Day N, because I don’t know when day 1 was [en]

I am restless. My mind is restless. I feel stuck out of time, watching the slow-motion train wreck of the epidemic unfold before me. We are in the midst of a global crisis of historic proportion, and I’m not sure how to be, in the middle of it.

Actually, I know what the answer is. Try to live as normally as possible. But I feel like I’ve lost my normal a long time ago, in between going from freelance to government employee, then unemployed, then stuck in the weird limbo of long-term sick leave.

The sun is shining and I’m at the chalet. The cats are healthy. The building in the chalet below is getting on my nerves, because it bangs through the day, and ruins my peace. At least I would want to make the most of the peace of quiet while we are all pretty much locked up.

More than usual, I struggle figuring out what to do with myself. I’m not scared for right now, but I feel a deep dread down inside me, the fear of impeding catastrophe you cannot avert. Our world is going to change in ways we have trouble imagining right now. We are heading into the unknown, or even the unknowable.

I brought my crochet and knitting loom. My wrist is well enough that I can think of such activities again. But they haven’t left the bag. I have books to read, photos to sort. Too many things knocking around in my head that would need to be written down.

I want to be useful. I understand the online world, and with lockdown and confinement, many people who shunned or ignored it are turning towards it. There are things to do, but I’m not quite sure which ones.

And I am torn because trying to be useful is what I always do to escape from dealing with myself and my mortal life, and right now I’m trying to take care of myself first, but this is a crisis, and isn’t a crisis when one is expected to step up?

I’m trying to take things easy. Nothing I do today is going to change the face of the world, except staying at home, and I’m doing that. Thankfully we are allowed to go out here, so I can go for walks. I’m not locked up. I feel guilty for not taking advantage of that when so many others have no choice, and I am privileged to be in such a beautiful region. I’ve stayed in today.

My attempts to disconnect from the news have failed. I don’t know if it’s worth “fighting” or if I should just give in.

Even though it is not very concrete right now, I guess I am scared about people dying. And maybe me.

That fear isn’t on the surface, but I guess it messes with my head.

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Notes du chalet [fr]

Je suis au chalet. Pour la première fois depuis un an à peu près (sans compter une petite visite sans nuit il y a peu). Mon vieux Quintus, 19 ans, aveugle et chancelant sur ses petites pattes arthritiques, a du mal à retrouver ses marques – mais ça va aller. Oscar a fait le tour sur ses trois pattes et a déjà tenté de s’installer “à la place” de Quintus. De 11 degrés, la température est maintenant montée à 14. Le poêle à bois est à fond et le brûleur à mazout aussi. Il fait moche.

Mais bon, je suis contente d’être là. J’aime la montagne, et cet endroit en particulier. Aujourd’hui je ne bouge pas trop, demain je dois déjà retourner à Lausanne pour des rendez-vous (qu’est-ce que c’est qu’une heure de route, au final), vendredi je prendrai peut-être la cabine pour aller voir à quoi ça ressemble en haut.

Il y a maintenant plus de cas de COVID-19 identifiés dans le canton qu’il n’y en avait dans le pays entier lorsque j’ai écrit la semaine dernière. Plus de 600 cas en Suisse, ça nous paraît énorme mais ça va encore grimper, grimper. L’Italie a placé tout son territoire en “isolement”. Ici, on cesse de tester systématiquement, on cesse aussi de remonter les chaînes de transmission. Les symptômes sont souvent trop peu marqués, et puis bon, il faut se rendre à l’évidence, le virus est maintenant “partout”, donc à quoi bon. Mieux vaut concentrer les ressources sur maintenir le bon fonctionnement des hôpitaux et du système de santé, communiquer auprès de la population pour que les mesures de précaution continuent d’être appliquées (car ralentir la progression a encore un sens, et ça, c’est dans nos gestes du quotidien à tous que ça se joue), que les personnes vulnérables se protègent et qu’on les protège.

Enfin, c’est comme ça que je comprends les choses.

Pour ma part je ne suis ni plus ni moins “inquiète” qu’il y a une semaine ou dix jours. Mes nouvelles habitudes de lavage de mains commencent à devenir, justement, des habitudes. J’essaie d’éviter les transports publics si je peux. Je me demande si la petite toux que je traine depuis 2-3 semaines justifie que je me mette en auto-isolement. Elle date “d’avant”, c’est courant pour moi d’avoir ce genre de petite affection respiratoire, et je n’ai pas de fièvre, mais vu qu’il semble de plus en plus clair que le virus se propage également de façon asymptomatique ou peu symptomatique, je me pose des questions. Mais j’hésite à engorger la hotline pour ça, j’avoue. Coronacheck me dit que oui, mais coronacheck n’a pas mon contexte. Si c’est ma toux “normale”, ça peut durer des semaines et des semaines…

Bon, du coup j’ai appelé la hotline. Et non, petite toux superficielle (je toussote en fait), ça ne justifie pas que je m’enferme. Par contre si ça s’aggrave, si c’est une toux qui commence à m’empêcher de respirer, là oui. Ce qui me mène à la réflexion suivante: vu qu’on a des porteurs asymptomatiques ou peu symptomatiques… est-on plus contagieux si on a de la fièvre et la super-méga-toux? Vu qu’on n’isole pas les porteurs sains ou peu malades (il faudrait tester la population entière à tour de bras et souvent pour les identifier tous), quel est le sens d’isoler les “gros tousseurs”?

Sur ce, le chalet se réchauffe et le soleil est sorti, je vais aller faire un tour au jardin avec Quintus!

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At the Chalet for Two Weeks [en]

[fr] Au chalet pour deux semaines. Pas mal de réflexions sur où j'en suis.

I’m at the chalet for two weeks. I brought Erica. Last time I came I left her at eclau, and she fell ill, and my neighbours had to scramble to get her to the vet. I was ill too. I figured for two weeks it was worth it. She and Quintus still don’t really know each other, as she lives outside and at eclau, and he lives upstairs in the flat and only comes outside for a few minutes at a time, with me. But they’ve “seen” each other (quotes as Quintus is blind). There was growling and hissing early on, and then I prevented contact for a bit. Lately, when Erica comes to say hello to Quintus, he hasn’t growled or hissed. She’s cool. He’s old and lame and suspicious. So, maybe I’ll introduce them at the chalet. If it doesn’t go well, Erica can stay downstairs and outside, and Quintus upstairs. Quintus doesn’t go downstairs anyway.

I wasn’t planning on writing so much about the cats.

I’m at the chalet, for two weeks. My first real holiday since becoming gainfully employed. My previous two attempts at holidaying failed because of my friend giardia lamblia. I’ve been feeling slowly better these last two weeks. My last test came back negative. There’s more to write about this whole story. I don’t know if I’m relieved or more worried. It could in theory be a false negative, unless giardia in humans behaves fundamentally differently in humans than in cats and dogs. The doctor says a false negative is very unlikely, but I haven’t had a chance to confront him to the vet lab instructions linked above. More likely, what I’ve been seeing over the last month could be a post-infection GI disorder. I still haven’t tried introducing dairy back into my diet. I’m keeping a journal now, trying to figure out if I can link certain foods to the symptoms I still have (mainly gas, mild cramps, discomfort — more and more intermittent). I do not want to have IBDIBS, so I’m resisting cutting out gluten to see if it makes a difference, in a futile attempt to make it not that. I’m pretty sure it’s not that, having not noticed an obvious link between wheat and symptoms. But clearly, when I stick to rice and meat, things are pretty good.

I wasn’t planning on writing so much about my digestive woes.

So, here I am at the chalet, for two weeks, on vacation. A vacation as an employee or as a self-employed person feels pretty different. I managed to wrap up everything at work before heading out. Nothing can “happen” during my holidays. When you’re freelance, you can always get that phone call for a dream gig during your holidays, and chances you’re going to pick up the phone and talk with the client. The flexibility one gets as an independent goes both ways: more freedom when working, but less “getting completely away” when you’re not. At least, I never really managed to, except with the week I’d take in the south of France with my martial arts school, pretty much completely offline.

So, speaking of offline. One of my aims during this holiday is to disconnect. Not completely, but largely. This autumn I realised I was suffering from burnout. Starting work has been a lifesaver, because it reduced my mental load dramatically. All I needed to do was worry about waking up in the morning and catching my train. My working hours were long (factor in commuting) but the job itself was actually relaxing compared to my freelance life — particularly on the mental load front. I love my job. My job and I are a great match. I like doing what I do and am good at it. I have good relationships with my colleagues. I have a lot of autonomy, enough stimulation, and appreciation. It’s given me hope for my future and my ability to earn a living.

But aside from work, and aside from the fact I’ve been ill for nearly three months, I can still feel the effects of burnout. I read a book that was very helpful when I figured out what was going on. And it made me realise, more even than I had before, how important it is to have downtime. To do nothing. When I was playing Ingress a lot, I realised that was the problem: I had completely emptied my life of any kind of downtime. And looking back, when I ended up on sick leave for four months in my first year of teaching, that was probably some variety of burnout.

A few links, by me and others:

In addition to the issue around technology, there is social interaction. I mentioned it already in passing, and it’s something I’m thinking a lot about these days. I am a helper/fixer (I don’t know if there is a typology around that, but whatever). Many of my relationships revolve around helping others, particularly in times of crisis. I tend to put others first. Their needs before mine.

Even with my cats, sometimes. When I was trying to get Quintus’s diabetes under control, I realised that the “caring” component of our relationship had taken over all the rest. All my interactions with him had become medical, to the point of becoming obsessive. Thinking back to when Tounsi was ill, there was some of that too. It’s even more marked with humans. I’m the opposite of the fair-weather friend: I’m there during the crisis, but don’t seem very good at maintaining relationships when things are going well.

I’m giving this for context: I’m involved a lot in helping others online, and I feel this double draw of a) fleeing my downtime, and b) wanting contact above all else, pulling me towards a screen when I would actually “want” to be doing something else. (Like eating. Or sleeping. Or watching a TV series. Or simply, something for me rather than for others.)

And so I catch myself: right, I want to check Facebook/FDMB/whatever — but then, what will I do? Will I not go and eat to answer somebody? Will I put off going to bed? Will I give up on relaxing in front of the TV or going for a little stroll with Quintus because somebody needs my help?

It’s good to be altruistic. But in the era of connectedness, there is no limit to how much time you can spend on others rather than yourself.

So, my aim is to spend my holidays on myself. I’ve brought colouring books, my Kindle, my photos to sort through, and I might do a little work on CTTS, like incorporating all the blog posts I wrote for what was then the Open Ears blog, back when I was managing it for Phonak (yay, they seem to have fixed the formatting issues that made the blog posts pretty much unreadable after they migrated to the new platform!)

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Le temps a de nouveau filé [fr]

[en] Some musings in French. Chalet, sick cats, writing in French vs in English, the US elections, where I'm at, and a silly video in English you can watch.

Pas de nouvel article depuis deux semaines, malgré mes bonnes intentions. Alors je m’y colle, sans avoir de projet spécifique, parce que pour écrire, il faut écrire. Et je m’y colle en français, parce qu’il me semble que j’écris surtout en anglais. Et parce que je me rends compte que je me censure bien plus en français.

Grand Muveran

Mes articles les plus personnels, je les écris en anglais. Je parle bien plus volontiers de mes douleurs et de mes difficultés dans cette langue. Mais pourquoi?

D’une part, mon “public perçu” est différent en français ou en anglais. La plupart de mes clients sont francophones. Même s’ils comprennent bien l’anglais, notre relation de travail est en français. Les médias qui à une certaine époque me sollicitaient régulièrement sont francophones, aussi. En français, je me sens Romande, je me sens plus surveillée, voire jugée, qu’en anglais. Je  me préoccupe plus de ce qu’on peut bien penser de moi en français qu’en anglais.

Il y a peut-être une dimension culturelle sous tout ça. Le français, pour moi, c’est la Suisse Romande, avec tout ce que ça charrie de “balaie devant ta porte”, “occupe-toi de tes oignons”, “ça ne regarde personne”. Se mettre en avant c’est mal. Parler de soi c’est mal. Il faut rester professionnel. Qu’est-ce qu’on a le culte, ici, à mon grand désespoir, du mur entre le “personnel” et le “professionnel”!

Et voyez ce que racontent ces mots: “personnel”, ça vient de personne. Au travail, on n’est pas “personnel”. On est “professionnel”. Un rôle, pas un individu. J’ai réalisé il y a quelque temps que ce mot, que j’utilise pas mal professionnellement, est certainement source de plein de malentendus. Parce que quand je dis, par exemple, “présence en ligne personnelle“, je pense avant tout à l’aspect humain, “de la personne”, avant la question de savoir si le contenu que l’on partage touche à la sphère privée ou à la sphère professionnelle. Et là aussi, un autre mot qui nous embrouille: “privé”, ça peut être par opposition à “professionnel”, mais aussi à “public. Les connotations changent.

Bref, je n’aime pas trop montrer mes failles en français. Peut-être parce que c’est ma langue principale de travail, peut-être parce que c’est la langue du lieu où je vis, peut-être parce que moi-francophone a des peurs que moi-anglophone n’a pas. On sait que langue et culture sont liées; ce qu’on sait parfois moins, c’est que langue et personnalité le sont également: grand nombre de bilingues sont aussi biculturels. C’est peut-être mon cas.

Chalet dans les arbres

Alors, qu’est-ce que je vous raconte, dans cet article que j’écris pour écrire?

Je reviens d’une courte semaine au chalet. Le programme, c’était quelques jours de congé (parce que je cours, cours), peut-être ski au glacier, un peu de bûcheronnage dans le jardin, et puis bosser, et bloguer — avancer dans tout cet empilement d’idées qui se pressent dans ma tête sans atteindre mon clavier.

Eh bien non. Foehn, donc pas de téléphérique (et franchement même pas envie de sortir du chalet avec les branches qui tombent des arbres et les tuiles qui s’envolent).

Mais surtout, urgences vétérinaires, avec Tounsi qui a fait une étrange crise dans la nuit de samedi à dimanche, vomissement, grands mouvements quasi spasmodiques des pattes arrières, sur fond d’autres histoires de pattes. Soucis neurologiques? Intoxication à la couenne de fromage à raclette? Adieu sommeil du week-end, et trois vétos en trois jours (y compris le Tierspital à Berne) pour tenter de tirer cette affaire au clair. Tounsi semble à présent remis, mais que d’inquiétude: il ne mangeait pas, ne buvait pas, ne bougeait pas. Dans le doute, on a arrêté ses calmants quelques jours, et repris aujourd’hui. Bref, je le surveille de près, pas idéal pour se concentrer sur autre chose. (Et il y a encore la cécité de Quintus, qui semble brusquement s’aggraver certains jours sans que je comprenne pourquoi; aujourd’hui son “bon” oeil le dérange, il se gratte, il ne voit rien, il se cogne, s’encouble — aussi parce qu’il n’est pas très stable sur ses pattes arthritiques. J’ai peur qu’il perde le peu de vision qui lui reste. Je le vois vieillir et je me demande comment je saurai que sa qualité de vie s’est trop détériorée pour que ça vaille la peine de continuer.)

Tounsi convalescent

Dans un autre registre, les élections américaines m’ont pas mal secouées. Pas américaine, comme vous le savez, mais j’espérais vraiment la victoire de Hillary Clinton. Et j’y croyais. Depuis, j’ai l’impression de regarder un accident de train au ralenti. Je m’inquiète pour les USA et mes amis qui y vivent, mais aussi pour les répercussions que cette présidence risque d’avoir sur le reste du monde, et aussi pour ce que ça dit de notre tissu social, parce qu’il ne faudrait pas penser que ce sont ces tarés d’américains et que nous, dans notre petite Suisse bien rangée, on n’est pas aussi en plein là-dedans.

Et puis il y a moi. Je m’inquiète un peu pour moi, aussi. Parce que même si j’ai maintenant le sentiment d’avoir retrouvé ma direction professionnelle, même si les affaires reprennent, ce n’est pas “assez”. J’ai des projets, j’ai des pistes, mais j’ai des freins, aussi. Voilà que débarque le censeur, parce que c’est pas bien de montrer ses doutes. A plus forte raison si on est une femme, à qui l’on ne pardonnera aucune de ses fautes, comme le veut la règle.

C’est aussi pour moi une des grandes tristesses de cette élection américaine: voir, de façon tellement flagrante, les poids et mesures différents qu’on applique aux hommes et aux femmes, et voir aussi à quel point tant de monde y est aveugle. Même quand on leur met le nez dessus. Tous les arguments qui contiennent “c’est pas du sexisme”, “c’est pas parce que c’est une femme”, “je fais pas de différence”, “c’est une femme qui le dit alors ça peut pas être misogyne”.

Oh, on a fait du chemin. On a des égalités inscrites dans la loi. Mais culturellement, bon dieu… on est encore loin du compte. Racisme, idem.

Allez, pour finir sur une note un peu plus amusante, après m’être remise de ma stupefaction après le visionnement d’une vidéo de youtubeuse star sur le thème du vidage de sac, j’en ai rapidement fait un petit Facebook Live à ma sauce. J’ai bien ri en le faisant, et j’ai encore plus ri en le regardant. C’est en anglais.

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A Patchwork Post From The Chalet [en]

[fr] Plein de choses en vrac. Y'a des liens qui mènent vers des trucs en français.

I keep falling into this trap. I don’t blog about something because there is something else, more important, that I should blog about before and haven’t got around to writing.

In this case, it’s the fact that just over a week ago, I finally got to see Joan Baez live on stage. I’ve been listening to her since I was seven or so. I know most of her songs. I’ve always listened to her. And a few years ago I decided that I should really go and see her live soon, because, you know, she’s not getting any younger, and at some point people who spend their lives touring and singing on stage might decide that they want to stay at home and paint instead.

Joan Baez at Paléo

And she was coming to Paléo, in Nyon, just next door. I think I cried during the whole show — not from sadness, just from too much emotion. I was glad to be there that evening, because it was the evening to witness, with Patti Smith and Robert Plant, too. Isn’t it strange how somebody can be such an important part of your life (the soundtrack of many of my years, like Chris de Burgh) — and yet they have no idea you exist?

If you’ve never listened to Joan Baez, just dive into YouTube.

During the drive to the chalet a story came up on the podcast I was listening to which is exactly about that. The Living Room, a story from the podcast Love + Radio, which I’m going to add to my listening list as soon as I have a good enough data connection.

I finished reading “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, after devouring “The Psychopath Test” these last weeks. It’s a great book. Anybody spending time online should read it. It’s important. With great power comes great responsibility, but we the people on Twitter and Facebook are not aware of the power we wield. The power to destroy lives. To get the gist of it, use 17 minutes of your life to watch Jon’s TED Talk.

My reading of this book coincides with the unleashing of online fury over the killing of Cecil the Lion. It has disturbed me deeply. I feel an urge to dig through my archives and see what my reactions to Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco were, because I remember the stories. I’m worried of what I may find. I will be watching myself closely in future.

I also find myself shy in speaking up against those piling on against Cecil’s killer. Oh, he has done wrong. And I have no love for hunters, and no love for hunters of big cats. But what is missing here is proportionality. And I am scared that by speaking up I will find myself faced with a wall of “you’re either with us or against us”, ie, if you don’t join the mob then you’re defending the killing of lions. Just the way last year I was accused of “encouraging pedophiles” and whatnot because I was opposed to a stupid piece of “anti-pedophile” legislation. To some extent, I feel like I have let myself be silenced. Parallels to be drawn with the harassment episode I went through earlier this year (more on that, someday, probably).

This interview of Jon Ronson for On The Media also gives a very good summary of his book.

(My only gripe with Jon Ronson and his book is that a blog is not a post, dammit!)

Two local newspaper articles made me react today on Facebook (they’re in French). One about “the ideal age to conceive” for women, and one about a carer who got bitten by a Komodo dragon at the Lausanne Vivarium.

The first made me jump up because alongside statistics saying “if you want three kids you should get to work at this age” we find things like “you still have a 40% chance of conceiving at 40” and “don’t worry, it’s still quite possible to have children after 37”. Well, at 40 your chances of success through IVF are more around 10-15% — I’m curious where that “40%” comes from, and what it’s supposed to mean. Certainly not “4 attempts to conceive out of 10 succeed” but more “4 women out of 10 who are ‘trying’ (define that) succeed”. Another topic that’s keeping me from blogging about other stuff, because I have so much more to write about not having children. Well, you’ll get it in tidbits, it seems.

As for the second, well, I was expecting a “scare” piece. “Look, the dangerous animal.” Or “look, another negative story for the Vivarium” (which was running out of funding a couple of years ago). To my surprise the article was really good (edit: wow! they seem to have changed the title!), with the carer explaining how she was actually responsible for how the animal had reacted, and that showed how affectionate she was towards it despite the bite. I realised that reading the title had prepared me for “bad journalism”. But going back to it, the title was quite neutral: “Vivarium carer bitten by komodo dragon”. And so I wonder: how could the title have been better? Tricky.

Up in the mountains, in my chalet with almost no data connection, it’s easy to slow down and “do nothing”. A couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to consciously try and do less things in parallel, both on a micro and a macro level. Monotask more, multitask less. Try and keep my number of “open projects” under control. My podcast-hopping brought me to the “Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp” episode the other day. It really drove home the fact that my brain needs downtime. Bored time. And probably a holiday (I haven’t had a “real holiday” (= with no work to do) in much too long, and I’m starting to feel it. How did that happen? I thought I was over that.) So now, I’m paying more attention to where my phone is, and trying to keep it more in my bag and less in my hand, more in the other room and less just next to me.

That’s it for today, folks. My plan is to write again tomorrow. Or the day after. Let’s see if it materialises.

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The Simple Life [en]

I’ve been at the chalet since December 29th. I like it here. I’ve been “down” 5 times: once to see a new client in Zurich (more about that in the weeks to come), once to bring a car back to Lausanne, once to get my nails done, once to get an MRI done (wrist, nothing too bad), and once for a foundation board meeting.

Chalet et Grand Muveran

My life is simple here. Few possessions, few activities, few people, few responsibilities. The Paradox of Choice in reverse. As I’ve often noticed in the past, freedom is in fact in all that you can’t do.

That’s why people go away on holidays. There’s stuff to do on vacation, of course, but there is so much more from the daily grind that you can’t do.

Here I eat, take care of the cats, go skiing, buy food, fool around on the computer with my slow 3G connection (when I’m lucky, otherwise it’s Edge, or nothing), do some work, sleep.

But this state does not last. I’m already starting to make connections here. I’m starting to know people. I go to the café in the village which has great chocolate cake and wifi. I’ve been through this when I lived in India: within a few months, I’d reconstructed for myself a life full of things to do, of people, of meetings, and activities. That’s how I am — I cannot remain a hermit for very long.

At the end of the week I’m going back to my city life. I’ll miss how easy it is here to talk to people. I’m not from here, but I feel like I fit in. I like the outdoors. I like my clothes comfortable and practical before pretty. I don’t need a huge variety of restaurants, shops, night-clubs, or theatres to make me happy.

I know I’ve already mentioned it, but my life slows down when I come here. Even with an internet connection. I try to bring this slowness back into my life in Lausanne, but it’s difficult. Specially as things will be a rush next week: I’m hosting a WordPress meetup workshop on Tuesday evening, then there is Lift, then I have a friend visiting, then I’m coming back up here 🙂 for a few days. The week after that will see me back in Zurich…

As I write this, maybe what I get here (or elsewhere on holiday) that is hard to get in Lausanne is long stretches of time with no outside commitments. No meetings, no appointments, no travel. Just weeks ahead with nothing else to do but live and ski.

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Here Comes Everybody: Journalism and Ease of Publication [en]

I’m reading “Here Comes Everybody“. I’m taking notes.

In the chapter “Everyone is a media outlet”, Clay explains very well what is the matter with the journalism industry. (He has since then co-authored a report on the future of the news industry, which I need to read.)

In a world where everyone is a publisher, journalism is becoming an activity rather than a profession — activity which can be carried out both by those employed by the news industry and the “amateurs” (oh heck). A profession serves to solve a hard problem, that requires specialisation. Reproduction, distribution, and categorisation are now orders of magnitude easier and cheaper than before: professionals are no longer required for these activities.

Look at iStockPhoto and professional photography: the price of professional photography not so much due to the incredible quality of the professional’s work, in many cases, but comes from the difficulty of finding the right photo. iStockPhoto helps solve that problem, so the photo now costs 1$ instead of 500$, can very well have been shot by an amateur, and be no lesser in quality than a more expensive, specially-commissioned professional one.

As it has become easier to publish, public speech and action have become more valuable and less scarce, just like the ability to read and write became more commonplace with the invention of movable type, and scribes lost their raison-d’être.

Journalism is a profession that seems to exist because of accidental scarcity of published material due to the expense of publishing in the physical world. Scarcity (and therefore cost) is not an indication of importance: water is more important to life than diamonds, but that doesn’t make it expensive (The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith).

When everybody had learned to read and write, and scribes weren’t needed anymore, we didn’t call everybody a scribe, we just stopped using the word; reading and writing is ubiquitous and so not rare enough to pay for, even if it’s a really important skill. Scribes as a profession died out.

As for music and movie industry: the service they performed was distributing music and movies, but now anybody can move music and video easily and cheaply. The problem they were solving does not exist anymore, and so they are trying to maintain it by turning on their customers and trying to make moving movies and music harder artificially.

Because it’s so easy to publish, making something public is less the momentous decision that it used to be. The general criticism of the low quality of online content has to do with the fact we are judging “communications” content (conversation, often) by “broadcast” content standards of interest and quality. We look at Facebook statuses and think “was that really worth broadcasting?” — not realising that it was never intended for broadcast in the first place. It was not meant for us. If you eavesdrop on a dining hall conversation at the table next to you, doubtless you’ll find it uninteresting, but you won’t think “why are they speaking so loud I can hear what they’re saying?”

There used to be a distinction between communications and broadcast media, which has now broken down. Broadcast is one-to-many, a one-way megaphone which attempts to reach as many people as possible of a target audience. Communications, on the other hand, are two-way conversations for specific recipients, one-to-one. Now we also have many-to-many, communications tools which enable group conversation. There is a continuum between broadcast and communications rather than a sharp break neatly following the lines of the technology used (TV/radio vs. phone/fax). Communications and broadcast are mixed in the same medium, and we make the mistake of judging communications by the standards of broadcast.

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Social Tools Allow Ridiculously Easy Group-Forming [en]

More notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Both markets and organisations imply costs (transaction costs in large groups, labour required to maintain organisation). There are activities which simply don’t happen, because their cost is higher than their potential value both for markets and organisations. This is where social tools step in: they lower the cost of coordinating group action, and allow new forms of activities to appear.

Stuff that we find normal in 2013: if you stage a public event, photos of it will most certainly be made publicly available (through Flickr and the like) even if you do not hire a professional photographer or mandate people to collect photos. The social tool provides a cheap way for any person taking photos of the event for their personal satisfaction to add them to a public pool that anybody can draw from, through spontaneous tagging.

Under the Coasean floor: activities that are valuable to somebody but too expensive to be taken on in an institutional way, like aggregating amateur documentation of the London transit bombings. People have always had the desire to share, and the obstacles to sharing are now gone, so it happens.

When transaction costs are high, hierarchical organisations are the least bad solution for group action. If transaction costs drop a little, large organisations can afford to become larger, and small organisations appear where there were none, because they are now “cheap enough” to put in place. But when tools arrive which make transaction costs plummet, all kinds of group action which were impossible before are now happening outside of traditional organisations, in loosely structured groups, without managerial direction or profit motive.

Group undertakings: sharing, cooperation, collective action — by order of increasing difficulty.

Cooperation is more demanding than sharing because it requires changing one’s behaviour to synchronise with others (who are also doing the same thing). Conversation is an example. This makes me think of something I wanted to say about Facebook groups: groups where all that happens is people “sharing” stuff don’t take off. Sharing doesn’t really create a sense of community like conversation does. So if one wants a community of people, one must encourage conversation, which is more difficult to achieve than simple sharing. Collaborative production (cf. wikipedia, a potluck dinner, a barn raising) is another form of cooperation, more involved than conversation.

Collective action goes a step further, ambitioning to change something in the world, creating shared responsibility by tying the group and individual identities together. Action is taken “in the name of”. This comes with a share of governance issues, especially the larger the group. The shared vision of the group needs to be strong enough to keep the group together despite the tensions arising from individual disagreement on specific decisions.

Seb Paquet: ridiculously easy group-forming. This reminds me of an O’Reilly book that I read during my year in India (I read a number of O’Reilly books there, purchased in Indian editions and therefore compatible with my student’s budget): Practical Internet Groupware. It was an eye-opener, and much of the stuff in there is still true nearly 15 years later.

Says Clay Shirky (quoting!):

Ridiculously easy group-forming matters because the desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct that has always been constrained by transaction costs. Now that group-forming has gone from hard to ridiculously easy, we are seeing an explosion of experiments with new groups and new kinds of groups.

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Delivering Happiness: A Book to Read on Running a Happy Profitable Business [en]

I have just finished reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh. It’s a much “lighter” read than “Here Comes Everybody”, though the lessons it delivers are just as profound. Whereas Clay Shirky’s book has points to make, supported by stories, Tony Hsieh’s is the story of Zappos and his own, making points along the way.

When I was working at Orange during the end of my studies, I used to say that if I ever ran a business, it would be unsustainable because my first priority would be to make it a good workplace, which cared about its employees. Zappos seems to have achieved that, and at the same time managed to be sustainable and profitable. It’s not a “despite that”, either. It’s pretty clear that what has allowed Zappos to survive and be profitable is it’s concern about treating people well — both outside its walls and in.

I see echoes of my quest over the last years in Tony’s interest in happiness. What makes us happy? How can we organise our lives and businesses to have more of that?

My distaste for much of the corporate world has all to do with the fact it values profit over people. The story of Zappos shows us it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to create a workplace where there is a higher purpose than profit, where profit is a means to preserving the culture and “tribe” of the company.

Reading “Delivering Happiness” has moved me a step further towards understanding the importance of brands. For me, the word “brand has a distasteful ring to it, because I guess it’s so often associated with a certain type of marketing and hollow messages. Seeing brand as the external flip side of company culture actually makes perfect sense, and might help me develop some of my thinking about my own brand (I know I have one), the eclau brand, the Going Solo brand, etc. A brand doesn’t have to be artificial.

If you’re interested in an inspiring story of building a business based on trust, values, personality, growth, happiness, purpose, transparency, and authenticity, read this book. You won’t regret those few hours of your life. And buy an extra copy to leave lying around at work.

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Occupy et les Indignés [fr]

[en] A rant about the "translation" of the Occupy Movement by "les Indignés" in francophonia. Not the same movement. Occupy is a verb. "Indigné" is a state, an emotion, with moral undertones.

Ça date, Occupy, je sais. Vous qui connaissez plus d’une langue, vous avez déjà remarqué comment on perd parfois tout dans une traduction? Lost in translation. Etonnamment, le français n’a pas d’expression équivalente. En tant que bilingue français-anglais, je vois régulièrement ce phénomène à l’oeuvre dans les traductions de titres de livres ou de films, qui passent très bien en anglais et plus du tout en français. (Je ne parle même pas du doublage, qui a le don de transformer une chouette bande-annonce anglo-saxonne en un truc qui ne donne absolument pas envie de se pointer au multiplex.)

On a donc “Occupy”, aux Etats-Unis, et ici en Europe, en tous cas en français, on parle des “Indignés“. Quelle horreur! Je me fiche personnellement de savoir si les deux mouvements ont une origine commune ou non, toujours est-il qu’on les trouve “assimilés” ou “équivalents” dans les médias et donc, par extension, chez l’homme de la rue. La traduction française de “Occupy”, c’est “Indignés”.

Personnellement je n’ai jamais pu avaler ça. Les connotations sont si différentes! Comment les mouvements qui se rallient derrière ces deux noms peuvent-ils identiques? (Et qu’on n’aille même pas essayer de jeter là-dedans les émeutes de Londres, qui n’ont franchement rien à voir.)

“Occupy”, c’est un verbe. Occuper. Une action. Un impératif. “Occupy Wall Street”, c’est un slogan quasi militaire. L’Occupation, ça vous dit quelque chose? On va occuper les lieux. Il y a une prise de pouvoir, ou du moins une volonté de possession. On est là et on réclame notre place.

Etre “Indigné”, au contraire, c’est tout au plus un participe passé (par nature passif). Ou même, un adjectif. C’est émotionnel. C’est un état. Ça parle de ce qui se passe à l’intérieur de nous, et non de ce qu’on fait. On s’indigne, c’est super, et après? Aucune chance que je me retrouve là-dedans. Il y a une couleur morale, jugeante et passive dans ce mot.

Les mots qu’on utilise changent la façon qu’on pense. On sait qu’il y a un lien entre langue et culture. On peine à penser des choses qu’on ne peut mettre en mot.

“Occupy” et “les Indignés”, ce n’est pas la même chose.

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