Sans regrets [fr]

[en] Regrets are there to help you find the energy to dare or do things differently. Beyond that, they are just a ball and chain which shackle us to our past hurts.

Les regrets servent à puiser l’énergie pour oser, ou agir autrement. Passé cela, ils ne sont qu’un boulet qui nous enchaîne à nos douleurs passées.

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Just because something is easy to measure doesn't mean it's important (Seth Godin) [en]

[fr] Citation du jour de Seth Godin, dont je suis en train de devenir fan: "Ce n'est pas parce qu'une chose est facile à mesurer qu'elle est importante." (Contexte: nombre de visiteurs d'un blog/site.)

After having abandoned Google Reader during the crunch weeks preceeding [Going Solo Lausanne](, I heard about [Feedly](, installed it, and started to love it. (I’ll blog about it in more detail in a few weeks, but it’s a Firefox extension which piggybacks upon Google Reader.)

With Feedly, I’ve started reading blogs again — and also blogs that I didn’t read regularly. More and more, I end up reading posts by [Seth Godin](, and I’m becoming a fan. A few weeks ago, [How to Organize the Room]( but in clear writing something I’d noticed before (atmosphere and interaction are better if people are a bit cramped). [Saying thanks in a conference presentation]( gave me inspiration for how to do things properly next time around. And today, in [Who vs. how many](, he picks up on [Robert Scoble’s post against the rush to audience]( and provides us with this “quote of the day” gem:

> Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t mean it’s important.

Seth Godin

This reminds me of what I was trying to say in [Twitter Metrics: Let’s Remain Scientific, Please!](, when I got annoyed by numbers thrown about under the assumption that they meant anything. (The post is mainly [a video]( because I couldn’t type at the time, but I’ve been told it was well worth watching.)

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Adapting to Budget: "on peut tout faire avec tout" [en]

[fr] "On peut tout faire avec tout", me dit une copine designer avec qui je parle d'un mandat pour ma conférence, Going Solo. Ce qu'elle veut dire, c'est qu'il y a généralement moyen de s'adapter au budget du client.

C'est vrai pour moi aussi -- du moins dans certaines choses que je fais, comme apprendre aux gens à bloguer. On peut mettre en place un blog pour une entreprise pour 2'000CHF, mais aussi pour 50'000. Dans les deux cas le client aura un blog, mais les choses seront tout de même assez différentes:

  • Dans le premier cas, le client sera livré à lui-même pour découvrir la culture de la blogosphère et la stratégie de communication qui lui est propre. Je lui en aurai parlé, bien entendu, mais cela restera inévitablement abstrait. Il va devoir apprendre en public, perdre la face peut-être. Il fera des erreurs. Si tout va bien, il s'en sortira, à long terme. Au bout d'un an, de deux ans, il finira par réellement comprendre ce que ce nouveau média a à offrir -- s'il n'a pas abandonné, découragé.
  • Dans l'autre cas, le client sera accompagné, suivi de près, conseillé, coaché pendant six mois. Il apprendra "juste". Il fera moins d'erreurs grossières. On ménagera sa susceptibilité en ne l'obligeant pas à apprendre sans filet sous les yeux du public. Il y aura des crises également, c'est sûr -- mais il ne sera pas seul pour y faire face.

Il n'y a pas une méthode plus juste que l'autre, c'est ce que je suis en train de comprendre. Ça dépend du client. Est-il prêt à être livré à lui-même, quitte à échouer misérablement ou à se décourager? A quel point tient-il à apprendre à maîtriser ce média? Son budget est-il limité? Je m'adapte.

Last week, I recontacted a girl I used to do judo with, who is now a designer (not a “graphic designer” per se — an object designer). We talked about her work and what she did, and ended up trying to see if there was anything we could do together for Going Solo.

I met her to discuss this — it was a very strange experience for me to be “the client” and to feel totally lost about what she was going to do for me. And also, to be wondering how much this kind of thing would cost me. I had more than a few thoughts for my clients, who sometimes turn green when I tell them the price tag for what we’ve discussed.

What I’d like to talk about here is something she said: “on peut tout faire avec tout”, meaning “you can get anything for anything”. Not very clear out of context, I’ll admit. We were talking about budget. Basically, what she meant is **”tell me how much you have for this, and I’ll figure out a way to give you something for that price”**.

As the client in this story, I personally found that much more comfortable than to have to wait for her to come up with a quote (which would probably make my heart sink) and then get into painful discussions to see how we could reduce the cost.

My needs here aren’t very specific. I want a logo, a “look”, banners, some printed material, etc. And it makes sense: I can probably get that for 2000 CHF, and I could also get it for 8000. What I’d get would be different, of course — but basically, it would fulfill the basic need.

I liked what she said, because it resonated with some background thought process of mine which never quite made it to the surface. In my “industry” (let’s think of social media here, like corporate blogging), you can also “get anything for anything”. **Want a corporate blog? Well, we can do it for 2000, but also for 20’000** — or even more.

Let me explain a little. This is something that’s been bothering me for a few months, and I’m glad I’ve finally figured it out.

When I quit my day job (or was about to do so), I set up blogs for some clients. It was very **lightweight**: evangelize, install WordPress, show somebody how it worked, adapt a design to a WordPress theme, give some strategic advice (not always received) — and there we go. Sometimes, I didn’t even go through all that. It was “talk a couple of hours, open a []( account, done”.

*But I wasn’t that happy with the results.* People often didn’t really “get” it. I felt they were under-using their blogs, that they could be doing so much more with them. Sometimes, people “didn’t get it” to the point that they actually didn’t really use the blog we’d set up.

So, I changed my way of working. Over the weeks and months, I came to understand just how vital training was when it came to understanding social media. Not just the technical aspects, but as I’ve written [again]( and [again]( (and probably elsewhere), the cultural and strategic aspects of it. So, I started to include that in my discussions with clients.

“Setting up a blog and learning how to publish a post is just the beginning. The big job is understanding the blogging culture, and figuring out how blogging fits into or changes (in most cases!) your communication strategy.”

*I didn’t want my clients to be disappointed in their blogs, or to “fail”, or to mess up too much.* It brought me to quoting healthy 5-figure prices for “we’d like a corporate blog” type of requests.

Not surprisingly, they thought it was a tad expensive. “Isn’t the whole point of this social media stuff the fact that it’s supposed to be *cheap*?” So, I didn’t get the gigs in question, and I wasn’t very happy either. The corporations I’ve been in touch with seem quite ready to be evangelized about social media, but not really ready to bet money on it.

(I know a lot of what I’m saying is old news, so forgive me if I seem to be stating the obvious to some of you.)

About a week ago I had a chat with one of my old clients, who told me that after about a year of having a rather non-bloggy blog things were slowly starting to change. Nothing very notable, but **they were loosening up**. They brought in somebody to help for the website who was more of a “web” person, and that had a positive influence on how lively the publication was becoming.

This seemed to bring me an answer to something I’d been uneasy about: lately, I’d caught myself explaining how blogging, as a tool, creates a certain kind of culture and communication strategy — but in the same breath, kind of negating that by insisting that throwing blogs at people doesn’t make bloggers out of them. I still think I’m correct about this, but it’s more complex than I make it sound. If you give somebody a blog, and they use it long enough, sooner or later they’ll start to “get it”. The catch is that there are high chances they will give up before they get there. And also, there is no knowing how long they’ll take to “get it”.

So, what do I do with this? **On the one hand, it is possible to keep blogging “cheap”. On the other hand, I do believe it makes sense (particularly for corporations) to invest a hefty chunk of time and money in learning to get it right.** (Corporations don’t hesitate much about spending lots of $$ — or even €€ or ££! — on software solutions… put that money you’ll save on the software in training and strategic consulting when it comes to social media.)

I realised that the key was *compromise*.

**Say your budget for opening a corporate blog is 2K.** We’ll open a account or install WordPress on a server somewhere, get you a domain name, maybe a cheaply customised theme with your logo in it. I’ll show you how to use the tool’s basic functions. I’ll give you some advice (blogger’s survival kit), recommend some other tools to try, and that’s about it. You’re on your own.

You’ll scrape your knees. It might take you a year or more to figure out for yourself that blogging isn’t about reproducing your “print” or “old marketing” content in a light CMS called a blogging tool. You might give up, or decide that this blogging thing is not all it’s hyped to be — it’s too hard, it doesn’t work, it’s just a fad. On the other hand, if you do hang on in there, feel your way through the crises, engage with your readers, learn to be part of the community, mess up and apologize… There is a lot of value in there for you.

**If your budget is 50K, we’ll do things differently.** I’ll follow and train your team over 6 months. I’ll walk you through the crises. I’ll help you prevent some. I’ll hold your hand while you learn. Talk with you when your communication strategy feels rattled by this alien blogging thing you’re doing. Help you see clearly so you understand what’s at stake more clearly when you have decisions to make. Spend time convincing the sceptics that what you’re doing really has value. Teach you to write better, as a blogger. Show you how blogging is part of this Bigger Thing that’s been happening online over the last years. When we’re done, I’ll have taught you almost as much as I know, and you’ll be autonomous.

In both cases, I’m compromising. The client is compromising. Blogging *is* about learning in the open, messing up in public, and getting scalded by the heat of real relationships and real people and real conversations. It’s about being human.

**Where exactly is the compromise?**

In the first scenario (the “cheap” one), the client isn’t really ready to invest much time and money in understanding blogging, or doesn’t have the means to do so. If he’s not committed or not passionate enough, the whole thing will **fail**. Remember that **many people start blogging, and then stop**. They’re just not around to tell us about it. All we see are the *natural bloggers*, those who have it in their blood, so to speak. Those who have a personality that fits well with the medium. On the flip side, the client gets the “real deal” right away. No training wheels.

In the second scenario (the “expensive” one), the compromise is in **saving the client’s face**. It spares the client the indignity of learning through making lots of mistakes, and in public. By investing time and money, and hiring competent people, you can avoid making gross mistakes, and appear to “get it” faster than if you jump in and half drown before you figure out how to float. We’re compromising here by preventing the client from looking too bad while he gets to grip with the new medium. Ultimately, the client will have to learn to lose face every now and again — nobody can prevent the business from messing up now and again. But it won’t be due to being uncomfortable with an unfamiliar medium.

**I don’t think there is *one right way* to get into blogging. Just like there is not a “best” way to learn, between taking classes and learning all by yourself. Both of these scenarios are good — and all those in between. It will depend on the client:**

– is the client ready to scrape his knees in public, a lot — or is he still happy with a rather controlled communication strategy, which he wants to ease out of gently?
– is the client willing to see his attempt to get into blogging fail (for a variety of reasons) — or does he want to put all the chances on his side to make sure he sticks with it?
– is the client on a budget — or is money not an issue?

Which brings me back to where I started. Translating what my friend says to my own business: if you want to get into blogging and your budget is set, it’s possible (within reason, of course). In all cases, you’ll get “blogging”, but you’ll get different flavours and intensities of it.

You *just* have to trust the professional you hire for this to be giving you your money’s worth.

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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]( 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](”), 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]( 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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Against Splitting The Bill [en]

[fr] Partager "également" la note à la fin d'un repas partagé est inévitablement injuste: ceux qui ont consommé moins paient toujours pour ceux qui ont consommé plus. Ceci est facilement une source de tensions lorsque vient le moment fatidique si tous les convives n'ont pas des habitudes de consommation (viande, alcool) et des budgets similaires.

Il y a eu un peu de tension à ce sujet lors de mon repas d'anniversaire hier soir, malgré ma tentative d'utiliser le "système de la banque" de mon ami Stowe Boyd. J'aurais dû prévenir les convives à l'avance, et le ferai à l'avenir. L'idée de la "banque" est simple: chacun regarde la note, décide ce qu'il est juste qu'il paie par rapport à ce qu'il a consommé, et donne l'argent à une personne (l'organisateur, souvent) qui joue le rôle de la banque. La banque paie le tout via carte de crédit et ne vérifie pas les sommes qui lui sont données. Pour ceux qui s'inquiéteraient, la banque perd rarement -- l'absence de contrôle encourage les convives à faire leurs additions de façon responsable, et dans le doute, à payer plutôt large que court.

Ce billet explique pourquoi je suis en général opposée au système injuste du partage arithmétique (sauf en certaines circonstances) et les avantages que je trouve au système bancaire, en réponse à un billet de Tara Hunt (par ailleurs ma généreuse hôtesse durant mon séjour à San Francisco), qui regrette qu'on ait pas simplement "partagé l'addition". Les commentaires en réponse à son billet sont presque tous en défense du "partage arithmétique", d'où mon assez longue explication.

***Update:** do also read [Stowe’s clarifying response to Tara’s post]( while you’re at it.*

*Another long comment which turned into a post. This is a response to [Tara’s post about the awkward “paying the bill” moment at my birthday dinner party]( yesterday.*

I’d like to chime in here, as the “Birthday Girl” in the story and a strong opponent of splitting the bill.

First, my apologies to [everyone present at the dinner party]( for whom the “settling the bill” moment left a bad aftertaste. You can imagine it wasn’t my intention, and this is the first time I’ve seen a party not wanting to go with “Stowe’s banking system”. I’ve learnt from last evening that it’s important to announce how the bill will be dealt with in the invitation, and will do this in future. I think this is a good thing to do whatever the “system” the party organiser would like to adopt — at least things are clear from the start.

And in this case, particularly as you were kind enough to pitch in for my share — which I greatly appreciate — I guess I should have just kept my feelings to myself about how the bill was being dealt with. Again, I’m sorry if my comments contributed to making it a sour experience for you.

I’m surprised, reading this post and the comments, to see so many people who consider “splitting evenly” to be a just solution. By definition, it’s always unfair — those who consumed less pay for those who consumed more. As a person who doesn’t drink (or hardly), has been on some kind of a budget most of her adult life, and spent many years being the sole “eternal student” amongst friends who were earning a decent living, I’ve done my share of “paying for others” — and I can tell you it doesn’t even out in the end.

Yes, more than once I’ve spoken up and refused to pay for twice the amount of what I’d ordered had cost, sure, but it’s really unpleasant to have to do that. And (comments in this thread confirm this) do that, and you’re sure to be labeled “cheap” by people present. Not to mention that when people know the bill will be split, they stop paying any attention to the price of what they order (or the number of drinks), as “it all evens out in the end”.

As for Royal’s comment:

But if someone has to watch their cash that closely they should not be going out to dinner anyway.

If you can’t afford to spend without looking, then you shouldn’t go out and have fun with your friends? I disagree, and actually find your comment about this distasteful. More than once, I’ve chosen to accept an invitation to eat out rather than stay in, knowing that I could afford it if I was reasonable. And I have many friends who have exactly this kind of budget issue.

Back to the “bank” system, which I feel has not been well understood in this conversation, what is wrong with paying for what you have ordered, or more precisely, what you consider fair to pay for what you’ve had? Counting pennies brings grief, I can see everybody agrees with that. I agree too. Look at the bill, consider what you’ve ordered, what you’ve eaten, and decide how much you contribute. Is that complicated?

It relies upon people being honest, but so does splitting the bill evenly. Shared appetizers or drinks? Look at how much was ordered, guesstimate how much you ate/drink (e.g. I ate more than 1/13 of the shared appetizers and I drink a lot of water, so had I been paying, I would have paid at least a whole bottle of water and an appetizer and a half). It’s a solution that allows people with different eating/drinking habits and different budgets to share a party together with no grumble. Dividing equally works well when the party is homogeneous — but honestly, I can’t often make that assumption about my guests. Sometimes I don’t know them well enough to know if they eat meat or drink or not, or what their financial situation is like. And I’d rather people not feel uncomfortable about having to raise issues like that at bill paying time, which is why I went for Stowe’s bank system.

In your post, and in a few comments, I hear concern for what the poor “bank” is going to be left paying in the end. Stowe says in his post that he has not usually been left paying a huge tab. I was also concerned about this when I first heard about this system, and he has also told me this in person — the bank rarely loses. I guess he’ll give details directly if he feels it’s useful.

For me, this is not so much about community vs. individual as about coming up with a solution which is as fair as possible, while minimizing the hassle. The lack of control is the key here — the Bank doesn’t check if people have paid correctly, which also tends to responsabilize people more. There’s no “boss” checking behind you to make sure you added up right, like when everybody pays “their share” but the total has to add up in the end. That’s where the party usually ends up 50$ short or 75$ long — and then what do we do?

People should be able to go and party together regardless of their drinking habits, diet preferences, or financial situation — without being made to feel uncomfortable about going against the “egalitarian we-pay-for-the-community splitting system”.

Are there any cultural issues at stake here? Maybe it’s more acceptable in Europe to care about how much you spend than in the USA, even though on the political scale, quite a few European countries (including mine) lean much further “left” (into “community solidarity”) than the USA?

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De la "prévention internet" [en]

[fr] Thursday evening, I went to listen to a conference given by a local high-ranking police officer who has specialised in tracking down pedophiles on the internet. His presentation was titled "Dangers of the Internet", and I was expecting to hear warnings about excessive pornography consumption and predators lurking in chatrooms.

That's exactly what I heard.

Before going, I had intended to blog viciously about the conference. I changed my mind. I changed my mind because first of all, I spoke up a few times during the conference to ask for numbers, give information I had gathered from other sources, or simply state my discomfort with some of the "official" messages targeted at kids to "keep them safe".

Then, after the talk, I went to have a chat with the speaker. I realised that we agreed on quite a few things, actually. Our angle is different when presenting, of course, and more importantly, his job is to hunt down pedophiles, not talk about the internet and teenagers to the public (which, in a way, is mine).

To cut a long story short, I had a few interesting conversations during that evening, which left me more motivated than ever to get on with my book project on the subject of teenagers and the internet. Problems are complex, solutions aren't simple. And around here, there is little money available to run awareness operations correctly.

Jeudi soir, je suis allée assister à une conférence sur les dangers d’internet, donnée par Arnold Poot, Inspecteur principal adjoint à la police cantonale vaudoise, spécialisé dans la traque au matériel pédophile sur internet. J’y suis allée prête à me retrouver devant le “discours attendu” au sujet des prédateurs sexuels sur internet. Je n’ai pas été déçue. Pour être brutalement honnête, j’avais aussi la ferme intention de bloguer tout ça, de prendre des notes, et de montrer méchamment du doigt les insuffisances d’une telle approche.

J’ai changé d’avis. Pas sur le fond, non. Je pense toujours qu’on exagère grandement le problème des prédateurs sexuels sur internet, et qu’à force de placer des miroirs déformants entre la réalité et nos discours, on finit par ne plus s’y retrouver. Par contre, je n’ai plus envie de démonter point par point la présentation qui nous a été faite.

Ceci n’est donc pas le billet que j’avais l’intention d’écrire. Attendez-vous donc à quelques ruminations personnelles et questionnements pas toujours faciles dans le long billet que vous avez commencé à lire.

Qu’est-ce qui a amené ce changement d’état d’esprit? C’est simple: une conversation. Au lieu de fulminer dans mon coin et de cracher du venin ensuite sur mon blog (mon projet initial — pas très reluisant, je l’admets), je suis à intervenue à quelques reprises durant la présentation pour apporter des informations qui m’amènent à avoir un autre regard sur certaines choses dites, et même pour exprimer mon désaccord face à une certaine conception de la prévention internet (“ne pas donner son nom ni d’informations personnelles”).

Il y a des semaines que je désire écrire un billet (toujours pas fait, donc) en français qui rend compte de [la table ronde sur la victimisation des mineurs]( à laquelle [a participé]( mon amie [danah boyd](, chercheuse travaillant sur la façon dont les jeunes construisent leur identité dans les espaces numériques. A cette table ronde, trois autres chercheurs actifs dans le domaine des crimes commis à l’encontre de mineurs. Je rentrerai dans les détails plus tard, mais si vous comprenez un peu d’anglais, je vous encourage vivement à lire ce que dit le Dr. David Finkelhor, directeur du *Crimes against Children Research Center*, en pages 3 à 6 de la [retranscription PDF de cette discussion]( (Le reste est fascinant aussi, je n’ai d’ailleurs pas fini de lire les 34 pages de la retranscription, mais l’essentiel pour comprendre ma prise de position ici se trouve dans ces trois-quatre pages.)

Mais ce n’est pas tout. Après la conférence, je suis allée discuter avec l’intervenant. Pour m’excuser de lui être ainsi rentré dans le cadre durant sa présentation, d’une part, mais aussi pour partager mon malaise face à certains messages véhiculés de façon générale autour de la question des pédophiles sur internet. Et j’ai été surprise.

Parce qu’en fin de compte, on était d’accord sur de nombreux points. Parce que son discours, comme il le dit, c’est celui “d’un flic qui arrête des pédophiles” — et pas autre chose. Son métier, c’est d’être policier, j’ai réalisé. Il nous a fait une présentation sur les dangers d’internet tels qu’ils apparaissent dans son quotidien de professionnel — ce qui n’est pas forcément la même chose que “rendre compte de la situation sur internet dans sa globalité” ou même “faire de la prévention”.

J’ai discuté longuement avec lui, puis avec deux enseignantes (dont une avait assisté à ma rapide présentation de l’internet social à la HEP en début d’année scolaire) qui font de la prévention internet dans les classes du primaire. Discussions intéressantes et sympathiques, mais où encore une fois, je n’ai pu que constater à quel point nous manquons de moyens (en fin de compte, cela reviendra toujours à une question d’argent) pour faire de la prévention “correctement”.

Je voudrais pouvoir former des gens à faire le genre d’intervention que je fais dans les écoles — et pas juste en leur donnant un survol de la situation durant 45 minutes. Mais qui, comment, avec quel argent? De plus, je réalise de plus en plus que pour faire de la prévention intelligente, d’une part il faut avoir identifié le problème (les dangers) correctement — ce qui est à mon avis souvent [pas le cas lorsqu’il s’agit d’internet]( — et d’autre part, on retombe inévitablement sur des problèmes éducatifs de base (la relation parents-enfants, le dialogue) qui renvoient à un contexte de société encore plus général.

Que faire? Allez toquer chez Mme Lyon? Peut-être. Mais honnêtement, je n’aime pas “démarcher les gens à froid”, et je n’ai pas l’énergie pour ça. (Peut-être que je devrais le faire plus, mais pour le moment, c’est comme ça que je fonctionne.) Il y a assez de travail à faire avec les gens motivés, à moitié convaincus, ou au moins curieux, qui me contactent d’eux-mêmes. Oui, on critiquera peut-être, mais j’attends qu’on vienne me chercher. Ça changera peut-être un jour, mais je n’en suis honnêtement pas certaine.

Donc, que faire? Du coup, je retrouve un bon coup de pêche (pas que je l’avais perdue) pour mon projet de livre. Je crois que le public le plus important à toucher, c’est les parents, en l’occurrence. Et les gens “en charge de la prévention”. Peut-être qu’un livre serait utile.

J’ai fait plusieurs lectures ces derniers temps qui m’ont marquée. Tout d’abord, “[Blink](” et “[The Tipping Point](” de [Malcolm Gladwell]( Le premier s’intéresse à l’intuition, d’un point de vue scientifique. J’y ai retrouvé, exposées de façon bien plus précises, fouillées et argumentées, de nombreuses idées que j’avais fini par me faire, au cours des années, sur la question. Le deuxième examine ce qui fait “basculer” certains phénomènes: qu’est-ce qui fait qu’une idée ou une tendance à du succès? Il y parle de la propagation des idées, des différents types de personnalité qui y jouent un rôle clé, et donne aussi quelques exemples d’application des ces principes à… des problématiques de prévention.

Ensuite, livre dans lequel je suis plongée en ce moment: “[The Culture of Fear](” (Barry Glassner) — une critique sans complaisance de la façon dont la peur est promue par les médias et les gouvernements pour, entre autres, encourager à la consommation. C’est américain, oui. manchettes-peur Mais on est en plein dedans ici aussi: les chiens dangereux, le loup, l’ours maintenant, les étrangers bien sûr, les jeunes, la technologie… et les pédophiles tapis dans les chats sur internet, prêts à se jeter sur nos enfants sans défense. Ce n’est pas pour rien que [le premier obstacle au bonheur est la télévision](, où l’on nous rappelle sans cesse et si bien de quoi avoir peur et à quel point notre monde va mal.

Mes réflexions ces temps ont pour toile de fond ces lectures. Il y a aussi, dans la catégorie “billets jamais écrits”, “The Cluetrain Manifesto”. [Achetez ce livre.]( Lisez-le. Ou si vous ne voulez pas l’acheter, [lisez-le gratuitement sur le site]( Ne vous arrêtez pas aux [95 thèses traduites en français]( que vous pouvez trouver sur internet. Le livre est bien moins obscur et va bien plus loin.

Bref, preuve en est ce billet destructuré, écrit petit bout par petit bout dans les transports publics de la région lausannoise, ça bouillonne dans mon cerveau. Et je me dis que la meilleure chose à faire, juste là maintenant, c’est de formaliser tout ça, par écrit. J’en parle, j’en parle, mais je réalise que je blogue très peu à ce sujet, parce qu’il y a trop à dire et que je ne sais pas très bien par où commencer. Quand j’ai décidé de partir cinq semaines aux Etats-Unis, je me suis dit que si rien ne se présentait côté “travail payé” (ce qui est le cas pour le moment, même si ça peut tout à fait changer une fois que je serai là-bas) ce serait une excellente occasion de me plonger sérieusement dans la rédaction de mon livre. Et là, je me sens plus motivée que jamais à le faire — même si au fond, je n’ai aucune idée comment on fait pour écrire un livre.

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Disturbed About Reactions to Kathy Sierra's Post [en]

[fr] Comme cela avait été le cas lors de l'affaire SarkoWeb3, la blosophère s'est maintenant emparée de la triste histoire des menaces reçues par Kathy Sierra, telle une meute affamée et sans cervelle. Hypothèses présentées pour faits, coupable car non prouvé innocents, noms, déformation d'information, téléphone arabe, réactions émotionnelles trop vite bloguées et sans penser... tout y est.

Encore une fois, je suis déçue des gens.

Since I [read]( and [posted]( about [Kathy Sierra’s latest post](, and stayed up until 3am looking at blog post after blog post pop up on [Technorati]( and [Google Blogsearch](, I’ve been growing [increasingly uneasy]( about what I was reading in the blogosphere.

Like many other people I suppose, I was hit with this “tell me it ain’t so” feeling (denial!) that makes one sick in the stomach upon reading that Kathy had cancelled her ETech appearance out of fear for her safety. My heart went out to her. Of course, I felt angry at the people who had cause her such fear, and I also felt quite a bit of concern at seeing known blogger names appear in the context of this ugly affair.

And then, of course, there was the matter of getting the word out there. I [blogged it]( (and blogged it soon — I’ll be candid about this: I realised it was breaking news, heck, I even [twittered it]( before [Arrington did](!), and although I did use words like “horrible” and “unacceptable” (which are pretty strong in my dictionary, if you are familiar with my blogging habits), I refrained from repeating the names mentioned in Kathy’s post or demanding that the culprits be lynched.

One of the reasons for this is that I had to re-read some parts of Kathy’s post a couple of times to be quite certain to what extent she was reporting these people to be involved. Upon first reading, I was just shocked, and stunned, and I knew I’d read some bits a bit fast. I also knew that I had Kathy’s side of the story here, and though I have no reasons to doubt her honesty, I know that reality, *what really happened*, usually lies **somewhere in between the different accounts of a story one can gather from the various parties involved**. So I took care not to point fingers, and not to name names in a situation I had no first-hand information about, to the point of not knowing any of the actors in it personally.

In doing this, and taking these precautions, I consider that I am **trying to do my job as a responsible blogger**.

Unfortunately, one quick look at most of the posts coming out of Technorati or Google Blogsearch shows (still now, over 15 hours after Kathy posted) a [collection]( of knee-jerk reactions, side-taking, verbal lynching, and rising up to the defense of noble causes. There are inaccurate facts in blog posts, conjectures presented as fact, calls to arms of various types, and catchy, often misleading, headlines. I tend to despise the mainstream press increasingly for their use of manipulative headlines, but honestly, what I see some bloggers doing here is no better.

Welcome to the blogmob.

The blogmob is nothing new, of course. My first real encounter with the mob was in [May 2001](, when Kaycee Nicole Swenson [died (or so it seemed)]( and somebody [dared suggest she might not have existed]( The mob was mainly on MetaFilter at that time, but there were very violent reactions towards the early proponents of the “hoax” hypothesis. Finally, it was demonstrated that Kaycee was *indeed* a hoax. This was also my first encounter with somebody who was sick and twisted enough to make up a fictional character, Kaycee, a cancer victim, and keep her alive online for over two years, mixing lies and reality to a point barely imaginable. I — and many others — fell for it.

Much more recently, I’ve seen the larger, proper blogmob at work in two episodes I had “first-hand knowledge” about. The first, after the [LeWeb3-Sarkozy debacle](, when bad judgement, unclear agendas, politics and clumsy communication came together and pissed off a non-trivial number of bloggers who were attending [LeWeb3]( There were angry posts, there were constructive ones and those which were less, and then the blogmob came in, with hundreds of bloggers who asked for Loïc’s head on a plate based on personal, second-hand accounts of what had happened, without digging a bit to try to get to the bottom of the story. Loïc had messed up, oh yes he had, but that didn’t justify painting him flat-out evil as the blogmob did. In Francophonia it got so bad that this episode and its aftermath was (in my analysis) the death stroke for comments on Loïc’s blog, and he decided to shut them down.

The second (and last episode I’ll recount here) is when the whole blogosphere went a-buzz about how Wikipedia was going to shut down three months from now. [Words spoken at LIFT’07]( went through many chinese whisper (UK) / Telephone (US) filters to turn into a [rather dramatic announcement](, which was then relayed by just about anybody who had a blog. Read about [how the misinformation spread and what the facts were](

So, what’s happening right now? The first comments I read on Kathy’s post were reactions of shock, and expressions of support. Lots of them. Over the blogosphere, people were busy getting the news out there by relaying the information on their blogs. Some (like me) shared stories. As the hours went by, I began to see trends:

– this is awful, shocking, unacceptable
– the guilty must be punished
– women are oppressed, unsafe
– the blogosphere is becoming unsafe!

Where it gets disturbing, and where really, really, I’m disappointed and think bloggers should know better, is when I read headlines or statements like this (and I’m not going to link to all these but you’ll find them easily enough):

* “Kathy Sierra v. Chris Locke”
* “Kathy Sierra to Stop Blogging!”
* “Kathy Sierra hate campaign”
* throwing around names like “psychopath” and “terrorist” to describe the people involved
* [“Personally I am disgusted with myself for buying and recommending Chris Locke’s book…”]( and the like
* the assumption that there is a unique person behind the various incidents Kathy describes
* taking for fact that Chris Locke, Jeneane Sessum, Alan Herrell or Frank Paynter are involved, directly, and in an evil way (which is taking Kathy’s post a step further than what it actually says, for the least)
* …

In [my previous post](, I’ve tried to link to blog posts which actually bring some added value. Most of the others are just helping the echo chamber echo louder, at this point. Kathy’s post is (understandably) a little emotional (whether it is by design as

I’d like to end this post with a recap of what I’ve understood so far. (“What I’ve understood” means that there might be mistakes here, but I’m giving an honest account of what I managed to piece together.) I’m working under the assumption that the people involved are giving honest accounts of their side of the story, and hoping that this will not unravel like the Kaycee story did to reveal the presence of a sick, twisted liar somewhere.

– Kathy has been receiving threats. Some in the comments of her blog, some by e-mail, and some in the posts and/or comments of meankids and unclebobism, sites which have since then been taken down.
– Meankids was set up by a bunch of people (including Chris and Frank at the minimum). It was closed after going overboard, and the same people opened Unclebobism as a replacement. (Details about exactly what went in internally are not clear. See posts by [Kevin Marks](, [Frank Paynter]( and [Chris Locke]( for source information.)
– Stowe says this [doesn’t fit with the personal knowledge he has of Jeneane Sessum and Alan Herrell]( Other people like Lisa Stone also report phone contacts with Jeneane, and [it seems she is not directly involved in the acts Kathy describes]( (though it definitely seems she had something to do with the two sites meankids and unclebobism, if only in [linking]( for the second). **Update:** Chris gives details on her (indeed) [very minimal involvement](
– Frank Paynter [apologized early on]( on Kathy’s blog, then explains that this whole thing is [an experiment in anarchy gone overboard](
– [Chris Locke]( denies being directly responsible for any of the threats Kathy mentions, and owns up to two direct comments about Kathy on unclebobism.
– Alan Herrell seems to have shut down [Raving Lunacy](
– Kathy ends her post with “I have no idea if I’ll ever post again. I suspect I will. But for now, I have a lot to rethink.” — this seems to point to her taking a break, not abandoning blogging.
– “Joey”, the author (?) of one of the threats Kathy received, comments on her blog: [one](, [two](, [three](, [four](, [five](; he says the threat was not towards her but some other person he called Kathy (?!). See also [Brent’s response to the first comment]( I have to admit some skepticism here. He could be a simple troll. But again, not to be dismissed without taking a good look.
– **Update 28 May 2007** Alan Herrell reports being victim of identity theft. E-mail made public by [Doc Searls](
– **Update 29 May 2007** Jim Turner gives a way better account than I have here of [what we can make out of the story for the moment]( — part 2 is due to follow and here is part two: The Sierra Saga Part 2: Big Bad Bob and the Lull Before the Kathy Sierra Blog Storm.
– **Update 1 April 2007** Jeneane Sessum publishes a few words [about the whole mess and her name being dragged in the dirt](

Please, Blogosphere. Keep your wits. This is a messy ugly story, and oversimplications will help nobody. Holding people guilty until proven innocent doesn’t either. (Trust me, I’ve been on the receiving end of [unfounded accusations]( because somebody didn’t hear my side of the story, and it sucks.)

The problem with bullying is that perceived meanness isn’t the same on both sides. Often, to the bully, the act is “just harsh” or “not to be taken seriously” (to what extent that is really believed, or is some kind of twisted rationalisation is not clear to me). To the bullied, however, the threats are very real, even if they were not really intended so. Bullying is also a combination of small things which add up to being intolerable. People in groups also tend to behave quite differently than what they would taken isolately, the identity of the individual tending to dissolve into the group identity. Anonymity (I’ve blogged about this many times, try a search) encourages people to not take responsibility for what they say, and therefore gives them more freedom to be mean. Has something like this happened here?

If you have something thoughtful to say, then say it. But if all you have to say has already been said out there ten times, or if you won’t take the trouble to check your sources, read carefully, calm down before blogging, avoid over-generalisations, and thus avoid feeding the already bloated echo-chamber — just go out for a walk in the sun and let the people involved sort themselves out.

The word is out there, way enough, and I trust that we’ll get to the bottom of the story in time.

**Update: I’m adding new links which actually add something to this story to [my first post]( as I find them, so check over there for updates.**

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Technological Overload or Internet Addiction? [en]

[fr] Les vidéos du fameux débat sur la surcharge technologique à LIFT'07 est en ligne. Du coup, l'occasion de rappeler mes deux billets sur le sujet, et de rajouter quelques pensées suite à ma participation à la table ronde sur les cyberaddictions à Genève, entre autres sur la confusion entre dépendance et addiction parmi le grand public, et le fait qu'on perçoit souvent l'objet de l'addiction comme étant le problème (et donc à supprimer) et non le comportement addictif. Mes notes sont à disposition mais elles sont très rudimentaires.

For those of you who enjoyed my [Technological Overload Panel]( and [Addicted to Technology]( posts, the ( is now online.

Since I wrote them, I participated in a panel discussion about cyberaddictions (that’s what they’re called in French) in Geneva. It was very interesting, and I learnt a few things. The most important one is the difference between “addiction” and “dépendance” in French. “Dépendance” is physical. The cure to it is quitting whatever substance we are dependant to. Addiction, however, lies in the realm of our relationship to something. It has to do with *how we use a substance/tool*, what role it plays in our life and overall psychological balance. And it also has a component of **automation** to it. You don’t *think* before lighting up a cigarette, or compulsively checking your e-mail.

I think there is a lot of confusion between these two aspects amongst the general public, which leads to misconceptions like the [“cure” to alcoholism being complete abstinence]( Sure, abstinence solves the substance abuse problem and is better for one’s health, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the *addiction* problem.

Addictions which are linked to otherwise useful tools are forcing us to look deeper (and that is actually what I’m trying to say in the [Addicted to Technology post]( The problem is not the substance (ie, alcohol, or even the drug, or in this case, technology). The problem is in the way a person might use it. Hence I maintain that the solution lies not in the **removal of the tool/technology**, as the panel moderator suggests twice (first, by asking us to turn off our laptops, and second, by asking “how to unplug”), but in a careful and personalised evaluation of what one uses technology for (or what one uses technology to avoid).

I had a talk after the panel with one of the people there, who told me of some rough numbers he got from a consultation in Paris which is rather cutting-edge when it comes to dealing with “internet addiction” amongst teenagers. I think that out of 250 referrals (or something), the breakdown was about the following: one third were parents freaking out with no objective reason to. Another third were parents freaking out with good reason, for the signs that brought them there were actually the first indicators of their child’s entry in schizophrenia. I can’t remember the exact details for the last third, but if I recall correctly the bottom line was that they had something like a dozen solid cases of “cyber addictions” in the end. (Please don’t quote me on these numbers because the details might be wrong — and if you *have* precise numbers, I’d be happy to have them.)

This confirms my impression that people are [a bit quick in shouting “internet addiction”]( “5-10% sounds like way too much.”) when faced with heavy users (just like people are a bit quick to shout “pedophiles!” and “sexual sollicitation!” whenever [teenagers and the internet]( are involved). I personally don’t think that the amount of time spent using technology is a good indicator.

I took [some very rough notes]( during the panel I participated in (half-French, half-English, half-secret-code) but you can have a peek if you wish.

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Addicted to Technology! [en]

[fr] Une longue tirade, malheureusement pas vraiment traduisible vu l'heure et la longueur, sur la dépendance à internet, qui est à mon avis un faux problème. J'y parle de notre définition de la technologie (une voiture, c'est aussi de la technologie, et on ne s'alarme pas des gens qui seraient "dépendants de leur voiture" comme on le fait de ceux qui sont "dépendants de leur ordinateur"), de la valeur (petite) généralement accordée aux rapports humains qui passent à travers un ordinateur, de l'insuffisance de la "déconnexion" pour résoudre un problème d'utilisation excessive de cet outil, puisqu'il reste un outil valable et même indispensable pour certains, même si c'est un lieu privilégié de fuite.

Help! we’re all becoming [addicted to technology]( “Panel on technological overload which concluded by asking for the best way to unplug.”)! Think of it… we’re soon going to be merged to our computers and cellphones, and we already have a hard time living without them. Heck, we can’t even spend a day without chatting or checking our e-mail! Or our blog comments! Where is the world going?

#### What technology?

Let’s take a few steps back, shall we? First of all, please define technology. Do we consider that we are “addicted” on our cars? Our clothes? Our flats? The postal system, goods manufacturing and distribution, the newspaper? Oh, but those things are actually *necessary*, not superfluous like all this internet/computer/techy stuff. *That’s* what we mean by “technology”. People could communicate very well without IM and cellphones and e-mail, couldn’t they? So, shouldn’t we strive to remember that “real” human relationships happen outside the realm of all this “technology-mediated” communication?


Cars are technology. The banking system, and similar infrastructures our world relies on, are in their way a form of technology, and certainly, built upon technology. People who argue that cars, fixed landlines, or shoes are more “necessary” than IM are simply stuck with [views on what “technology” is and its value that are dictated by the state of the world when they came into it]( (Read [original material by Douglas Adams](

We consider things like fixed phones and the postal system like something we *need* because they have been around for so long that our society and the individuals inside it have completely adapted to having them around, relying upon them, and using them. It is “normal” to feel uncomfortable or jittery if your phone landline is cut or if your watch breaks down. But somehow, it is not “normal” to feel uncomfortable or jittery when we can’t check our e-mail for 24 hours.

Computers, the internet, and the various programs we use are *tools*, like the phone and our vehicles. They allow us to get things done, interact and connect with others, and also enjoy some recreation. Of course, they can be over-used. Of course, some people will have an unhealthy or even pathological utilisation of them. But they differ from the classical objects of “addiction”, like drugs, which (usually) do not serve a directly constructive purpose.

#### Addicted to our cars

I find it very problematic to speak about “addiction” regarding computers or the internet, partly because it makes it look like the problem is with the tool (instead of the person), and partly because it is very difficult to draw the line between healthy and unhealthy use of the tool without taking in many environmental and personal factors.

I think that making a comparison between computer and car usage is quite enlightening in that respect. They have in common that they are a form of technology, they have a use, and can be abused. Yet we worry about addiction to computers, but not so much about addiction to cars. Let’s have a closer look.

A car is not a vital necessity. Before cars existed, humanity managed to survive for quite a long time, and wasn’t necessarily worse off (I guess that judgement depends on one’s view of progress). However, nowadays, depending on where you live and what your lifestyle is, it’s hard to get by without a car (though [possible]( by making some arrangements). Would we consider somebody who uses their car everyday “addicted”? Most certainly not, because probably the main reason the car is needed is to commute to work. But what if one likes going to drive around in the countryside every week-end? Or takes the car to drive to the store when it is 5 minutes away on foot? Or uses the car for comfort, when public transport could be used? What about the distress one can end up when a car breaks down and has to be taken to the garage? Would anybody dream of speaking of addiction here?

Just as the car allows us to easily cover long distances, the computer allows us to do things we could not normally do without. It’s technology. Now, if the way we live tends to require or expect us to do these things, the technology becomes “necessary”, and not “superfluous”. Makes sense?

#### Nurturing online relationships has little value (not)

One problem with applying the reasoning I did for the car to the computer has in my opinion been touched upon in the [LIFT’07 panel I mentioned previously]( the blurring of the distinction between what is “work” (ie, “necessary”) and “personal” (“not that necessary”). Aimlessly chatting on IRC can actually be very important for my professional life. In general, taking care of one’s network (really: taking care of the relationships we have with other human beings we know) is something which should not be considered “superfluous”. During the panel, Stefana Broadbent mentioned that technology allowed us to actually keep alive (“manage”) a greater number of relationships than what we would be capable of without. Which leads us to the second problem: human relationships which take place “through the internet” are less valued in today’s world than the “real” ones which take place face-to-face.

What’s missing here is that “virtual” (how I hate that word in this context) interaction is not there to “replace” face-to-face interaction, or traditional communication technologies like the written letter, the fax, or the phone. IM, chat, blogging and e-mail most often keeps people in touch when they would *not* be communicating at all. I would not be keeping friendships alive across the Atlantic without my computer. And some of these friendships are no less valuable than the relationships I have with people I get to see in the flesh more often because they live in my hometown.

But more than that, these “poorer” channels of communication open up different dimensions in the way we relate to others. I’ve heard this said twice recently (though I’ve been aware of it through personal experience for years). First by [Regina Lynn]( in her (well worth reading) book [The Sexual Revolution 2.0]( At some point, she explains that for those who are used to texting and IMing in the context of a romantic relationship, the absence of these “channels” makes it feel like there is something missing in the relationship. Second, Stefana Broadbent (again on the LIFT’07 panel, link above) mentioned that the arrival of Skype and VoiP did not kill chat — people are still chatting even though they could use the richer communication channel and actually talk.

This is not surprising. We know that some things are easier to say or more adapted to this or that communication channel. It’s not news either — using letters or the phone rather than face-to-face is not always a choice made for questions of distance or availability.

#### If not addiction, then what?

Of course, as I mentioned, there are unhealthy uses of computer technology. And computer technology has [characteristics that help us get “hooked”](, so it won’t be surprising that people might use it compulsively or excessively. And for people who for a reason or another (and I at times can include myself in that lot) need to “escape” life/reality/pain, goofing around aimlessly online or chatting for hours with random strangers can be used as an alternative to getting drunk/stoned/passing out in front of the TV/reading all Harry Potter books cover-to-cover without interruption. But is it right to talk about “addiction” in such cases?

Whatever you call it, the problem here is that you can’t just tell the people to “unplug” as a solution. For most people who have built part of their life around the internet, the computer is a valuable tool for work and social life. And anyway, even with substance abuse addictions, [going “cold turkey” does not solve the real problem](, though it’s usually better for your health. (I have personal experience from “the other side”, here: I have never in my whole life even tried smoking a cigarette, because I sense that if I did, there are high chances I would turn into a heavy smoker. I’m not free. One could say I have an addiction problem, even though it is not manifest in substance abuse. It’s latent and finds an expression in total abstinence.)

If the computer is used excessively, it is necessary to address the *real* underlying problem. The “thing” that makes people need to escape to somewhere. Because the line between “normal use of the tool” (I need to chat to some extent to keep in touch with my friends/family/collegues) and “excessive use” (I spend all my free time chatting, forget to eat, and don’t go out anymore) is drawn in *quality* rather than *quantity* and does not comprise a clear border like a different environment, schedule, or tool, the “easy” solution of “quitting” does not work.

Then, how does one determine if one’s use of the computer is *excessive*? I like to say that the main defining criteria for this kind of problem is **pain**. Is the intensity with which one uses the computer (or cellphone, or whatever) a source of suffering? Does the person feel that it’s out of control, and would like to do something about it? Is it having concrete effects like work loss, strain on relationships, or is there dissimulation regarding the time spent at it, hinting at a general unease about the time that is used on the computer? The secondary criteria would be **purpose**. Addiction or escape serve a purpose (shields one from something). Is it the case? What is this purpose? It’s not a simple question, and it often doesn’t have a simple answer, and addressing it might even involve a therapist.

#### Not that addicted…

I find that the mainstream press and certain specialists (doctors or teachers I’ve met) are a bit quick to shout “addiction” when faced with the importance the computer and the internet have taken in our lives. I’m not an “addict” because I get uncomfortable if I haven’t accessed my e-mail in 24 hours. I’m not an “addict” because I chat to my friends from the other side of the pond every day. I’m not an addict because when I think of something interesting, I feel an urge to write about it on my blog. I’m not an addict because I need my computer to take notes during a conference, rather than a paper and pen with which I’m illegible and which [hurts me]( “I can type OK and be readable if I have very mild pain, but handwriting hurts a lot and is just useless.”). I’m not an addict because I sometimes choose to stay in and catch up with what people I know are saying on their blogs rather than go out clubbing.

Yes, when I’m not doing too well I will easily turn to my computer to escape from the world or myself. Before I had a computer and a social life on the internet, I used to turn to the TV in such occasions, or drown myself in books or music. One isn’t better than the other. But here, clearly, the problem is me, and not the nasty technology.

*If you’ve read all this, let me know what you think. I suspect I might have taken a few shortcuts here and there, and I’ll be more than happy to make them explicit if you point out what isn’t convincing.*

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You and Technology [en]

[fr] Tout ce qui existait déjà dans le monde avant notre naissance est simplement normal; les innovations techniques faites entre ce moment-là et jusqu'à nos trente ans sont incroyablement excitantes et créatives, et avec un peu de chance on pourra faire carrière avec; tout ce qui est inventé après nos trente ans est contre-nature et sonne le glas de la civilisation telle que nous la connaissons, jusqu'à ce que ça ait été là une dizaine d'années, quand ça devient graduellement OK, en fin de compte. (Paraphrasé d'après Douglas Adams.)

A lot of truth in what [Douglas Adams says]( here:

  1. everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
  2. anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
  3. anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Douglas Adams

How old are you?

Thanks to Kevin for pointing me there.

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