Routine and Freedom [en]

[fr] La liberté, et la routine. Trop de liberté ne rend pas forcément plus heureux. Et si la liberté c'était de pouvoir choisir ses contraintes? Retour sur mon histoire avec la liberté et les habitudes.

Kites @ KepongPhoto credit: Phalinn Ooi

I think about routine a lot. I spent a lot of time when I was at university trying to be free. I was quite free, actually. Habits and routine are something we can get stuck in and that might shield us from seeing things we need to see — but I naturally gravitate to the other end of the spectrum, the introspective one, the one who thinks too much, wonders too much, asks herself too many questions. It was clear to me, already back then, that routine/habits had their use: they allowed us to lighten the load of thinking and deciding when it comes to our lives.

I spent ten years at university. Ten. Being a student. Three years studying chemistry (and finally failing), and seven years in what we call “Lettres”, studying History of Religions, Philosophy, and French. One of those years was spent in India. I then spent a lot of time not writing my dissertation. All in all, I spent many years with very long holidays and a very do-it-yourself schedule. It was a good time of my life. It was difficult to see it end.

Is freedom so important to me because of this slice of life, or did I hang out in that context so long because of how important it is to me?

Over the years, I’ve realised that “too much freedom” in the way I live my days does not make me happy. By that I mean complete lack of routine. Was it the first or second summer I was living alone in my first flat? A friend had used the kite metaphor: when you’re free, you let the string out and the kite can fly far, far up high. And I had let my kites go out a bit too far. University resumed, I drew my kites in.

In 2009, it felt like I had got my shit together. My life felt “under control”, in a good way. I wasn’t scrambling after things. If I remember correctly I was even doing my accounting regularly (that’s saying something). And I remember that during that year, I had a pretty solid morning routine. I actually would set my alarm clock. I would wake up at 7:30, and at 9:00 I would be at eclau to work, having pedalled on my stationary bicycle for a good half-hour.

Then 2010 happened. During my catless year, in 2011, I travelled way too much. I made up for all the previous years of no holidays. 2012 was chaotic. All that to say I never got back to where I was in 2009. Briefly, yes. But not consistently. And I know very well how important it is for me to have routines and good habits, so it’s something that’s often top of my mind. But I find myself coming short.

Things might be changing right now. This morning I wrote my first Morning Pages. (Loïc’s fault for mentioning them.) Last week, I got confirmation that Quintus is pretty much completely blind, and so I’ve been actively thinking about how to stabilise his environment — space and time. Quintus is a very routine-oriented cat. All cats are, to some degree, of course.

Blind Quintus Taking a Stroll

So between Morning Pages, cat-related routine, no money to travel (keeps me at home!) and wanting to get back on track when it comes to physical exercise (judo injury in March and slightly expanding waistline that doesn’t fit into favorite winter trousers anymore), the time seems ripe.

I’ve also been wondering recently if I’m not sleeping too much. One of my precious freedoms is not setting an alarm clock in the morning: I sleep as much as I want/need. But I still feel tired. So I think I’ll go with the 7:30 alarm for a bit and see if it changes anything. I’ll report back.

On another note, I sometimes feel like I spent a huge amount of my time in the kitchen dealing with food. I like cooking, and I like eating. But maybe I should limit the number of times I actually cook during the day. I eat a “normal meal” at breakfast, so I sometimes end up cooking three proper meals a day. I should probably reheat or throw something quickly together for morning and lunch, and just cook in the evening.

The biggest freedom might be the freedom to determine your own constraints.

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.

Twitter et les SMS: riches de leurs contraintes [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

Les SMS et Twitter (qui est à la base un service construit sur le SMS, en passant) doivent leur utilité et leur efficacité aux contraintes qu’ils imposent. Dans notre monde d’abondance et de surenchère de liberté, on voit souvent les contraintes comme quelque chose de négatif. On veut toujours plus, toujours mieux, sans limites. Pourquoi s’amuser à envoyer des messages sur Twitter, limités à 140 caractères, alors qu’on pourrait envoyer un e-mail ou publier un article sur un blog, sans limite de longueur?

Tout comme les contraintes stimulent la créativité, elles peuvent également être source d’efficacité dans la communication.

Si j’encourage les gens qui veulent prendre contact avec moi à utiliser le SMS ou Twitter, c’est parce que je sais que le message ainsi reçu sera court. Il sera vite lu. Il ira droit au but. Il sera simple. Et ma réponse, aussi, pourra être du même ordre.

Ce qui paraît être une contrainte pour celui qui envoie le message devient ainsi un avantage pour la personne qui le reçoit. Finis les messages vocaux interminables sur le répondeur, les e-mails qui tournent en rond avant de finalement daigner nous dire de quoi il en retourne. C’est l’expéditeur du message qui fait, en amont, un peu de travail pour le rendre plus digeste. Mais finalement, c’est bien lui qui cherche à se faire entendre…

Evidemment, ce type de communication un peu court et sec, purement utilitariste, n’est pas adéquat en toutes circonstances. (Ruptures amoureuses, SVP: on fait ça en face à face, même en 2010. Oui oui, c’est plus difficile. Mais l’autre mérite bien l’effort — en général.)

Je pense que c’est entre autres à mon utilisation de ces canaux de communication alternatifs (on pourrait y ajouter également la messagerie instantanée, qui à la brièveté ajoute un élément de co-présence, rendant le dialogue possible) que je dois de ne pas être submergée d’e-mails et harcelée de coups de fils.

D’autres moyens de communication jouent sur leurs limitations: le bon vieux téléphone, par exemple. Oui, il n’a toujours pas été supplanté par le “vidéophone”, même si la technologie est là depuis longtemps. On aime pouvoir téléphoner en pyjama, sans être sous le regard de l’autre.

La messagerie instantanée, par rapport au téléphone, ne nous met pas en contact vocal direct, mais est du coup bien plus tolérante des silences et même des interruptions sommaires de communication. On se retrouve pris par autre chose au milieu d’une conversation, la connexion internet a un hoquet, et hop! conversation abandonnée en cours de route. Limitation, mais aussi avantage.

Avoir à sa disposition toute cette riche palette de modes de communication avec autrui, plus ou moins limités, plus ou moins propices et efficaces dans diverses circonstances (y compris la discussion autour d’un café!) est précieux pour maintenir — ou approfondir — les liens avec notre entourage.

Alors oui, on pourrait le faire sans. Mais imaginez: sans téléphone ni courrier postal, ne trouveriez-vous pas un peu plus laborieux de rester en contact avec les personnes qui composent votre monde?