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Tag: Thoughts

Too Much News? [en]

Too Much News? [en]

[fr] Il y a bien des années j'ai cessé de regarder les nouvelles à la télé, de lire les journaux, etc. Je m'en suis trouvée bien moins angoissée. Insidieusement, je me suis remise à suivre l'actualité du monde, via Facebook surtout. Suis-je retombée dans le piège de l'angoisse de l'actu? Est-ce que ce qui se passe maintenant est beaucoup plus grave que ce qui se passait il y a dix ans? J'ai toujours été très optimiste quant à l'avenir de l'humanité, mais ces derniers mois ont changé ça. Des fois je me demande si je devrais me lancer en politique ou alors tout débrancher et acheter des chèvres.

On the edge
Many years ago I stopped watching TV news or reading the papers, because seeing all these terrible things happening in the world and that I was powerless about only managed to make me anxious. I became much less anxious after that.
 
Now, slowly, stealthily, “the news” has crept back into my life, through social media. And at some point, I started “following” again. Is what’s happening in the world now worse and more important than what was going on 10 years ago? Or have I just fallen into the same trap?
 
I used to feel pretty optimistic about where the world was going, although in my day-to-day life I am much more of a pessimist. I believe in resilience of social structures and societies and humanity. But these last few months have changed that. I now find myself very worried about where the world is headed.
 
Do I worry more because I consume more news? Or do I worry more because it is more worrisome? Or both?
 
There are days where I feel that maybe the solution is go either “all in” or “all out”. Dive into politics, join a party, get involved beyond “Facebook activism”. Or cut news out of my life again.
Originally published as a Facebook post.

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Invisibilia: A Podcast About the Hidden Forces That Shape our Behaviour [en]

Invisibilia: A Podcast About the Hidden Forces That Shape our Behaviour [en]

[fr] Un super podcast à découvrir: Invisibilia. Ça parle des forces invisibles qui conditionnent le comportement humain. Et c'est super bien fait. Quelques histoires pour démarrer: l'homme aveugle (sans yeux) qui voit par écholocalisation et fait du vélo, la femme qui ressent physiquement ce qui arrive à ceux autour d'elle (un cas extrême de "synesthésie miroir"), le rapport entre nos pensées et qui nous sommes (sommes-nous nos pensées? quelle importance leur accorder?), et j'en passe.

I thought I’d written a post somewhere introducing the podcasts I listen to regularly. I don’t watch TV, but I do listen to a bunch of podcasts religiously: Radiolab, On The Media, The Savage Lovecast, and The Moth. Serial was great, too.

Through Radiolab, I recently discovered the new show Invisibilia. It’s actually co-hosted by one of Radiolab’s former producers, and there is clearly in the choice of subject matter a kinship with what drew me to Radiolab in the first place all these years ago.

Invisibilia is about the stuff that we can’t see and which shapes human behaviour. In the pilot season, you’ll find stories about a blind man who can actually see by using echolocation, a woman who cannot feel fear, and Paige, tragically flipping through gender categories. And that’s just the beginning. Subscribe to the podcast and start listening.

Here’s a bunch of random takeaways for me after listening to the first episodes:

  • the three “stages” in the history of our thoughts: 1) all thoughts are meaningful (Freud), 2) some thoughts are BS and we can think ourselves out of them (CBT), 3) our thoughts don’t deserve that much attention (mindfulness)
  • how important categories are in helping us make sense of the world (I kind of knew that); reminded me of India again and the utter confusion of the first weeks where all my European categories broke down, and I didn’t have any Indian ones yet to work with
  • how gently facing one’s fears works much better in getting rid of them than obsessing about them and trying to avoid their object
  • how important our expectations of what people can do are in determining what they actually are going to be capable of doing (“blind people can’t do that“)
  • venting when angry, whilst therapeutic in the moment, actually makes us more angry and aggressive in the long run

Sound interesting? Check out the list of the previous episodes. If you start listening, let me know!

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Thoughts on Dystopian Tech Future Vision [en]

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.

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Sans regrets [fr]

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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Life Comes in Bursts [en]

Life Comes in Bursts [en]

A few weeks ago, it looked like I had time on my hands. Things have accelerated recently (including a series of disruptive personal and professional issues, all over the course of a couple of weeks) and I’m now looking at a very busy week before I head off to Leeds next Sunday (not tomorrow, Sunday 10th).

I’m working on a long article in French around “Piracy is not Theft“, and also an English version of my article on care of indoor cats for Kits and Mortar, which partly explains the silence here these last two weeks.

Do you also notice this in your lives? I know all about the “feast and famine” cycle for the freelancer, but I’ve found this to be true (for me) in almost all departments. Nothing on the week-end for weeks, and suddenly 4 things in one. Everything is fine for ages, and suddenly 3-4 nasty pieces of news over a few weeks. Work goes smoothly, and then issues start coming up with a bunch of clients all at the same time.

I understood years ago that imbalance is the source of life. Oscillating chemical reactions are what make our hearts beat and what keep us breathing. Life is never stable, at all levels. So I’ve got better at dealing with these “when it rains, it pours” phases… but still, isn’t it annoying sometimes?

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Childhood — A Passing Thought [en]

Childhood — A Passing Thought [en]

[fr] Pour la plupart d'entre nous, les années de vie adulte surpasseront le nombre de celles de notre enfance. Pourtant, ce sont principalement nos années d'enfance qui nous rendent nous.

Notes From San Francisco [en]

Notes From San Francisco [en]

So, roughly half-way through my five-week trip to San Francisco, what’s going on? I haven’t been blogging much lately, that’s for sure.

For once, I took some photographs from the plane. Unfortunately my camera batteries ran out just as we were coming down on San Francisco, and my spare ones were in the luggage compartment above my head. Oh, well.

Flying to San Francisco 31

I got some first-level questioning at immigration coming in. No, not the sort where they take you to a separate room, become much less friendly, and have boxes of rubber gloves on the counter. This is how it went:

– …And what is the duration of your stay?
– Five weeks.
– …And what do you do in… over in Switzerland?
– I’m a freelance… internet consultant. *OMG that sounds bad.* …I’m actually here to work on a book project. *Yeah I know I should never volunteer information.*
– What’s the book about?
– Er… teenagers and the internet.
– And…?
– Er… Well, the situation with teenagers and the internet, and what we’re doing about it in Switzerland.
– And what are you doing about it?
– Well, not enough!
– And? Come on, tell me more about it.
– Er… OK. *OMGOMG* Well, see, teenagers are really comfortable with computers and the internet, and so they’re chatting, blogging, etc. — they’re digital natives, see? — and parents, well, they’re clueless or terrified about the internet, and they don’t always understand what’s going on in their kids lives online, so basically, we have teenagers who are spending a lot of time online and sometimes getting into trouble and parents don’t know or don’t care about what they’re doing there, so we have this… chasm between generations and…
– Thank you. You can go.

The pick-up from the airport was wonderfully orchestrated and much appreciated. Being driven into town by somebody friendly rather than having to use unfamiliar public transportation really makes a difference. Thanks to all those involved (yes, it took that many people!)

Waiting on the Sidewalk

Then, through some freak breakdown of all modern forms of communication (partially documented on Twitter), I ended up waiting outside on the sidewalk for almost an hour while my kind host Tara waited for me inside her appartment. We worked it out finally, and I was introduced to my (nice and spacious) room before going to hang out at [Citizen Space](http://citizenspace.us/). A nice dinner out with Chris, Tara and Jimmy to end the day, and I happily collapsed in my bed at a respectable local hour. You will have taken note that I did not collapse at 4pm feeling like a zombie, thanks to having taken [melatonin](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melatonin) on the plane. (It [doesn’t seem to work that well for Suw](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/6/29/3057876.html), but it works perfectly on me, and I’m never traveling between continents without it again.)

The four next days went by in [a blur of Supernova madness](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/21/taking-photos-at-supernova/): too many people, too many sessions, food with ups and downs, parties with [cupcakes](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600415592611/) and others at the top of [skyscapers](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600430915725/). I took [lots of photographs](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/collections/72157600420716687/) and even [a video sequence that got some attention](http://www.viddler.com/explore/steph/videos/5/).

Supernova First Day 33

During the next week, I started settling down. Met and hung out with old friends, made new ones, unpacked my suitcases, went walking around in town, saw [Dykes on Bikes](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600459417123/), the [Gay Pride Parade](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600487653731/), and the [iPhone launch](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600579979445/), photographed [skyscrapers in the night](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600607158151/), ordered a new camera, got my MacBook (partly) repaired, and even [dropped in at Google to take notes of Suw’s talk there](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/27/suw-charman-at-google-does-social-software-have-fangs/).

All this, actually, is documented in [my Twitter stream](http://twitter.com/stephtara) — maybe I should add a whole lot of links? — be sure to keep an eye on it if you’re interested in a more day-by-day account of what I’m doing here.

Overall, things have been good. A small bout of homesickness a few days ago, but I’m feeling better now. I need to start focusing on the things I want to get done (blogging, writing, book, writing, fixing things for clients…) — holiday over now!

Downtown San Francisco By Night 9

I’ve been thinking about my “work career” a little, too. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing, but I’m not going to be doing “Blog 101” for ever — I can feel my interests shifting somewhat already. I’ve been interested in the “social tools at large” department for a long time, but unfortunately it seems to translated to “blogging” in most of the work I do, so I’d like to expand my horizons in that direction a little. I’ve had a couple of talks with people in startups recently, and I realize it’s a kind of environment I wouldn’t mind working in — at least part-time. We’ll see what happens.

I’m also realizing that there is more potential than I first thought around [the two main things I care about these days](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/22/what-do-you-care-about/): teenagers online and internet language issues. Hence, the book, and also a talk on the subject of languages on the internet which I’ll be giving at Google this coming Tuesday.

Also in the “work” department, two other things have been on my mind. First, the idea of opening up a coworking space in or around Lausanne ([Ollie is having the same kind of thought](http://b-spirit.com/blogollie/?p=2140) — we’re talking). Second, trying to find a solution so that I don’t have to do maintenance on my clients’ WordPress installations once all is rolling, or spend hours swimming in HTML, CSS and WordPress theme PHP template tags. Not that I don’t know how to do it or don’t enjoy it once in a while, but it’s really not the kind of work I want to spend my time doing. So, I’ve been starting to ask around for names of people who might do this kind of thing (for a reasonable fee), and even thinking of recruiting some students in Lausanne that I could coach/train so that they can do most of the work, and call me up only for major problems. So, see, I’ve been thinking.

Some people have been asking me if I was planning to move here. Indeed, 5 weeks in the city looks suspiciously like a scouting operation. Actually, traveling has an interesting side-effect for me: I tend to come back home thinking “gee, Lausanne is *such* a great place to live! I’m never moving!” Sure, I have some underlying personal issues which contribute to making me overly attached to my hometown, and I know that someday I might end up living elsewhere. But really, for the moment, I don’t think I’d want that.

And even though I’m told San Francisco is very “European” compared to the rest of the US (which I have yet to see) I can’t help seeing how “horribly American” it is. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this city and am enjoying my time here. I know that what I say can give wrong impressions (for example, people — especially Indians — read [the story of my year living in India](http://climbtothestars.org/logbook) and think that I hated the country; it’s not true, I really loved it, and can’t wait to go back). But I walk around San Francisco and see all the signs with rules and regulations and “stupid” warnings (like, God, the pineapple chunks I buy at Whole Foods haven’t been pasteurized and may contain harmful germs! or, don’t use the hairdryer in the bath tub!), the AT&T Park and other manifestations of what to me is “consumerism gone mad”, I hear about health care and [“you’re expected to sue” horror stories](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/06/23/sicko_barack_an.html), visa lotteries for non-renewal, the education system…

So, yes, I’m focusing on the negative. And Switzerland, even though it’s a wonderful country ;-), has its negatives too. Like many natives all over the world, I’ve developed a selective blindness to what is “wrong” in the land I come from, considering much of it “normal” as I have been brought up with it. I know that. But too much of what I see here makes my skin crawl. I’m really enjoying spending some weeks here, I love my friends, the food and the sunshine, but I don’t think I’d be happy living here.

Misty Skyscrapers in Downtown San Francisco 10

Well, this was one of these longer-than-expected posts, and it’s occupied most of my morning. My tasks for this afternoon are (in this order):

– one WordPress install for a client
– spending a little more time trying to see if there is hope for the aggravating Google Groups problem I bumped into, and if not, setting up a Yahoo! Group instead
– writing a post for [bub.blicio.us](http://bub.blicio.us) or working on my book — whichever I most feel like.

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Productivity Thought of the Day [en]

Productivity Thought of the Day [en]

[fr] Les post-its marient la puissance du couper-coller à la portabilité du papier.

[Post-It notes](http://ideamatt.blogspot.com/2006/01/on-using-post-it-notes-for-gtd.html) bring to you the power of cut-and-paste and the [portability of paper](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2002/01/13/books/).

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Culture Shock in Second Life [en]

Culture Shock in Second Life [en]

[fr] Second Life est vraiment ressenti par ceux qui l'utilisent comme un espace physique. Preuve en est le sentiment de désorientation qui m'habite alors que je découvre cet espace -- sentiment très proche de celui qui a accompagné mes premiers jours un Inde: un choc culturel. On trouve également dans Second Life des problèmes de racisme. A mon avis, un terrain fertile pour mieux comprendre, par exemple, comment l'utilisation de jeux vidéos interactifs (comme WoW) peut agir sur nous.

After [my first few hours inside Second Life](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/08/12/first-steps-in-second-life/), I realized that the confusion I was feeling was very similar to what I had experienced when I [first arrived in India](http://climbtothestars.org/logbook): I was suffering from a [culture shock](http://climbtothestars.org/writing/choc/ “Some thoughts I wrote down after a few days in India, in French.”).

There were people all around me that looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. I had trouble communicating (I’d try to chat and I’d fly up in the air) and identifying what I saw in my surroundings. I didn’t know where to go. I read notes which mentioned places which ringed no bells. I just didn’t know what to do or where to start.

But what really rang the “culture shock” bells for me was that I was feeling anxious and afraid of the avatar-people around me. I feared somebody would pounce on me (well, my avatar, but by then the identification process had kicked in), or animate my avatar against my will, or start shouting obscene things at me. I felt pretty insecure and vulnerable amongst all these people with masks on their faces. I had no idea what to expect from them, just as I had no idea what to expect from people when I landed in India.

In India, I was afraid to go out by myself and explore. In Second Life, I get some of that feeling too. I’m afraid of ending up in “bad places”. Talk of griefers and guns makes me scared. So I tend to hang out in the [New Citizens Plaza](http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kuula/61/141/28/) a lot. *(Note: if you click on that URL, you’ll be shown where that place is on a map of Second Life. If you’re running Second Life, you can click on the “Teleport” button to go there. Doesn’t seem to work for me, though.)* Then last night [buridan](http://wiki.tmttlt.com/) showed me to [Joi](http://joi.ito.com)’s [island Kula](http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kula%202/140/80/21) (fun stuff there with merry-go-rounds and dancing floors).

The interesting point here is that I’m exploring Second Life space just as I do real physical geographical space. I find the same patterns in my behaviour. Same with activities that do not match anything in my life experience yet: flying, teleporting — I don’t tend to do these things much yet, just as it took me a while to start taking rickshaws on my own, queueing to get somebody else to photocopy (“Xerox”) documents for me, and fend off beggars efficiently.

Second Life is much more than “chat with graphics”. As I told my Grandma on the phone yesterday, when she asked me what on earth my last posts were about, it’s almost like an “internet inside the internet”. There are chatrooms in it, but they are informal and transient: put a few people in an open space, and if they gather and start talking, you have a chatroom-like atmosphere. But you can walk/fly/teleport away, [do your hair](http://www.flickr.com/photos/bunny/213397504/) or build/program stuff while the others talk. All that without leaving Second Life.

As a long-time IRC chatroom inhabitant, I see two major differences between what I’m used to and Second Life.

From the chatroom point of view, first of all, you cannot be in two places at once inside Second Life. On IRC, I sit in way more than one chatroom at a time, and it’s not uncommon for me to be conducting conversations in two or three chatrooms at once. In Second Life, you can send private messages in parallel to the “physical group conversation” you’re having, but you can’t have more than one group conversation.

Another “quality” of Second Life that strikes me is that it’s less “partial-attention-friendly” than text-only chat or instant messaging — or even web surfing. I find it very hard to do “something else” at the same time as I’m in Second Life. I think it has something to do with the graphical nature of Second Life, and how rich an environment it is. There’s enough material *inside* Second Life for partial attention as it is 🙂 — but also, the fact there is a graphical representation of the people you’re chatting with helps capture one’s attention. (Maybe I feel things this way because I’m new to Second Life, I might think differently later on.)

So, even though Second Life is an entirely on-the-computer thing, it clearly activates the pathways in our brains that we use to deal with physical space and beings. I’ve already said many times that the internet is broadly perceived as “space without space”, but it’s much more obvious in Second Life. Another element that shows us how “real” this virtual environment is to our brains is the presence of [racism in Second Life](http://secondlife.blogs.com/nwn/2006/02/the_skin_youre_.html). The topic came up when I was talking to a few “Furries” (ie, people with an [animal-like avatar](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/215001301/)) who mentioned there were “furry areas” because Furries were often subject to discrimination from others. Even though we know the aspect of a Second Life citizen is a mask, it seems to have an impact on the way we relate to him/her.

This, to me, is related in some way to the fact that the learning experiences you make in interactive virtual worlds (think “video games”) affect your “non-game” life as well (think “flight simulators”). Which can bring us to question, for example, what effect it can have on one’s brain to spend a long number of hours “killing virtual people”. But that’s another chapter!

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Pensée sociale [fr]

Pensée sociale [fr]

[en] My sister said it very well: it's worth planning your social life a little in advance, because part of the pleasure of seeing your friends is also to be found in anticipation to the meeting itself.

Ma soeur l’a très bien formulé ce week-end: ça fait partie du plaisir de voir ses amis que de se réjouir de la rencontre parce qu’on l’a fixée à  l’avance.

Du coup, ça vaut la peine de prévoir sa vie sociale un peu à  l’avance plutôt que systématiquement à  la dernière minute, vous ne trouvez pas?

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