but it was Malcolm Gladwell who introduced me to the idea.

In a couple, somebody is often in charge of the schedule. Or of cooking. Or of taking initiative for the holidays. Or of keeping up with movies to see. Breaking up (or losing that important other in any way) is traumatizing also because of the “data loss”. It’s a slightly utilitarian and mechanical view of relationships, of course, but it’s onto something.

The feeling of disconnect we have when away from technology (almost like a missing limb) has some kinship with the feeling of lack of access when we’re aware from our external data storage humans. “Oh, if only Andy were here, I’d just ask him X/he’d know what to do.”

Right, enough of confusing humans with machines.

The second thing that’s been on the top of my mind for the last couple of years is the question of boundaries. In an always-connected world, providing better and better interfaces with all the data out there and the spaces we store it in (machine or human), we are forced to learn boundaries. Boundaries with humans, especially when there are too many of them, and boundaries with technology.

For many of us, technology is closely linked to work, and learning to be offline is also learning to disconnect from work. Should we learn to be offline? Is it something we need? It seems obvious to us today, but I’m not sure it will be seen as that important in 10-20 years.

Do we think it’s important to spend days without electricity? Without cars (yes, but once a year)? Without cooking food? Without a roof over our head? Without newspapers or books? It’s different, you’ll say. Not that different — just that those are technologies that were born before us, and we don’t question them as much as those that appear during our adult lifetime.

Disconnecting is a radical way of avoiding the issue of having to set boundaries with technology and people. But we do not owe it to people to be available when they try to reach us. In most of our lines of work, nobody is going to die if we don’t check our e-mail. We can learn to say no, to not respond to certain requests, to not pick up the phone.

Of course we need disconnection at times. E-mail sabbaticals should become an acceptable thing in companies. For that, we need more people who have the guts to do it (responsibly of course). I found that spending a week offline helps reset normalcy. It’s easier to resist the temptation to check your e-mail first thing in the morning when you’ve spent a week without it. It’s easier to slow down when you’ve been offline for a week. I think it’s particularly useful to take these breaks when “online” and “work” are related. In a way, it just comes down to taking a “real” holiday. Just as needing time off work doesn’t mean we should aim to purge work from our lives, needing breaks from tech doesn’t mean we need to try and remove it from our lives.

I believe it is possible to remain connected and at the same time to preserve our personal space and time. Yes, that requires being able to say no, and set boundaries, but that’s simply healthy human behaviour.

Answering when addressed is etiquette that holds in a world where the physicality of space and time already sets boundaries for us — in the digital world, it needs to be rethought.

I remember this researcher who was interviewed in a Radiolab episode (probably “Deception“). He strived to not lie — you know, those social lies you say all the time. “Oh, sorry I can’t meet you for dinner next week, I’m too busy.” Instead, he would say things like (quoting from memory) “I’m sorry, but I’m not actually looking to pursue new friendships right now.” I think this kind of attitude requires courage and diplomacy. And I think that more and more, we’re going to have to learn it.

In a connected world, these social lies become more difficult. I might end up having to own up to the fact that yes, I’m there, at home, watching a DVD, available for my friends and family, but not for my clients. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.

So, I think we should go for balance, and boundaries, rather than rejection and disconnection.

Solar Impulse: voir voler l'avion [fr]

[en] Photos, videos and comments of my first day working with Solar Impulse -- I got to see the last test flight in Payerne before they fly the solar airplane to Brussels Airport for Green Week.

Warning: long article, mais c’est aussi parce qu’il y a plein de photos, et plein de choses à raconter!

Vous commencez à être au courant, mais si jamais (scoop!), voici pourquoi vous m’avez entendu parler de Solar Impulse plus que d’habitude durant la dernière semaine: je travaille à soutenir l’équipe communication dans leur utilisation des médias sociaux, y compris la mise sur pied d’un programme de “relations blogueurs” en bonne et dûe forme. Jusqu’à fin juin en tous cas, me voilà donc plongée dans l’univers de l’avion solaire. J’adore!

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Ma première journée avec l’équipe Solar Impulse a eu lieu lundi à Payerne, où j’ai pu assister en direct au dernier vol test du prototype avant le grand saut en-dehors de nos frontières. On est à un moment charnière de l’histoire du projet, vu que l’avion va prochainement effectuer son premier vol international pour se rendre à Bruxelles (nous y serons à l’occasion de Green Week) et Paris (pour le Salon du Bourget).

Je vous en dirai plus sur ces deux “events” et le vol prévu dans un autre billet, mais sachez déjà que c’est à ces occasions-là que nous aurons des choses intéressantes à proposer aux blogueurs (du coin ou d’ailleurs, s’ils désirent se déplacer!) Pour être sûr de ne pas rater l’annonce et les offres pour blogueurs, inscrivez-vous à la petite liste-annonce que j’ai ouverte sur Google Groups. (Pas très élégant mais facile, et ça vous assure d’être au courant dès que je peux vous dire quoi que ce soit.)

Bref, lundi, j’ai vu voler l’avion. Wow!

En fait, même si ça faisait longtemps que je connaissais le projet (j’ai entendu Bertrand Piccard le présenter lors du Forum des 100 en 2006), je me suis rendu compte lors de cette première semaine qu’il y avait des tas de choses que je ne savais pas!

Premièrement, on me l’avait dit, mais je n’avais pas enregistré, ou réalisé: il est grand, l’avion solaire. Vraiment grand (63m40 d’envergure!). J’en ai pris la mesure une fois qu’il avait été sorti du hangar et que j’ai voulu le photographier dans son intégralité. J’ai eu beau reculer, il ne rentrait toujours pas dans le cadre, regardez:

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Alors OK ;-), j’ai changé d’objectif et le bel avion solaire a accepté de rentrer dans le fameux cadre de la photo, mais quand même. J’ai été surprise, là. (Notez en passant comme c’est joli, la campagne payernoise et les champs de colza. Il y avait aussi les grillons qui chantaient et le soleil qui grillait, mais ça c’est difficile à partager par internet.)

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Deuxièmement, on me l’avait dit aussi, mais je n’avais pas non plus enregistré (ou réalisé): l’avion vole lentement, comme un grand oiseau planeur majestueux. En fait, le HB-SIA (c’est le p’tit nom du prototype) est une sorte d’immense planeur, très très grand, et très très très léger. Avec des hélices propulsées par des moteurs électriques (la puissance d’un scooter) alimentés par l’énergie solaire, qui peut aussi être stockée (pour voler de nuit). 1600kg, c’est pas grand chose!

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L’article dans Gizmag offre une analogie très parlante (je ne sais pas si elle est d’eux, mais c’est là que je l’ai vue): c’est un peu comme si vous preniez votre voiture familiale et que vous l’étiriez pour lui donner la taille d’un Airbus A340. Voyez comme c’est léger? Moi, ça me fait proprement tourner la tête.

Donc, vous avez déjà vu voler des planeurs… ça plane. Et Solar Impulse aussi. C’est très agréable pour prendre des photos.

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Troisièmement, et corollaire de la remarque précédente (là c’est mon cerveau qui a pas fait les connexions): il décolle très vite! Je vous explique: pas vite comme les F/A-18 (on a subi leurs décollages juste à côté à la fin de notre pause de midi), mais vite comme… oh, il est déjà en l’air!

J’étais postée dehors, pas tout à fait à côté de la piste, mais bien placée pour voir décoller l’avion, après avoir assisté à la sortie du hangar que je vais vous raconter tout soudain. Je m’installe, appareil de photo en main et prête à filmer le décollage. J’attends, je vois deux-trois tests d’hélices, et là, je réalise (pardonnez la lenteur de mon cerveau encore un peu endormi) que l’avion va faire tourner ses hélices avant de se mettre à bouger. Chouette, je serai ainsi avertie et pourrai commencer à filmer! Il suffit de garder un oeil sur les hélices.

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Ah, voilà, c’est le moment! Les hélices tournent! Je pointe mon appareil de photo en direction de l’avion! (C’est beaucoup de points d’exclamation pour bien vous montrer l’excitation du moment.) Je me mets à filmer mais… tonnerre, il est déjà en l’air! Moi qui m’imaginais (de nouveau, échec cérébral, j’avoue) que l’avion allait prendre toute la longueur de la piste pour décoller, comme un avion de ligne… Eh bien, j’ai raté le décollage proprement dit. Prise de vitesse. Moins de 100m et hop, il vole. J’ai quand même une vidéo à vous montrer, hein.

(Mon appareil fait des caprices de mise au point, sorry… faut que je relise le manuel pour régler ça!)

Vous entendez le doux ronron du moteur électrique? Pas mal, hein.

Et le voilà dans les airs!

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Quatrièmement (mais pas dans l’ordre chronologique), je n’avais pas du tout pensé au fait que sortir l’avion de son hangar est déjà toute une aventure. Il sort au pas, avec plein de monde autour pour veiller sur lui. Il est quasi millimetré pour tenir tout juste dans le hangar, il faut donc faire bien attention!

Le voici dans son hangar:

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(Notez les vélos électriques à gauche, je vous raconte après.)

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Sortie, on surveille la queue (je sais qu’il y a un nom technique pour cette partie de l’avion, mais je ne suis pas encore au point, donnez-moi encore quelques semaines pour m’imprégner du vocabulaire aéronautique):

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Vous voyez, c’est déjà toute une histoire!

Petit détail sympa en passant, le genre de truc que les journaux vous raconteront jamais. Les nettoyeuses de piste!

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Pour stabiliser l’avion pendant qu’on le déplace, on le soutient à la main, comme on voit bien sur cette photo:

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(Vous verrez aussi ça à la fin de la vidéo de l’atterrissage, si vous avez la patience de regarder jusqu’au bout…)

Le cockpit, de près (notez qu’il n’y a pas de vitre — enfin pour le moment, elle est ajoutée après, si j’en crois ce que je vois sur mes vidéos plus bas):

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Une hélice:

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Et voilà, il suffit maintenant de l’amener en bout de piste pour le décollage!

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La butte sur la gauche, elle est prévue pour les spotters. Elle est accessible au public, et on y a une bonne vue de la piste!

J’ai fait bien sûr toute une série de photos de l’avion en vol. En voici quelques-unes que j’aime bien:

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Bref, c’est joli. Vous pouvez voir les autres dans mon set Flickr Solar Impulse.

Et en passant, toutes mes photos sont sous licence Creative Commons “paternité, non-commercial, partage à l’identique” (by-nc-sa): ça veut dire que vous pouvez les réutiliser (et même les modifier) tant que (1) ce n’est pas pour un but commercial (genre vous les vendez pas sans mon autorisation, sinon bobo!) (2) si vous les modifiez, vous les partagez avec la même licence (en gros, vous n’avez pas le droit de faire un machin “tous droits réservés” à partir de mes photos). En bref et pas compliqué: si vous avez un blog ou un site et que vous voulez utiliser mes photos dessus, pas de souci tant que vous spécifiez que ce sont mes photos! (Les médias, par contre, vous êtes “commerciaux” :-))

Retour à l’avion, donc. J’ai deux vidéos à partager avec vous, encore: celle de “l’approche” (en gros, l’avion fait comme s’il allait atterrir, mais il n’atterrit pas) et celle de l’atterrissage proprement dit:

Notez les cyclistes qui rejoignent l’avion sur la piste. Regardez jusqu’au bout la vidéo suivante (celle de l’atterrissage) pour voir ce qu’ils font…

L’avion immobilisé après l’atterrissage:

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Ce que j’ai appris aussi (c’est le cinquième truc) c’est que les vols ne sont pas planifiés super à l’avance! A ce stade du projet, l’avion dépend beaucoup des conditions météo. Tout se décide 24h à l’avance… Je n’en avais aucune idée!

Voilà, je vous laisse ici pour aujourd’hui. Et dès que je peux, des nouvelles du vol pour Bruxelles et du programme blogueurs.

Thoughts on Dystopian Tech Future Vision [en]

These last weeks I’ve been catching up with On The Media (partly thanks to being back in the saddle), and earlier this evening I was listening to the February 18 piece on “Our Future With Technology”.

I had a few thoughts as I was listening that I’d like to share with you.

First of all, I quite strongly believe in the position defended by Brooke at some point which says that technology mainly allows us to become more of what we are. This is along the line of what I try to explain about “dangers” of the internet regarding teenagers: most of the trouble they face online is the same kind of trouble they face offline. Yes, sometimes with a twist, and other consequences. But in a very general way, the internet is not a completely alien place — as our local online world sociologist Olivier Glassey said a few months back during a talk I attended, we need to stop thinking of the “online” as a “separate space” (the expression he used is “le lieu de l’altérité”).

A bit later in the show, they are talking about augmented reality: what will it be like when we can wear glasses or contact lenses which, along with facial recognition software, will allow us to identify the people we come upon in the streets? OMG-there-will-be-no-privacy-anymore the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it <insert more dystopian panic here>.

I’m always surprised that this kind of thought experiment never includes things like “well, some people might end up covering their faces” or “we’ll start wearing masks” or “there will be a way to opt out of being ‘facially recognized'” or… whatever coping mechanism one can imagine. Because as technology advances and disrupts the way we are used to living, we also evolve coping or evading mechanisms to resist change. Why does run-of-the-mill dystopian thinking always depict us as passive victims of the unstoppable advance of technology?

We’re not passive. We usually actively resist change. For example, we now carry on our phones everywhere we go, but we choose to mute them or screen our calls — something that was pretty unthinkable 30 years ago when all we knew was landlines.

With the dystopian glasses on (the show was constructed as an attempted dialogue between utopian and dystopian visions of our tech future) the idea was brought up that augmented reality might at some point allow us to ignore or obliterate what we disagree with — extreme example: not seeing people with radically opposed views to ours. Bob concluded “people obliterate people”, which in my sense is right: we are already obliterating what we don’t want to see. Technology might allow us to do it better (“becoming more of what we are”) but sticking to what is familiar and ignoring the rest is fundamentally human. If I wasn’t so tired right now I’d fish out this article I read (no memory where) which shows how we very selectively remember what already fits in our worldview and obliterate the rest.

I see the “people obliterating people” thing at play in India. In the same spaces (I’m talking of streets or neighbourhoods here), you have completely parallel and distinct societies that live on with very little knowledge or understanding of each other. Literally invisible to each other.

SWITCH Conference, Coimbra: Technology [en]

Running notes from the SWITCH conference in Coimbra. Are not perfect. Feel free to add info in the comments, or corrections.

Pedro Bizarro

What’s common between a traffic jam, a bad surprise with your energy bill, a heart attack?

Bad surprises can sometimes be avoided if the right person has the right information at the right moment.

Real-time information. Lots of information to process in traffic management, measuring energy consumption, or running a hospital.

steph-note: very dark room and glaring white slides, not helping me focus; grumble: don’t give your whole talk in the dark for a series of dark slides, not worth it — or turn the light down just when you show those slides.

Cheap sensors everywhere, easy to capture information now; ubiquitous networks, no limit to storage.

Use case for this type of technology: monitoring ICU patients to predict risk of cardiac arrest.

Another is monitoring energy consumption in the house, which can give you a prediction for your bill at the end of the month.

Hugo Pinto

Personal journey: getting technology to do stuff to you. Most entrepreneurs have a dream they pursue. Hugo is a bit different — was a strange kid, reading strange kinds of books: SF comics. Imagining he’d play a part in this SF future.

But where are the hover cars, the spaceships, the house robots? A future that never was. Economics have kicked in. Hugo’s probably never going to land on a lunar base anytime in his life.

So, what’s the story? Hugo is a kind of entrepren– dreamer. Programmed during his teens, took computer engineering at university, corporate programming in his 20s, and then management (heck, he lost his way!)

Reboot, back to his dream: can we do pragmatic stuff? Co-started Inovaworks in 2006. Do fun tech stuff that has business value and sell it. Inspiration: read The Muse in the Machine by David Gelernter. (Something about predictive outcomes in creativity steph-note: if I understood right)

Started a company, but ended up getting a state-sponsored fund (around their work on creativity). As always, the company ended up doing some stuff they’d predicted they’d do, and some stuff they hadn’t. For example, more mobile stuff. iPhone apps and casual games. Oropoly (?).

All that they do, they do cheaply (or at least cheapish). Hardware is getting cheaper. Open standards make it easy to exchange knowledge. Globalization helps you connect with people having useful resources, like 3D printer: horrendously expensive, but they have one for 950$. Not that good quality, but it works great for prototyping!

Unless you’re doing fundamental tech research, technology is about doing stuff. Ideas per se have little market value. Build a prototype, social market the hell out of it, bootstrap or get it financed!

Possible to make great products out of cheap technology. It’s really really hard to protect IP. It’s way easier to just kickstart it by making a product. Going to market is the most important thing nowadays.

Hugo’s company are doing research on interactive 3D. AAA3D as a new enabler. 3D game engines have been maturing, cost of developing this type of interactive media has decreased dramatically.


What about the space thing? Very costly. The chemicals needed to lift you into space are not getting any cheaper. Space elevators and space loops are decades away. Hugo won’t go into space, but can he fake it? Computer imagery, as we have seen, is catching up 🙂 (DID is getting cheaper and cheaper: 290$)

Maybe we’re all going to space 🙂 — 3D cameras on the Mars spaceship!

Here’s a video of Hugo’s talk if you want to watch it.

Frederico Figueiredo

Boosting user experience. Best practices in large enterprises. How to produce good UX. @fredfigueiredo was born the the computer science department of his university 😉

Joined Siemens in 2005 (amongst other things). His passion is usability. Finished his MSc in 2007, papers and talks with people in many parts of the world. Liked basketball — is not just a geek, though he’s probably not in good enough shape to dunk anymore!

Boring ISO 9241 definition of usability. Has to be a better way to explain it!

Effectiveness: accuracy and completeness. Efficiency: ressources expended. Satisfaction: what you gain afterwards.

Fred’s definition: How easy is it for a “user” to do “something” in a given “environment”.

Example: how easy is it for you to know when the next rain is in Amsterdam airport, etc. gives us a bunch of examples of usability fails in offline environments

First step (Nielsen): know your users. This is where you really get value. Observe them in their environment. User-centred design. Put the user in the focus of everything you do.

UX: mix of usability, visual aspects, good design, brand. => nice product people use enthousiastically

In the past, the brands were in control. Now, users are in control, the market is very competitive. Users have expectations based on past experiences, and based on real world experiences. Users are demanding and they don’t always demand the same thing.

Look at the iPhone: less features than any other smartphone on the market, but #1 seller.

But organizations keep providing services and products which are not usable, etc => need usability as a core competence in the organization. Cannot be something external you add on as an afterthought. Quite easy in small organizations, but hard in larger corporations. Nobody gets to meet the CEO. Too much distance between decision power and ideas/concerns. Companies driven by ROI, etc => who cares about usability?

Multiple sites, different cultures, different roles and backgrounds. So many different takes on what usabiilty is.

Bureaucratic processes, turnover.

How can people recognize the brand when they want products that are customized to their needs. Also, hard to know the users as they are so far away. Is usabiity really accepted in a corporation? What can we do about this?

Fight the organization, but intelligently and smoother. Aikido.

  • path to self-discovery, requires a team
  • use the energy of your opponent and make it your own
  • be aware of your environment
  • make the decisions in the action *steph-note: didn’t get that*

Infiltrate. Don’t go in with a big sign saying “I’m here to change your organization”. Observe. Go in as a software designer, etc. Strategy.

Challenge: don’t know what the difference is between a customer and an end-user.

Build a team, an identity, get peer recognition, network, convince other people to pay attention to usability, educate others and train them, and only then can you make a change, make a difference.

It’s all about selling usability, in the end. You don’t sell the concept of usability, but the end product, the value it brings. Sell it with emotion and enthusiasm.

Two of Fred’s favorite tools:

  • presentations: with results/value (what you have gained by applying usability) — but don’t do crap powerpoint, target to the audience
  • just do it!

Luis Borges

We are at war! An information war. Fast, tech-based, and global.

We need new tools to deal with information overload, check for information quality, and support knowledge. steph-note: related, addicted to technology — I’m a bit tired of that topic

“No, you weren’t downloaded. You were born.” comic strip

Time and space.

Places are important for us: where human activity takes place; central for life, learning, work, fun.

Time and space change in the digital world. We’re not sure yet how to use these new “time and space” to support our human activities.

Digital time and space are more independant, elastic.

But! More time to do, less time to react. Space is almost impossible to control, but easy to reach.

The digital world allows time and space to overlap in different ways than in the physical world.

The world suddenly becomes our place, no more boundaries at human scale. We can be in more spaces at the same time. But we cannot not be where we are, or be at another time.

Human limits still apply! Physical location and place remains important.

The world has changed and will never go back.

Digital is part of any place, but we always come back to offline.

steph-note: this is interesting — I’m not sure I agree with everything, but I like the idea of rethinking space and time in the light of the presence of digital technology.

We need tools that free people from data-information-knowledge tyranny steph-note: I disagree, we simply need to set boundaries, learn to say no, etc.

Log-Out Day: Victims of Technology, or a Chance to Grow? [en]

[fr] Les initiatives de "déconnection" comme le Log-Out Day en Corée sont à mon avis symptomatiques d'une immaturité dans l'utilisation des nouvelles technologies, aussi bien à l'échelle personnelle que sociétale. Nous pouvons nous voir comme les victimes de la technologie et la rejeter avec fracas (pour toujours ou pour un jour) ou bien la voir comme une opportunité d'évoluer et de grandir en tant que personnes.

The last link from Laurent‘s post Defriendization is the future of social networks that I want to comment upon is about Log-Out Day in Korea. (Read my first two articles about his post: Defriending, Keeping Connections Sustainable and Maybe Superficial and Scale in Community and Social Media: Bigger is not Always Better.)

We need to be able to disconnect, but again, I’m not sure it’s really worth making a statement about, or taking a stand for. Do we have “electricity-free” days? We do have “car-free” days here, but they’re rarely followed. All this reminds me of the Addicted to Technology meme.

For me, the existence of things like a “Log-Out Day” is a symptom that we (as a society, as individuals) have not yet come to terms with the new technology in our lives. We are not mature in our usage of these tools. We haven’t learned to set boundaries that make sense for us, and we’re not good at enforcing them.

Do you take non-critical work phone calls when you’re taking time off? Do you let new e-mail interrupt you when you’re deep in something else? Do you have trouble saying “no” to the almost infinite requests of the connected world? Do you face difficulties in your relationships with other people, and take the “easy way out” of moving almost all your social life online? I could go on and on.

We can be victims of technology, and resort to rejecting it in sometimes dramatic knee-jerk ways (Log-Out Day, deleting one’s Facebook account, shutting down one’s blog, etc.) — or we can seize the opportunity to grow as human beings.

I do not have to leave my cellphone at the entrance to ignore incoming calls, or not use it (like when I’m on holiday, or during the week-end). I can be lazy about responding to friend requests, rather than deleting my Facebook account because I can’t keep up. I can spend a “technology free” week up in the mountains without checking my e-mail even though I have my iPhone and computer with me. I can decide to not turn back to fetch the cellphone I forgot at home, and go out without it instead.

I can be a hyper-connected person without letting it eat my life away.

Journée Ada Lovelace: Suw Charman-Anderson [fr]

L’an dernier, mon héroïne scientifique pour Ada Lovelace Day était Marie Curie. Un nom que tout le monde connaît. Cette année, changement de registre. Je vous propose une femme moins connue mais bien vivante, et que j’ai l’honneur de compter parmi mes amies proches. (J’avoue que le choix a été dur: pas tellement “mais de qui vais-je bien pouvoir parler aujourd’hui?” mais plutôt “bon sang, laquelle vais-je choisir?!”)

Alors un peu logiquement (même tellement logiquement que beaucoup ne le feraient pas, et donc ça vaut doublement la peine de le faire) je vais vous dire quelques mots sur Suw Charman-Anderson — l’initiatrice de la Journée Ada Lovelace.

J’ai rencontré Suw en 2004, ou peut-être même fin 2003 (la date exacte importe peu) sur IRC. IRC, c’est un réseau de chat “pur texte”, très ancien, et qui plaît bien aux geeks et geekettes. On s’est rencontrées “en chair et en os” quelques mois plus tard, mi-2004, et on est tout naturellement devenues amies. Mais ce n’est pas pour vous parler d’amitié que j’écris ici.

A l’époque où je l’ai connue, Suw s’était lancée (tôt!) dans la création de sites web (HTML et compagnie), après des études en géologie. Elle avait appris le gallois (“geekette”, ce n’est pas juste pour la technologie pure et dure!) et s’était mise au Python pour pouvoir programmer son propre robot IRC. Elle a rapidement acquis une réputation internationale comme experte en médias sociaux (social software à l’époque), au point qu’elle a d’ailleurs dû à un moment donner mettre un moratoire sur ses engagements à l’étranger en tant qu’oratrice. Elle a également créé l’Open Rights Group, une ONG dédiée à la protection des droits numériques au Royaume-Uni (et ailleurs).

Dans ce monde des médias sociaux, mine de rien à majorité masculine, Suw est mon héroïne-soeur. Elle est une scientifique de base, ouverte sur le monde des humains, et qui navigue avec aisance dans le milieu des nouvelles technologies. Elle (et d’autres comme elle) me rappelle que je ne suis pas seule. Qu’au milieu de tous ces hommes qui occupent souvent le devant de la scène dans notre milieu professionnel, il y a d’autres femmes comme moi, qui n’ont rien à envier à qui que ce soit, que ce soit par leur parcours ou leur expertise.

Ada Lovelace Day and Backup Awareness Day: Today! [en]

Completely accidentally, Backup Awareness Day collides with Ada Lovelace Day in March. And it’s today, March 24th.

So, I’m going to ask you (yes you, faithful readers!) — if you have a blog — to write two blog posts today, as I will. They don’t have to be long. They don’t have to be perfect. L’essentiel, c’est de participer — taking part is more important than performance.

I would also be very grateful if you took a few minutes to spread awareness about these two events amongst your friends and network. Post a link on Facebook or Tumblr, tweet about it (hashtags are #ALD10 and #backupday), send an e-mail or two, mention them to your IM buddies.

Thanks a lot for taking part and helping spread the word.

A Month From Now: Ada Lovelace Day [en]

A month from now exactly, on March 24th, it will be Ada Lovelace Day. I urge you to sign the pledge to participate and to spread the word around you so that we can reach our ambitious target of 3072 bloggers writing about a female role-model in tech or science on that day.

There are many brilliant and inspiring women in the traditionally male-dominated scientific and technical fields who often do not get as much attention or “screen time” as they might deserve. This is a real shame, all the more because women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones, as Suw Charman-Anderson, the initiator of Ada Lovelace Day, explains very well in last year’s kick-off post. Ada Lovelace Day is a direct solution to this, by inundating the blogosphere with posts about inspiring women over the space of a day.

I took part last year by writing a post in French about Marie Curie. Ada Lovelace Day 2009 was a big success, with around 2000 people participating, media attention, a comic which took on a life of its own to become The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage and even a T-shirt, and the drive to organize Ada Lovelace Day 2010, complete with a higher target for people participating, and offline events.

We need your help to make this happen and reach our target of 3072 people participating. What can you do?

  • sign the pledge and blog about a woman in tech you admire on March 24th (please read the FAQ for more information about the why and how)
  • write about Ada Lovelace Day on your blog, and tweet about it to spread awareness
  • talk to the people around you: if you know any bloggers or influential people, ask them to participate too and spread the word
  • join the Ada Lovelace Day group on Facebook and invite your friends to join too
  • organize an offline event in your town!

I know that for many of you who think the event is a great idea and want to participate, the big question is “who should I blog about?” — particularly if you already took part last year. Here are a few thoughts to help you out:

  • you can write about any woman, be she alive or dead
  • the woman you choose to write about does not have to be famous — but she can
  • you can write about more than one woman if you like — or just about one
  • think of the women who have influenced or inspired you in some way or another throughout your life (teachers? family members? public figures? historical figures? friends? colleagues?)
  • “tech and science” is a pretty loose field, on purpose
  • if you are in the field of science or tech, look around you: are there women you know (or know of) who are not getting as much recognition as they would deserve?
  • your post doesn’t have to be about “the woman who most inspired me” or “my absolute top role-model, and she happens to be a woman” — go for “a woman who inspires me, or whom I admire”.

“Blog”, here, is shorthand for any kind of publication: video, podcast episode, web comic, newspaper column…

Thanks a lot for being part of Ada Lovelace Day!