Tag Archives: boundaries

Drive, Practical Wisdom, Money and Congress, Alone Together

[fr] Quelques lectures, vidéos, podcasts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Connected Life | Tagged alone together, always-on, barry schwartz, boundaries, dan pink, drive, e-mail, escape, motivation, politics, relationships, robots, sherry turkle, usa, warehouse | Leave a comment

Boundaries and Outsourcing Our Brains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right, enough of confusing humans with machines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Thinking | Tagged backup brain, balance, boundaries, information overload, social overload, tech, Technology | 1 Comment

My Journey Out of Procrastination: Five Principles

[fr] Cinq principes importants que j'ai découverts au cours de mon voyage pour me libérer de la procrastination:

  1. le changement radical ne fonctionne pas
  2. ne pas se lancer seul; trouver du soutien
  3. gérer les "arriérés" aussi bien que changer le processus (l'hygiène de vie)
  4. trouver du plaisir dans le "faire", et pas juste dans le résultat
  5. connaître ses limites et les faire respecter (apprendre à dire non)

Les solutions qui ne reposent que sur un de ces principes (comme GTD, même si c'est un système excellent qui m'a beaucoup aidé) courent de grands risques d'échouer, si l'on ne se préoccupe pas des causes profondes qui ont mené à la mise en place (et au maintien) d'un fonctionnement basé sur la procrastination.

When you’re trapped in the procrastination rut, solutions coming from those who are out of it just seem inapplicable. “Just do it,” for example.

I think I’ve recently pulled myself out of the rut for good (fingers crossed), and before I forget what it is like to live with the heavy black cloud of “things I should have taken care of last week/month/year” over my head, here are a few thoughts on what helped me build a life for myself where my invoices are sent, my bills are paid, my deadlines are met, and I actually have guilt-free week-ends and evenings.

It wasn’t always like that. Actually, for most of my life, it wasn’t like that.

Changing, like most changes, has been a gradual process. I know that (for me, at least) one of the thick roots of my procrastination lies in a very archaic urge of mine to not be alone, to not do things alone. I rarely found it hard to do things (even the washing-up) if I had company, and I understood at some point that putting things off until I got myself in an unmanageable mess was in a way something I did to either force myself to ask others for help, or manipulate them into helping me out.

I think it was really important for me to understand this, because unfortunately, freeing oneself of life-threatening procrastination is not just a question of tricks and methods, but also about understanding what role such a behaviour plays in one’s “life ecosystem”, and what can be done to replace it. In my case, it included being proactive about asking for assistance or company, making sure I was having enough of a social life, and sorting out a few personal issue I’m not going to dive in here.

That being said, I learned five important principles throughout my journey that are worth sharing.

The first is that radical change will not work. If you tend to live in a messy home, it’s not spring-cleaning once every three years which will change that. Going from living in a messy home to living in a more or less ordered home is a lifestyle change. It’s like quitting smoking or starting to exercise regularly, or eating more healthily. Reading GTD, spending two days setting up your system, and “sticking to it”, will not be enough (though I’m a great fan of GTD). Be aware that you’re in for a long process, which will probably take years (it took years for me, in any case — maybe even half my lifetime). This means that you need to start by making small changes to the way you do things, instead of aiming for a revollution.

The second is to not do it alone. By that, I mean involve others to support you. Things I’ve done include buddy working, asking a friend to come over to help me clean the flat, or having my brother literally hold my hand during three months whilst I started getting my finances back in order. If it’s easier to do with somebody just sitting next to you, then ask somebody to do just that. I remember one of my first experiences of this was being on the phone with a friend, and we both had a horrible awful pile of dirty dishes to deal with. We both decided to hang up, do it now, and call again an hour later when it was done. Somehow, it felt easier to be doing the dishes when I knew my friend was doing the same thing in another country.

The third is that backlog and process both need to be dealt with. When you procrastinate, you start off in the worst of places: not only do you not have a healthy “lifestyle” process in place for dealing with things (you let them wait until it’s so urgent the only thing left to do is to call in the firemen), but you also have a (sometimes huge) backlog of “stuff” that needs dealing with. Be patient with yourself. Also, understand that there’s no point in just dealing with the backlog if you’re not fixing the process. GTD is mainly about the process. “Do it now” is also just about the process.

The fourth is to find pleasure in the doing. One component in my procrastination is that I’m overly goal-focused. One thing I had to learn to do was to enjoy doing things, and not just enjoy having done them. Life is now, even when you’re doing the dishes or cleaning the flat or paying bills. What can be done to make the process more pleasant? Well, there are things like listening to music or focusing on the task at hand in a zen-like way, but it’s also possible to keep in mind that by paying my bills now, I’m being kind to myself and treating myself well (by keeping myself out of future trouble). It helped me to realise that I really didn’t mind doing the dishes for friends when I was invited — it was doing them for myself that sucked. It wasn’t about the dishes: it was about doing stuff for myself. (Which opens a whole new can of worms: is it easy to treat yourself kindly?) When I started doing my dishes as if I were my own best friend that I loved, things started changing.

The fifth is to know your boundaries and enforce them (aka “say no”). When there is too much to do that you can’t keep up, it means that you’ve been accepting or taking on too much. This is a major chapter in itself (and as I’m getting increasingly better at setting limits and saying no when needed, I’m starting to realize how hopelessly bad most people are at this). If you catch up on the backlog, set up a good process, but keep on piling up your plate with more than you can eat, there’s no way out. Again, this principle opens up potential cans of worms: why is it difficult to say no? Fear of rejection or angering the other are not to be taken lightly. “Just understanding” this is often not enough, as the root of such behaviour is often emotional and needs to be treated with respect. (You’ll probably have noticed: you won’t get much out of yourself — or anyone — if you don’t treat emotional components of problems with respect.)

I think that before diving into any “method” to change one’s procrastinative habits, it’s worth pondering on all five of these principles and trying to keep them in mind whilst going on with one’s life: change will be successful only if you pay attention to them all. This is, in my opinion, where GTD on its own fails at “solving the problem”: it’s mainly about the process (part of the third principle here). You can get started implementing GTD, but if the deeper roots of your procrastination are not dealt with, you will simply fail at implementing GTD properly enough for it to be “the solution”, just like I did. Not that implementing GTD isn’t useful: it was a very important step for me, and helped me a lot (it changed my life, clearly), but it was not enough to free me from procrastination.

Another element I’d like to add, in case it comes handy to somebody, is that I noticed at some point that when I am under stress, I tend to feel down, and when I feel down, I tend to find it difficult to do things, and therefore procrastinate. Figuring out this vicious circle was a really important milestone for me. Of course, it then took many months of careful observation of myself to reach the point where I could go “Oh! I’m feeling down and crappy, am I stressed? What’s stressing me? Oh, let me deal with that now so I can climb out of the pit!” — and now, it never even gets to that stage (or very rarely) because I catch it even earlier and nip it in the bud.

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Posted in Life Improvement, Personal, Psychology | Tagged backlog, boundaries, buddy working, change, doing, goals, gtd, journey, life, pleasure, process, procrastination, saying no | 6 Comments

Steph+Suw Podcast: First!

[fr] Suw et moi avons enfin enregistré le fameux podcast-conversation dont nous parlons depuis notre première rencontre, en mai 2004. C'est en anglais et c'est assez long, mais on s'en est pas trop mal sorties pour une première!

Each time Suw and I meet, we talk about recording a podcast together. We met for the first time in June 2004, and if I believe the Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts I wrote a little less than a year later, that was indeed when we first started talking about using audio to record conversations.

I’m definitely sure that we talked about it at BlogTalk 2. I don’t think Skype was in the air then, but we talked about hooking up our phones to some audio recording device, and left it at that. At that time, people were getting excited about “audioblogging” (did we already talk about “podcasting” back then? It seems a long, long time ago) and we agreed that were audio really became interesting was in rendering conversations. (See the Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts post for more about that.)

Anyway, now we have Skype, and Call Recorder (which reminds me, I need to write up a post about the ethics of recording audio conversations), and we finally got round to doing it. It’s a bit long-ish (40 minutes — not surprising if you know us!) and has been slightly edited in that respect, but honestly, it’s not too bad for a start.

Here is roughly what we talked about.

  • San Francisco, web geek paradise
  • City sizes (see this London-SF superimposition map)
  • Segways
  • The cat/geek Venn diagram (Twitter error message)
  • I really want a Wii
  • IRC screen names
  • The difficulties of pronouncing S-u-w
  • When geeks name children: A unique identifier or anonymity?
  • Stalkers and geoinformation
  • Perceptions of security
  • Giving out your phone number and address, and personal boundaries
  • Airport security (background…)
  • Risk and expectations of risk
  • Death, religion, and the medical industry
  • Naming our podcast… something about blondes, apparently
  • Clueless marketeering from the Fabric nightclub in London
  • The repercussions of having a blog that people think is influential (even if you don’t think it is)

Let us know what you liked and didn’t like! View Suw’s post about this podcast.

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Posted in Connected Life, Travels | Tagged airports, airportsecurity, Anecdotes, Audio, blogging, Blogosphere Interest, boundaries, cats, children, city, conversation, death, geek, geotagging, influence, internet, IRC, london, marketing, medicine, naming, nicknames, Online Culture, perception, Photos/Videos/Audio Online, Podcast, privacy, religion, risk, sanfrancisco, screennames, security, stephaniebooth, suw, suwcharman, Theories, Travels, wii | 9 Comments