Being Lifter 20: I'm the "Star" Networker! [en]

[fr] Après LIFT l'an dernier, un questionnaire a été soumis au participants dans le but de déterminer quel impact la conférence avait eu sur leur réseau. J'y ai répondu, avec 27 autres personnes (un assez petit échantillon, à mon avis). Il se trouve que je suis la "super-réseauteuse" de l'étude. Quelques remarques.

Eleven months ago, I participated and encouraged you to participate in a survey which aimed to map social networking between participants of the LIFT’07 conference. As I was browsing around after submitting my workshop proposal, I saw that the report based on that survey had been published. On the LIFT site, you can see screenshots of the graphs (yes, this is what I call a “social graph”!) before and after the conference.

Go and look.

LIFT'07 Network Mapping Report

Notice the node somewhat to the left, that seems to be connected to a whole bunch of people? Yeah, that’s me. I’m “lifter 20”. How do I know? Well, not hard to guess — I have a rather atypical profile compared to the other people who took the survey.

So, as the “star” networker in this story, I do have a few thoughts/comments on some of the conclusions drawn from the survey. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s very interesting, and that we need this kind of research (and more of it!) but as Glenn says himself in the 1Mb PDF report, it’s important to bear in mind the limitations of this study. (All the quotes in this blog post are taken form the PDF, unless I say otherwise.)

The limitations of this study needs to be understood before considering the findings: This
study maps networks from the point of view of the 28 participants. Consequently, it is
only a partial map of the networks established at LIFT07.

In this study, I’m the “star” networker: the person with the most connections before and after the conference.

Before the conference, participant Lifter20 had the largest network (59 attendees)
which was increased by 25 attendees after the conference.

Bearing that in mind, I would personally have removed myself from the “average” calculations (I don’t think that was done), because I’m too a-typical compared to the other people in the survey. Typically, I would find it interesting to be given figures with extremes removed here:

There was a large range in the size of the individual networks before LIFT07 (from 0 to
59) and a smaller range in the number of people added to networks after the conference
(from 0 to 28). However, on average, participants had seven people in their network
before LIFT07 and added nine more people after the conference – leading to the
conclusion that people at least doubled their network by attending LIFT07.

As mentioned earlier, 28 people took the survey. I know I’m not the most networked person at LIFT. In my “network of red nodes” (people not in the survey) there are people like Robert Scoble, Stowe Boyd, or Laurent Haug — who clearly did not take the survey, or I wouldn’t be the “star networker” here. So, they are a little red node somewhere in the graph. Which makes me take the following remark with a big grain of salt:

Before the conference, several “red” attendees (i.e. those attendees nominated as
part of the network of the 28 participants) were significant relay nodes in the network
receiving considerable incoming links – notably the red node to the right of Lifter 12
and the red node to the left of Lifter 16. In both cases, the number of links to these
nodes increased after the conference.

What’s missing here is that these red nodes might very well be super networkers like Stowe or Robert. The fact they receive significant incoming links would then take a different meaning: only a very small part of their role in the global LIFT networking ecosystem is visible. (Yes, the study here only talks about a small part of this ecosystem, but it’s worth repeating.)

I think that most heavy networkers are not very likely to fill in such a survey. The more people you know, the more time it takes. I’m easily a bit obsessive, and I think this kind of study is really interesting, so I took the trouble to do it — but I’m sure many people with a smaller network than mine didn’t even consider doing it because it’s “too much work”. I suspect participation in such a survey is skewed towards people with smaller networks (“sure, I just know 5-10 people, I’ll quickly fill it in”).

Here’s a comment about the ratio of new contacts made during LIFT’07:

For example, the “star” networker, Lifter20 has a ratio of 1:0.4. In
other words, for every third person in her existing network, she met one new person.
Whereas, Lifter18 had the highest ratio of 1:7. In other words, for every person in her
existing network, she met seven new people.

I think it’s important to note that, as I said in my previous post about this experiment, knowing many people from the LIFT community beforehand, the increase in my network (proportionally) was bound to be less impressive, than, say, when I came to LIFT’06 two years ago (I basically knew 3 people before going: Anne Dominique, Laurent, Marc-Olivier — and maybe Roberto… and walked out with a ton of new people). I’m sure Dunbar’s number kicks in somewhere too, and I would expect that the more people you know initially, the lower your ratio of new contacts should be.

On page 8 of the survey there is a list of participants and the number of before/after contacts they entered in the survey. So, if you took the survey and have a rough idea of how many people you knew before LIFT, and how many you met there, you should be able to identify who you are.

This is interesting:

The “star” networker, Lifter 20 had seven links to other participants before LIFT07
which grew to ten after the conference, giving her the most central position in the
network of participants.

So, basically, 10 people I know took the survey — out of 28 total. I know I blogged about the survey and actively encouraged people in my network to take it. This would skew the sample, of course, making it closer to “my network at LIFT”. If we know each other and you took the survey, can you identify which number you are? it would be interesting to put faces on the numbers to interpret the data (for me, in any case, as I know the people). For example, if you’re a person I brought to LIFT, chances are your “new connections” will overlap mine quite a bit — more than if you came to LIFT independently.

A chapter of the report is devoted to the “star” networker (in other words, little me).

Interestingly, many of the
people that she connected to, both before and after LIFT07, were not part of the
networks of the other 27 participants of the study, indicating a certain isolation of parts of
her network.

[…]

Before the conference, a significant number of contacts (35) of Lifter20 had no
connections with any of the other 27 participants of the study.

After the conference, a number of contacts (14) made by Lifter20 had no connections
with any of the other 27 participants of the study.

The first remark be turned the other way: maybe all these “unconnected” people are actually quite connected within the “global LIFT network”, and it is the sample of 28 people who answered the survey which have isolated networks. Of course, isolation is a relative notion, but the way things are phrased here makes it look like I have an isolated network… which I don’t really believe to be the case — a great part of my network is actually very interconnected, only it doesn’t show in the graph because the people in question did not take the survey. Friend Wheel for Stephanie Booth - Facebook Friend Relationships My friend wheel (see screenshot) from Facebook gives a better impression of what it looks like. (No, no, I’m not taking this personally! I’m not.)

Lifter20 shares a number of contacts with one other participant (Lifter13 – the blue
node horizontally to the right in the “after” diagram).

Who is Lifter 13? (14 before, met 7 at LIFT’07) Somebody I knew before LIFT’07. I’m curious.

I’d also love to know who Lifter 18 (the “booster” networker) and Lifter 11 (the “clique” networker) were, though the graph indicates I know neither.

In conclusion, I’d say this is a really interesting study, but the anonymized data would gain to be interpreted in the light of who the actual people were and what their networks were like. I think it would allow to evaluate where this kind of analysis works well and works less well.

I think 28 people is a rather small sample for such a study — it’s a pity more people didn’t participate in the survey. How could we motivate people to participate? I think one of the issues, mainly, is that people don’t get anything directly out of participating. So… maybe some goodie incentive for doing it, next time? Also, I remember the interface was a bit raw. What I did is go through the participant list and type the names. It’s almost impossible to just think back at “so, who did I meet at LIFT this year?” — either you’re going to take a stack of business cards your brought home, or you’re going to go through a list and see what names ring a bell.

Maybe the survey organisation could take that into account. Provide participants in the survey with a (searchable, ajaxy) list of attendees with checkboxes. Then you could add smart stuff to help out like Dopplr’s “travellers you may know” (based on a “contacts of your contacts” algorithm).

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

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

Encore une fois, je suis déçue des gens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the blogmob.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technological Overload or Internet Addiction? [en]

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

For those of you who enjoyed my Technological Overload Panel and Addicted to Technology posts, the video of the Technological Overload Panel at LIFT’07 is now online.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Podcast With No Name (Steph+Suw), Episode 2 [en]

[fr] Nouvel épisode du podcast conversationnel que je fais avec mon amie Suw Charman.

Long, long overdue, here is Steph and Suw‘s Podcast With No Name, episode 2, February 15th, 2007. Some rough shownotes, with some links. Hope you enjoy it, and let us know what you think. We’re down to 35 minutes! Show notes might suffer updates…

  • conferences: LIFT’07 and Freedom of Expression
  • not everybody has the internet (God, I need to stop laughing so loud when we’re recording)
  • mobile phones in other cultures (e.g. Nigeria)
  • “technology overload” at LIFT’07 turned into “internet addiction” (interesting Stefana Broadbent
  • note-taking on a computer: expected in some contexts, but feels really out-of-place in others (cultural issue)
  • do we end up publishing our handwritten notes? trade-offs: handwritten and rewriting vs. direct blogging (Steph’s crappy workshop notes)
  • scanning vs. photographing written material, document management and shredding
  • GTD status update (inbox zero…)
  • FOWA coming up and other fun London stuff
  • Wedding 2.0 will be blogged on CnV, but will there be a webcast?
  • technology as a way to stretch our Dunbar number, wedding 2.0 with IRC backchannel and crackberries galore
  • the Wedding Industrial Complex, trying to find an affordable venue in Dorset
  • IRC or SL would be cheaper, but is SL a registered venue?
  • physical words for “virtual” places
  • gap between us heavy users, and people who get a few e-mails a day, book holidays online and that’s it
  • exploring how new tools could help us — most people aren’t curious about new stuff
  • winning over new users: finding holes in people’s processes
  • Facebook is really cool, very usable, and for keeping in touch with people you know (has smart walls and smart feeds)
  • who’s on Facebook? on the non-desire to join new social networks…
  • LinkedIn for business
  • Facebook as a mashup to keep up with what your friends are upto — but isn’t that what blogs are for?
  • outlet overload, tools need to talk to each other (holes in buckets), profile multiplication, Facebook share bookmarklet to “push” stuff
  • clumsy wrap-up and episode three when we manage!

Did you miss episode 1?

Note: PodPress seems to have collapsed, so here is a direct link to the 14Mb mp3 file just in case.

LIFT'07 Swiss TV Coverage [en]

[fr] LIFT à la TSR.

Here’s a short piece on LIFT’07 that was on the Swiss News last Thursday, and another one with an interview of Laurent. Beware. Window resizing and RealStuff to be expected. (More videos here, click on “Vidéo”.).

LIFT'07 Social Networking Map Experiment [en]

[fr] Si vous étiez à LIFT'07, remplissez le questionnaire pour l'expérience de Social Networking Mapping!

I can only encourage you to participate in the LIFT’07 Social Networking Map Experiment if you attended the conference. It takes a little while to complete, depending on how extroverted you are, I guess. And if you hang out with evil supernodes, too.

Listing the people I knew before the conference wasn’t too hard, though of course I had to plough through the list. Here are the names I came up with:

Henriette Weber Andersen, Jean-Christophe Anex, Bieler Batiste, Yoan Blanc, Florent Bondoux, Stowe Boyd, Raphaël Briner, Stefana Broadbent, Lee Bryant, Marie Laure Burgener, Riccardo Cambiassi, Jérôme Chevillat, Marco Chong, Matthew Colebourne, Samuel Crausaz, Thierry Crouzet, Pedro Custodio, Nicolas Dengler, Jens-Christian Fischer, Antonio Fontes, David Galipeau, Bruno Giussani, Tanguy Griffon, Matthias Gutfeldt, Laurent Haug, Peter Hogenkamp, Dannie Jost, Christophe Lemoine, Thomas Madsen-Mygdal, Yann Mauchamp, Geneviève Morand, Philippe Mottaz, Hugo Neves da Silva, Nicolas Nova, Bjoern Ognibeni, Roberto Ortelli, Jean-Olivier PAIN, Marc-Olivier Peyer, Bernard Rappaz, Andre Ribeirinho, Martin Roell, Pascal Rossini, Robert Scoble, Rodrigo Sepulveda Schulz, Joshua Sierles, Nicole Simon, John Staehli, Elisabeth Stoudmann, Sandrine Szabo, Olivier Tripet, Guido Van nispen, Benjamin Voigt, Alfonso Von Wunschheim, Ellen Wallace, Bertrand Waridel, Mark Wubben, Chris Zumbrunn, Jan Zuppinger

“New people” I met at the conference was more difficult, firstly because I didn’t get the names of everyone and business cards are only so helpful, particularly when you don’t have any for the people you talked to, and secondly because many people did not include a photo in their profile on the site, or any information about themselves. Here’s the list I managed to compile:

Jeremy Allen, Paula do O Barreto, Nuno Barreto, Brian Cox, Florian Egger, Ramon Guiu Hernandez, Noel Hidalgo, Lisette Hoogstrate, Tom Klinkowstein, Trine-Maria Kristensen, Maya Lotan, Gia Milinovich, Glenn O’neil, Nortey Omaboe, Michele Perras, Ivan Pope, Derek Powazek, Thomas Purves, Dieter Rappold, Colin Schlueter, Maryam Scoble, Sebina Sivac-Bryant, Jewel THOMAS, David Touvet, Remo Uherek, Sarah Wade Hutman

A much smaller list, as you can see. Well, as I knew quite a lot of people to start with, I guess it’s expected to be short — but I’m sure this is at most the two-thirds of the people I met. If we talked and you’re not listed, let me know!

One methodological problem I can see with the survey is that “already knew” and “met for the first time” are not clearly defined. I’ve taken a really wide interpretation of those expressions for this survey. I’m not sure absolutely everyone on my first list would consider they “know” me. Or if I haven’t met a person yet but we’ve got common friends and I’ve followed a lot about them, do I “know” them? Ditto for “met for the first time”. I’d interacted with Gia online after LIFT’06, but this is the first time we talked offline, for example.

Anyway… interested in seeing what will come out of this. Please take the survey!

Que d'anglais [en]

[fr] Just an explanation to my French readers about the amount of English here recently. Has to do with a post-LIFT'07 effect and the hard time I have coming back to "where we are with blogs and stuff in Switzerland". (Answer: frustratingly behind. Yeah, I'm grumpy and certainly a little unfair.)

Oui, je sais, je néglige à nouveau mes lecteurs francophones et j’écris des tartines en anglais. Je reviens de la conférence LIFT’07 (l’année dernière, LIFT’06 avait quelque peu changé ma vie), des rencontres plein les yeux et des idées qui résonnent encore dans les oreilles.

La langue que j’utilise ici dépend de l’humeur, du contenu du billet, du public imaginé. Là, j’avoue, je suis un peu coincée en anglophonie. Un peu difficile, après un workshop magistral donné par Stowe Boyd et toute une série d’intervenants fascinants de remettre les deux pieds en terre vaudoise, où les journalistes tentant de se mettre au blog essaient d’épingler les blogueurs pour une tournure malheureuse (ah oui, c’est Stephanie sans accent si jamais, puisque vous tenez à la précision), les cours d’initiation aux blogs sont annulés de façon répétée par manque d’inscriptions alors que la demande est là, pourtant (appels, interviews, cartes de visite, demandes… et j’en passe), les gens veulent des blogs mais quand même pas trop “blog” (mais parlez en “je”, bon sang, ça veut pas dire que vous devez “raconter vos vies”), où internet fait peur et où les journaux, en passe d’épuiser le filon, tentent de faire les gros titres avec la fin des blogs.

Donc, vous me pardonnerez, mais juste là, je retourne explorer Facebook, garder un oeil sur l’évolution des blogs d’Intel qui ont profité de mes services plus tôt cette année, parler boutique avec Headshift, lire Stowe, Bruno Giussani et David Galipeau, rester en contact avec ma tribu de LIFT, commencer à travailler à mon futur livre sur les ados et internet (surtout: sur quel blog l’écrire), mettre mon nez un peu dans ce que fait Derek Powazek avec JPG Magazine, guetter les dates de reboot et planifier ma prochaine expédition à San Francisco

Un peu grinche, la Mère Denis, et probablement un peu injuste aussi, du coup. C’était le coup de gueule du jeudi après-midi. Vous en faites pas, amis romands — je vous aime quand même.


Merci à noneck pour la photo.

Pour me faire pardonner, allez, quelques photos-souvenirs (de moi et d’autrui) de LIFT’07.

Addicted to Technology! [en]

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

Help! we’re all becoming addicted to technology! Think of it… we’re soon going to be merged to our computers and cellphones, and we already have a hard time living without them. Heck, we can’t even spend a day without chatting or checking our e-mail! Or our blog comments! Where is the world going?

What technology?

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

Addicted to our cars

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

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

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

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

Nurturing online relationships has little value (not)

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

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

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

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

If not addiction, then what?

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

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

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

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

Not that addicted…

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

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

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

Technological Overload Panel [en]

Technological overload (oh, I hadn’t realised this was a panel!) — again, Bruno has some nicely-written notes to share.

Fun crackberry video from YouTube.

The moderator loves his crackberry, but he’s an addict.

The panelists don’t blog! What a shame! Not much IM either… (that was a steph-note)

steph-note: We’re asked to close laptops for Nada Kakabadse’s presentation. Reminds me of “Le Test du Moi” where they wanted to take my laptop away for a week — not realistic given my line of work. In my case, I’m using the computer to take notes because my handwritten notes are illegible because of my RSI. => no notes on the first part of the presentation, but I took photographs of the slides.

Internet Addiction Slides 1

Internet Addiction Slides 2

Internet Addiction Slides 3

Internet Addiction Slides 3

Internet Addiction Slides 5

Panelists seem to agree that one can’t assume people are “addicted” because they resist closing their laptops in a given situation (I resisted, saying I was using it to take notes, but was asked to close it).

Stefana has seen the private come into the workplace much more than the opposite, carried by technology (e-mail, IM, etc). Keeping our social network alive at work too.

Trick question: how many of you use e-mail for personal use during work? Trick, because the line between personal and private is not clear. steph-note: agreed — I didn’t raise my hand. In my situation, it’s worse, because my “private life” and “work” have merged to a great extent.

Suffering.

Information overload, burn-out, addiction: are we mixing things up here?

Sharing: burn-outs? addiction? “My name is … and I’m an internet addict.” steph-note: is this turning into an AA session?

Robert Scoble: too many feeds, too many e-mails. Solution? Maybe addiction, but also allows him to do his work, and happy about that. steph-note: if I got that correctly, Robert…

Risk in curing addiction: reduction of productivity. (Stefana)

“poorer” channels actually have something that allows more than “richer” channels like VoIP (people have Skype, but continue to chat hours a day). (Stefana)

Bruno Giussani: where exactly is the addiction? not to the Blackberry.

Stefana: average number of contacts for non-social-networking person is around 20. The digital channels actually allow people to maintain this high number of contacts. steph-note: wow, technology actually allows us to handle more relationships…

Quality of online/offline relationships? Stefana: there is anyway a multiplicity of qualities of relationships.

Question: can we really multitask? (cf. continuous partial attention, etc steph-note: done to death imho)

Stefana: with routine, things that seem to require attention actually have become only monitoring.

steph-note: wow, all this talk about addiction. Looking forward to my talk at the Centre for Addictions in Geneva very soon.

Stefana: real issue = what is the acceptable response time for an e-mail (20 minutes, half a day, a day, a week?) The pressure comes from what we consider an acceptable response time. For IM? steph-note: you can not respond, cf. Stowe

Wrap-up: how do you unplug?

Stefana: what is the cost of unplugging? it can be compared to “stop talking to everyone!” steph-note: totally agree

Fred Mast: no need to switch off, we can be addicted and happy steph-note: don’t agree, “addicted” contains unhappy — if you’re not unhappy, you’re not addicted

Nada Kakabadse: upto each and every one.

steph-note: “quality-time” can also happen online, folks. This session is getting me slightly worked up.

Stefana: keep in mind the overload issue is touching a tiny amount of people, most people would be thrilled to have 7 instead of 5 e-mails a day!

No Notes Today… [en]

No notes today, my love has gone away…

Well, not really “love”, but my brain is even too fried to find an adequate replacement. No energy today to take notes and blog them, I’m afraid. Just a few photos, and trying trying to listen and understand.

You’ll have to make do with Bruno’s notes — but they’re better than mine, anyway!