There’s a phrase that’s been living inside my head lately, a brain parasite, some burrowing larva covered in thorns and barbs of words. When it moves around in there it churns at the soft tissues like someone’s stuck a very small hand blender in my skull. It repeats itself inside the wormy cave system that used to be my thoughts. It says you will not survive. You will not survive. You will not survive.
Earlier this year, an article in the Cut reported that the cool thing now is to have messy hair and smoke cigarettes again. You might remember it; the piece was widely mocked for a day or two, and then it vanished without a trace, which is how these things tend to go. But the headline was incredible, and it stuck with me. A Vibe Shift Is Coming. Will Any Of Us Survive It? Everyone else seemed to focus on the ‘vibe shift’ stuff, but the second part was much more interesting. To talk about survival—what extraordinary stakes, for a piece that was, in essence, about how young people are wearing different types of shoes from the shoes that you, as a slightly older person who still wants to think of themselves as young, wear. Everything is stripped back to the rawest truth: that you are a fragile creature perishing in time. And all you need to do is apply Betteridge’s Law for the real content to shine through. No. None of you will survive.
There was an ancient thought: that Zeus feeds on the world. ‘The universe is cyclically consumed by the fire that engendered it.’ Our God is a devourer, who makes things only for the swallowing. As it happens, this was the first thought, the first ever written down in a book of philosophy, the first to survive: that nothing survives, and the blankness that birthed you will be the same hole you crawl into again. Anaximander: ‘Whence things have their origin, thence also their destruction lies…’ In the Polynesian version, Maui tried to achieve immortality by taking the form of a worm and slithering into the vagina of Hine-nui-te-po, goddess of night and death.1 He failed. Hine-nui-te-po’s pussy is full of obsidian teeth; when she stirred in the night those teeth sliced clean through his body. He dribbled out again, a loose mulch of the hero who conquered the Sun.
You will not survive is not only a frightening idea. The things I hope for are doomed, and everything I try to create will be a failure, but so will everything I despise.2 These days, it repeats itself whenever I see something that’s trying its hardest to make me angry and upset. There’s a whole class of these objects: they’re never particularly interesting or important; they just exist to jab you into thinking that the world is going in a particular direction, away from wherever you are. One-Third Of Newborn Infants Now Describe Themselves As Polyamorous—Here’s Why That’s A Good Thing. Should I get upset about this? Should I be concerned? Why bother? It will not survive.3 Meet The Edgy Influencers Making Holocaust Denial Hip Again. Are we in trouble? Maybe, but even trouble is ending. Everyone That Matters Has Started Wearing Jeans Over Their Heads With Their Arms Down The Leg Holes And Their Faces All Cramped Up In The Sweaty Groin Region, And They Walk Down The Street Like This, Bumping Into Things, And When They Sit Down To Eat They Just Pour Their Subscription-Service Meal-Replacement Slurry Over The Crotch Of Their Jeans And Lick At The Dribblings From The Inside, And They’re Covered In Flies And Smell Bad And Also They’re Naked From The Waist Down Because Their Trousers Are On Their Heads, That’s Part Of It Too—We Show You How To Get The Look! How proud they are of their new thing. ‘The strong iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles, who would not live long.’
In fact, one of the things that will not survive is novelty itself: trends, fads, fashions, scenes, vibes. We are thrown back into cyclical time; what’s growing old is the cruel demand to make things new. It’s already trite to notice that all our films are franchises now, all our bestselling novelists have the same mass-produced non-style, and all our pop music sounds like a tribute act.4 But consider that the cultural shift that had all those thirtysomething Cut writers so worried about their survival is simply the return of a vague Y2K sensibility, which was itself just an echo of the early 1980s. Angular guitar music again, flash photography, plaid. We’re on a twenty-year loop: the time it takes for a new generation to be born, kick around for a while, and then settle into the rhythm of the spheres.
Every time this happens, it coincides with a synodic conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter, the triumphant present; Saturn, senescence, decline. The son who castrates his father, the father who devours his sons: once every twenty years, they are indistinguishable in the sky. Astrologers call this the Great Chronocrator. The last one was at the end of 2020, and it’ll occur twice more in my lifetime: when these witless trendwatchers finally shuffle off, they’ll be tended on their deathbeds by a nurse with messy black eyeshadow and low-rise scrubs. Jupiter and Saturn will burn above you as a single point, and with your last rattling breaths you’ll still be asking if she thinks you’re cool. You don’t get it. ‘For oute of olde feldes, as men seith, cometh al this newe corn fro yeer to yere.’ We are entering a blissful new Middle Ages, where you simply soak in a static world until the waters finally close in over your head.
The things that will survive are the things that are already in some sense endless. The sea; the night; the word. Things with deep fathoms of darkness in them.
The internet will not survive.
In 1977, Ken Olsen declared that ‘there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.’ In 1995, Robert Metcalfe predicted in InfoWorld that the internet would go ‘spectacularly supernova’ and then collapse within a year. In 2000, the Daily Mail reported that the ‘Internet may be just a passing fad,’ adding that ‘predictions that the Internet would revolutionise the way society works have proved wildly inaccurate.’ Any day now, the millions of internet users would simply stop, either bored or frustrated, and rejoin the real world.
Funny, isn’t it? You can laugh at these people now, from your high perch one quarter of the way into the twenty-first century. Look at these morons, stuck in their grubby little past, who couldn’t even correctly identify the shape of the year 2022. You can see it perfectly, because you’re smart. You know that the internet has changed everything, forever.
If you like the internet, you’ll point out that it’s given us all of human knowledge and art and music, instantly accessible from anywhere in the world; that you can arrive in a foreign city and immediately guide yourself to a restaurant and translate the menu and also find out about the interesting historical massacres that took place nearby, all with a few lazy swipes of your finger. So many interesting little blogs! So many bizarre subcultures! It’s opened up our experience of the world: now, nothing is out of reach.
To be honest, it’s difficult to reconstruct what the unbridled techno-optimists think; there’s so few of them left. Still, those who don’t like the internet usually agree with them on all the basics—they just argue that we’re now in touch with the wrong sort of thing: bad kids’ cartoons, bad political opinions, bad ways of relating to your own body and others. Which is why it’s so important to get all this unpleasant stuff off the system, and turn the algorithm towards what is good and true.
They might be right, but you could go deeper. The internet has enabled us to live, for the first time, entirely apart from other people. It replaces everything good in life with a low-resolution simulation. A handful of sugar instead of a meal: addictive but empty, just enough to keep you alive. It even seems to be killing off sex, replacing it with more cheap, synthetic ersatz. Our most basic biological drives simply wither in its cold blue light. People will cheerfully admit that the internet has destroyed their attention spans, but what it’s really done away with is your ability to think. Usually, when I’m doing something boring but necessary—the washing up, or walking to the post office—I’ll constantly interrupt myself; there’s a little Joycean warbling from the back of my brain. ‘Boredom is the dream bird that broods the egg of experience.’ But when I’m listlessly killing time on the internet, there is nothing. The mind does not wander. I am not there. That rectangular hole spews out war crimes and cutesy comedies and affirmations and porn, all of it mixed together into one general-purpose informational goo, and I remain in its trance, the lifeless scroll, twitching against the screen until the sky goes dark and I’m one day closer to the end. You lose hours to—what? An endless slideshow of barely interesting images and actively unpleasant text. Oh, cool—more memes! You know it’s all very boring, brooding nothing, but the internet addicts you to your own boredom. I’ve tried heroin: this is worse. More numb, more blank, more nowhere. A portable suicide booth; a device for turning off your entire existence. Death is no longer waiting for you at the far end of life. It eats away at your short span from the inside out.
But lately I’m starting to think that the last thing the internet destroys might be itself. I think they might be vindicated, Ken Olson and Robert Metcalfe and even, God forgive me, the Daily Mail.
In the future—not the distant future, but ten years, five—people will remember the internet as a brief dumb enthusiasm, like phrenology or the dirigible. They might still use computer networks to send an email or manage their bank accounts, but those networks will not be where culture or politics happens. The idea of spending all day online will seem as ridiculous as sitting down in front of a nice fire to read the phone book. Soon, people will find it incredible that for several decades all our art was obsessed with digital computers: all those novels and films and exhibitions about tin cans that make beeping noises, handy if you need to multiply two big numbers together, but so lifeless, so sexless, so grey synthetic glassy bugeyed spreadsheet plastic drab. And all your smug chortling over the people who failed to predict our internetty present—if anyone remembers it, it’ll be with exactly the same laugh.5
You know, secretly, even if you’re pretending not to, that this thing is nearing exhaustion. There is simply nothing there online. All language has become rote, a halfarsed performance: even the outraged mobs are screaming on autopilot. Even genuine crises can’t interrupt the tedium of it all, the bad jokes and predictable thinkpieces, spat-out enzymes to digest the world. ‘Leopards break into the temple and drink all the sacrificial vessels dry; it keeps happening; in the end, it can be calculated in advance and is incorporated into the ritual.’ Online is not where people meaningfully express themselves; that still happens in the remaining scraps of the nonnetworked world. It’s a parcel of time you give over to the machine. Make the motions, chant its dusty liturgy. The newest apps even literalise this: everyone has to post a selfie at exactly the same time, an inaudible call to prayer ringing out across the world. Recently, at a bar, I saw the room go bright as half the patrons suddenly started posing with their negronis. This is called being real.
Whoever you are, a role is already waiting for you. All those pouty nineteen-year-old lowercase nymphets, so fluent in their borrowed boredom, flatly reciting don’t just choke me i want someone to cut off my entire head. All those wide-eyed video creeps, their inhuman enthusiasm, hi guys! hi guys!! so today we’re going to talk about—don’t forget to like and subscribe!! hi guys!!! Even on the deranged fringes, a dead grammar has set in. The people who fake Tourette’s for TikTok and the people who fake schizophrenia for no reason at all. VOICES HAVE REVEALED TO ME THAT YOUR MAILMAN IS A DEMONIC ARCHON SPAT FROM BABYLON’S SPINNING PIGMOUTH, GOD WANTS YOU TO KILL HIM WITH A ROCKET LAUNCHER. Without even passing out of date, every mode of internet-speak already sounds antiquated. Aren’t you embarrassed? Can’t you hear, under the chatter of these empty forms, a long low ancient whine, the last mewl of that cat who wants to haz cheezburger?
When I say the internet is running dry, I am not just basing this off vibes. The exhaustion is measurable and real. 2020 saw a grand, mostly unnoticed shift in online behaviour: the clickhogs all went catatonic, thick tongues lolling in the muck. On Facebook, the average engagement rate—the number of likes, comments, and shares per follower—fell by 34%, from 0.086 to 0.057. Well, everyone knows that the mushrooms are spreading over Facebook, hundreds of thousands of users liquefying out of its corpse every year. But the same pattern is everywhere. Engagement fell 28% on Instagram and 15% on Twitter. (It’s kept falling since.) Even on TikTok, the terrifying brainhole of tomorrow, the walls are closing in. Until 2020, the average daily time spent on the app kept rising in line with its growing user base; since then the number of users has kept growing, but the thing is capturing less and less of their lives.
And this was, remember, a year in which millions of people had nothing to do except engage with great content online—and in which, for a few months, liking and sharing the right content became an urgent moral duty. Back then, I thought the pandemic and the protests had permanently hauled our collective human semi-consciousness over to the machine. Like most of us, I couldn’t see what was really happening, but there were some people who could. Around the same time, strange new conspiracy theories started doing the rounds: that the internet is empty, that all the human beings you used to talk to have been replaced by bots and drones. ‘The internet of today is entirely sterile… the internet may seem gigantic, but it’s like a hot air balloon with nothing inside.’ They weren’t wrong.
What’s happening?6 Here’s a story from the very early days of the internet. In the 90s, someone I know started a collaborative online zine, a mishmash text file of barely lucid thoughts and theories. It was deeply weird and, in some strange corners, very popular. Years passed and technology improved: soon, they could break the text file into different posts, and see exactly how many people were reading each one. They started optimising their output: the most popular posts became the model for everything else; they found a style and voice that worked. The result, of course, was that the entire thing became rote and lifeless and rapidly collapsed. Much of the media is currently going down the same path, refining itself out of existence. Aside from the New Yorker’s fussy umlauts, there’s simply nothing to distinguish any one publication from any other. (And platforms like this one are not an alternative to the crisis-stricken media, just a further acceleration in the process.) The same thing is happening everywhere, to everyone. The more you relentlessly optimise your network-facing self, the more you chase the last globs of loose attention, the more frazzled we all become, and the less anyone will be able to sustain any interest at all.7
Everything that depends on the internet for its propagation will die. What survives will survive in conditions of low transparency, in the sensuous murk proper to human life.
For a while, it was possible to live your entire life online. The world teemed with new services: simply dab at an app, and the machine would summon some other slumping creature with a skin condition to deliver your groceries, or drive you in pointless circles around town, or meet you for overpriced drinks and awkward sex and vanish. Like everyone, I thought this was the inevitable shape of the future. ‘You’ll own nothing, and you’ll be happy.’ We’d all be reduced to a life spent swapping small services for the last linty coins in our pockets. It’s Uber for dogs! It’s Uber for dogshit! It’s picking up a fresh, creamy pile of dogshit with your bare hands—on your phone! But this was not a necessary result of new technologies. The internet was not subordinating every aspect of our lives by itself, under its own power. The online economy is an energy sink; it’s only survived this far as a parasite, in the bowels of something else.
That something else is a vast underground cavern of the dead, billions of years old.
The Vision Fund is an investment vehicle headquartered in London and founded by Japan’s SoftBank to manage some $150 billion, mostly from the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which it’s poured into Uber and DoorDash and WeWork and Klarna and Slack. It provides the money that effectively subsidises your autistic digital life. These firms could take over the market because they were so much cheaper than the traditional competitors—but most of them were never profitable; they survived on Saudi largesse.
Investors were willing to sit on these losses; it’s not as if there were many alternatives. Capital is no longer capable of effectively reproducing itself in the usual way, through the production of commodities. Twenty-five years ago manufacturing represented a fifth of global GDP; in 2020 it was down to 16%. Interest rates have hovered near zero for well over a decade as economies struggle to grow. Until this year, governments were still issuing negative-yield bonds, and people were buying them—a predictable loss looked like the least bad option. The only reliable source of profits is in the extraction of raw materials: chiefly, pulling the black corpses of trillions of prehistoric organisms out of the ground so they can be set on fire. Which means that the feudal rulers of those corpselands—men like King Salman, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques—ended up sitting on a vast reservoir of capital without many productive industries through which it could be valorised. So, as a temporary solution, they stuck it in the tech sector.
It didn’t matter that these firms couldn’t turn a profit. The real function was not to make money in the short term; it was to suck up vast quantities of user data. Where you go, what you buy; a perfect snapshot of millions of ordinary lives. They were betting that this would be the currency of the future, as fundamental as oil: the stuff that rules the world.8
They were wrong, but in the process of being wrong, they created a monster. Your frictionless digital future, your very important culture wars, your entire sense of self—it’s just a waste byproduct of the perfectly ordinary, centuries-old global circulation of fuel, capital, and Islam. It turns out that if these three elements are arranged in one particular way, people will start behaving strangely. They’ll pretend that by spending all day on the computer they’re actually fighting fascism, or standing up for women’s sex-based rights, as if the entire terrain of combat wasn’t provided by a nightmare head-chopping theocratic state.9 They’ll pretend that it’s normal to dance alone in silence for a front-facing camera, or that the intersection of art and technology is somehow an interesting place to be. For a brief minute, you’ll get the sociocultural Boltzmann entity we call the internet. ‘But nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.’
The tables are already being cleared at the great tech-sector chow-down.10 Online services are reverting to market prices. The Vision Fund is the worst performing fund in SoftBank’s history; in the last quarter alone it’s lost over $20 billion. Most of all, it’s now impossible to ignore that the promise propping up the entire networked economy—that user data could power a system of terrifyingly precise targeted advertising—was a lie. It simply does not work. ‘It sees that you bought a ticket to Budapest, so you get more tickets to Budapest…All they really know about you is your shopping.’ Now, large companies are cutting out their online advertising budgets entirely, and seeing no change whatsoever to their bottom line. One study found that algorithmically targeted advertising performed worse than ads selected at random. This is what sustains the entire media, provides 80% of Google’s income and 99% of Facebook’s, and it’s made of magic beans.
A dying animal still makes its last few spastic kicks: hence the recent flurry of strange and stillborn ideas. Remember the Internet of Things? Your own lightbulbs blinking out ads in seizure-inducing Morse code, your own coffee machine calling the police if you try to feed it some unlicensed beans. Remember the Metaverse? The grisly pink avatar of Mark Zuckerberg, bobbing around like the ghost of someone’s foreskin through the scene of the recent genocides. Wow! It’s so cool to immersively experience these bloodmires in VR! More recent attempts to squeeze some kind of profit out of this carcass are, somehow, worse. Here’s how web3 is about to disrupt the meat industry. Every time you buy a pound of tripe, your physical offal will be bundled with a dedicated TripeToken, which maintains its value and rarity even after the tripe has been eaten, thanks to a unique blockchain signature indexed to the intestinal microbiome of the slaughtered cattle! By eating large amounts of undercooked offal while trading TripeTokens on secondary markets, you can incentivise the spread of your favourite cattle diseases—and if one of the pathogens you own jumps the species barrier to start infecting humans, you’ve successfully monetised the next pandemic! Once you get sick, you can rent out portions of your own intestinal tract to an industrial meat DAO in exchange for SlaughterCoins. Because SlaughterCoins are linked via blockchain to the progressive disintegration of your body, they’re guaranteed to increase in value! And when your suffering becomes unbearable, local abattoirs will bid to buy up your SlaughterCoin wallet in exchange for putting you out of your misery with a bolt gun to the head! Yes, the future is always capable of getting worse. But this future is simply never going to happen. Not the next generation of anything, just a short-term grift: the ship’s rats stripping the galley of all its silverware on their way out.
If you really want to see how impotent the internet is, though, you only have to look at politics.
Everyone agrees that the internet has swallowed our entire political discourse whole. When politicians debate, they trade crap one-liners to be turned into gifs. Their strategists seem to think elections are won or lost on memes. Entire movements emerge out of flatulent little echo chambers; elected representatives giddy over the evils of seed oils or babbling about how it’s not their job to educate you. And it’s true that the internet has changed some things: mostly, it’s helped break apart the cohesive working-class communities that produce a strong left, and turned them into vague swarms of monads. But as a political instrument, all it can do is destroy anyone who tries to pick it up—because everything that reproduces itself through the internet is doomed.
Occasionally, online social movements do make something happen. A hand emerges from out of the cloud to squish some minor individual. Let’s get her friends to denounce her! Let’s find out where she lives! You can have your sadistic fun and your righteous justice at the same time: doesn’t it feel good to be good? But these movements build no institutions, create no collective subjects, and produce no meaningful change. Their only power is punishment—and this game only works within the internet, and only when everyone involved agrees to play by the internet’s rules.11 As soon as they run up against anything with a separate set of values—say, a Republican Party that wants to put its guy on the Supreme Court, #MeToo or no #MeToo—they instantly crumble. And if, like much of the contemporary left, you're left with nothing on which to build your political movement except a hodgepodge of online frenzies, you will crumble too.
The post-George Floyd demonstrations might be our era’s greatest tragedy: tens of millions of people mobilised in (possibly) the largest protest movement in human history, all for an urgent and necessary cause—and achieving precisely nothing. At the time, I worried that the mass street movement risked being consumed by the sterile politics of online; this is exactly what happened. Now, even that vague cultural halo is spent. Whatever wokeness was, as of 2022 it’s so utterly burned out as a cultural force that anyone still grousing about it 24/7 is a guaranteed hack. More recently, there’s been worry about the rise of the ‘new right’—a oozingly digitised political current whose effective proposition is that people should welcome a total dictatorship to prevent corporations posting rainbow flags on the internet. You can guess what I think of its prospects.
Things will survive in proportion to how well they’ve managed to insulate themselves from the internet and its demands. The Financial Times will outlive the Guardian. Paintings will outlive NFTs. Print magazines will outlive Substack. You will, if you play your cards right, outlive me. If anything interesting ever happens again, it will not be online. You will not get it delivered to your inbox. It will not have a podcast. This machine has never produced anything of note, and it never will.
A sword is against the internet, against those who live online, and against its officials and wise men. A sword is against its false prophets, and they will become fools. A sword is against its commentators, and they will be filled with exhaustion. A sword is against its trends and fashions and against all the posturers in its midst, and they will become out of touch. A sword is against its cryptocoins, and they will be worthless. A drought is upon its waters, and they will be dried up. For it is a place of graven images, and the people go mad over idols. So the desert creatures and hyenas will live there and ostriches will dwell there. The bots will chatter at its threshold, and dead links will litter the river bed. It will never again be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation.
A conclusion, or, where I’m going with all this
I am aware that I’m writing this on the internet.
Whatever it is I’m doing here, you should not be part of it. Do not click the button below this paragraph, do not type in your email address to receive new posts straight to your inbox, and for the love of God, if you have any self-respect, do not even think about giving me any money. There is still time for you to do something else. You can still unchain yourself from this world that will soon, very soon, mean absolutely nothing.
As far as I can tell, Substack mostly functions as a kind of meta-discourse for Twitter. (At least, this is the part I’ve seen—there are also, apparently, recipes.) Graham Linehan posts fifty times a day on this platform, and all of it is just replying to tweets. This does not strike me as particularly sustainable. I have no idea what kind of demented pervert is actually reading this stuff, when you could be lying in a meadow by a glassy stream, rien faire comme une bête, eyes melting into the sky. According to the very helpful Substack employees I’ve spoken to, there are a set of handy best practices for this particular region of the machine: have regular open threads, chitchat with your subscribers, post humanising updates about your life. Form a community. I’m told that the most successful writing on here is friendly, frequent, and fast. Apparently, readers should know exactly what you’re getting at within the first three sentences. I do not plan on doing any of these things.
This is what I would like to do. I would like to see if, in the belly of the dying internet, it’s possible to create something that is not like the internet. I want to see if I can poke at the outlines of whatever is coming next. In a previous life, I was a sort of mildly infamous online opinion gremlin, best known for being extravagantly mean about other opinion writers whose writing or whose opinions I didn’t like. These days, I find most of that stuff very, very dull. I wonder if it’s possible to talk about things differently. Not rationally or calmly, away from the cheap point-scoring of online discourse—that would also be boring—but with a better, less sterile kind of derangement. I’m interested in the forms of writing that were here long before the internet, and which will be here long after it’s gone. Not thinkpieces or blogs, but the essay, the manifesto, the satyr, and the screed. Ludibria, pseudepigrapha, quodlibets. Or folktales. Prophecy. Dreams.
Those who work with their hands, those who spend their entire lives and careers perfecting a craft, seem to know something about happiness that the rest of us don't. This guy gets it. (Photo by Clement Chai on Unsplash)
“Of course I don’t have to do this,” one middle aged man said, carefully cleaning the table with a damp cloth. He put the cloth in a little pouch, sat down beside him. “But look, this table’s clean.” He agreed that the table was clean. “Usually,” the man said, “I work on alien religions… I catalogue, evaluate, compare. I come up with theories and argue with colleagues here and elsewhere. But the job’s never finished. Always new examples and even the old ones get reevaluated and new people come along and come up with new ideas about what you thought was settled. But,” he slapped the table, “when you clean a table, you clean a table. You feel you’ve done something. It’s an achievement.” “But in the end, it’s still just cleaning a table.” “And therefore does not really signify on the cosmic scale of events?“ He smiled in response to the man’s grin. “Well, yes.” “But then, what does signify? My other work? Is that really important either? I could try composing wonderful musical works or daylong entertainment epics. But what would that do? Give people pleasure? My wiping this table gives me pleasure, and people come to a clean table which gives them pleasure. And anyway, the people die. Stars die. Universes die. What is any achievement, however great it was, once time itself is dead? … Because I choose to do it, it gives me pleasure.” from Use Of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks
There’s a scene that I’ve remembered for many years.
I was visiting one of the small hot spring villages tucked into the mountains in northern Japan, not far from the university where I was studying abroad as an undergraduate. It was late winter or early spring, and I distinctly remember the steam rising from the channels by the side of the road where the excess hot spring water flowed down the hill, giving off its distinctive, sulphuric odor. I visited a small gift shop that specialized in simple wooden dolls known as Kokeshi. I had been introduced to these dolls by my host family, and was instantly enamored of them for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on: their refined simplicity and symmetric elegance perhaps, or the variety of styles and designs, or the fact that they were unique not only to Japan, but to the particular region of Japan where I was studying.
In the back of the shop was a small studio where an old man was stooped over a wood lathe, slowly and meticulously giving shape to a new doll. His hands were wrinkled and his knuckles were knotty, but he worked the wood with precision and grace. There were large piles of wood shavings on the floor all around him.
Two things struck me about this man.
The first was the degree and intensity of his focus. Ever since that day, every time I think about a flow state or about “being in the zone,” I’ve channeled the image of that man. He bent every fiber of his being to his task. I could tell just by looking at him that he had become one with the wood in his hands, and the world around him had ceased to exist. He had clearly spent a lifetime perfecting his craft: the very definition of a master craftsman.
The second was a feeling of pity at the unimportance and meaninglessness of his craft, doubtless stemming from my youth and naivete at the time. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “This poor man has wasted his entire life making wooden dolls. There’s an entire world out there to explore: books to read, places to visit. There are so many ways a person can have an impact and do good in the world. Yet this old fool chooses to spend his whole life sitting on the floor of a tiny woodworking studio in the mountains, oblivious to the outside world, totally uninterested in the modern world taking shape around him. May I never be like him.”
And, indeed, the path I followed over the following years and the following chapters of my life took me in a very different direction. Yet, reflecting now on the experience—and struck by the way this image has stayed with me across the distance and the span of nearly 20 years—I understand now that that man knew something I didn’t know. He possessed a wisdom which I am only now beginning to grasp.
All existence is struggle. We struggle with our work. We struggle with money. We struggle to be healthy. We struggle with things that upset us, but we also struggle with the things and the people we love the most: our friends and family, our passions and joys. Even the most successful among us, even those who seem to have it all—health, wealth, power, and fame—struggle with pride, loneliness, privacy, and the constant stress of managing a personal brand and reputation.
However, there is one thing that causes us more grief than anything else. There is one thing that we struggle with more mightily than we do with any of the above. That thing is time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of the various experiences I’ve had in my life, it’s this: we must learn to live with the grain of time, not against it.
If you’ve ever worked with wood, you know what I mean by “with the grain.” When you cut a piece of wood, you can cut with the grain or against it. When you cut with the grain, the process is easy, smooth, and natural, and the final product comes out clean and beautiful. When you cut against the grain, the wood is much harder to work with: it tends to split and splinter, and the result is usually not very pretty. It can be done, but you feel like you’re forcing things and struggling against nature.
This is a simple but powerful metaphor for life. We can live in either of these two ways.
The way most people approach life, intentionally or unintentionally, is maximization: we have a finite period of time on the planet and a lot of things to accomplish, so we should put that time to good use and accomplish as much as we can while we can. On the face of it, this sounds like a pretty rational approach. Shouldn’t we strive to do the most good that we can in the limited time we’ve got? This is certainly how I lived my life for the first 30-odd years, and it got me reasonably far. Learn all you can, love all you can, be as generous as you can, that sort of thing. It’s better than a life of regret.
The problem with this approach is that it’s a race against one another and, ultimately, against death. It’s a race that we simply cannot win. It’s therefore a recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction. No matter what goal you set yourself, no matter what you set out to accomplish in your finite lifespan, no matter how grand or mundane, you will be dissatisfied. Perhaps you won’t accomplish it in the first place, and then you’ll be frustrated and disappointed. You may even come to feel that you’ve wasted your whole life pursuing the wrong thing. Perhaps you do accomplish what you set out to—then what? You aim higher. A higher income. More impact. A bigger family. A nicer home or car. A better job. More books read, more places visited, more, more, more. Whatever the goal, however well-intentioned, it’s a recipe for dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The very act of choosing a goal is the act of setting oneself up for disappointment. Where does it all lead? When does it end?
To live in this way, against the grain of time, is to always be in a hurry, always going somewhere else, never slowing down to appreciate the process or the present. To live this way is to constantly battle with time, to feel that you never have enough of it.
There is another possible approach to life. To live with the grain of time means to work with time rather than against it, to make the most of the time we’ve got without craving more or seeking to maximize every moment. It means to slow down and appreciate the time we have and to be present as much as possible; to enjoy the process, the means, the journey, rather than always focusing on the ends, the destination. I’ve only just begun learning to live with the grain of time rather than against it, but it’s already brought me more sustained peace and joy than anything else I’ve learned or done.
To me, the secret of happiness is timelessness, to transcend the perceived limitations that time imposes on us and to escape from this race. The way to achieve timelessness is to learn to live with the grain of time.
We cannot win the game of life and time, and we cannot win the race against death, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes the only way to win such a game is to refuse to play in the first place. This means looking Death herself in the face, smiling at her, and saying, “I know you. You don’t scare me. I won’t play your game. Let’s be friends instead.”
Our society is obsessed with narratives. Companies, countries, and individuals need to have stories: a creation myth, a present full of challenges and shortcomings, and a glorious, promised future when those challenges are overcome and some ultimate goal is achieved. For a company, this ultimate goal may be the launch of a killer product, a billion dollar valuation, or an IPO. For a country or a people, this may be winning a war, achieving independence and recognition, or attaining some quality of life metric such as per capita income. For an individual, it could be getting into a good school, getting a dream job, getting married, owning a home, or having children.
Each of these narratives has a beginning, a middle, and an end. They each have a plot, and protagonists that set out to accomplish a specific mission, facing and overcoming challenges along the way. It’s certainly an appealing way to think about life, and the world.
The problem with these stories is that they by definition have a climax, a denouement, and an ending. But in the real world there is no such thing as “happily ever after.” The company that successfully IPOs isn’t done with anything. It’s only just begun, and it has an entirely new set of challenges to face. The country that wins a war isn’t done, either: it has to face the daunting prospects of rebuilding and redefining itself, and of continuing to grow, develop, and ensure a quality of life for its citizens. And someone who gets into school, or gets a new job, or gets married isn’t finishing something, they’re beginning, too, aren’t they? Fairy tales that end in “…happily ever after” are important, but their value lies not so much in showing us the way towards a specific future we ourselves may never achieve, but rather in inspiring us to keep moving forward when times get tough, and in reminding us why we keep struggling.
We must escape from this linear, story-driven mode of thinking and discourse. We must escape the allure of “happily ever after.” It’s one of life’s many great paradoxes: the only way to actually find happiness is to accept that happiness doesn’t mean what most people think it means, and it doesn’t lie where we think it does. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In fact, there is no rainbow.
By escaping from linear thinking, by opting out of the various finite games unfolding around us, by instead choosing to live in the moment—this moment—now!—we can choose a vastly different path and pursue a different sort of happiness, one that’s not dependent upon what we accomplish or possess.
As someone who cares deeply about having a positive impact on the world, it’s important to note that the choice to live and work in the moment does not mean to minimize our long-term impact, either. Quite the contrary. It’s counterintuitive, but by taking a step back and not trying to do too much too fast, we can actually increase our net impact. Think of it this way: do fewer things, better.
This may sound great in theory but it’s quite vague and metaphysical. What does it actually mean? What “path” am I referring to and how does one find it?
I suspect there are actually many paths. Each of the major religions offers one and I strongly suspect that they all lead to the same place. There isn’t that much difference between a Buddhist life of renunciation, meditation, mindfulness, insight, and intentionality, and a Christian life of prayer and compassion, following in the footsteps of Jesus. Universal virtues like compassion, empathy, patience, and equanimity are not just buzzwords, they are the waystones that mark the path, wherever you begin.
Here are a few such waystones that I have personally found particularly salient and helpful: examples of what it means to live with the grain of time. Note that these serve double duty as both cause and effect: they are good ways to get started, but equally they’re indicators of progress.
I don’t mean to suggest that this path is easy or straightforward. It’s not. And, not having reached it myself, I can’t promise that it leads to enlightenment. But I can promise that in spite of the struggle, or perhaps because of it, even just starting on this path will bring a great deal of unexpected joy and peace.
Dance to your own tune. Recognize that there is no such thing as a right way to live or a “career path,” so you should not be afraid of stepping off this path. Think less about the destination and take time to enjoy the journey. Try charting your own course entirely. When I first tried this I found it a little frightening but also delightful and intoxicating. I felt a sense of freedom, independence, and excitement at being able to define success for myself. There is a timeless nature to a life lived by one’s own standards and rules, and overcoming the feeling that you must arrive somewhere within some finite span of time is powerfully liberating. By the same token, we should not chart our progress by someone else’s metrics, and we should be especially wary of traditional metrics such as wealth, power, and fame. There is no one right way to live. There is no dishonorable path, or career, as long as it’s honest and true to the virtues described above. A life lived with integrity is by definition a good life. The things that matter the most cannot be measured.
Stop to smell the roses. Enjoy life. Spontaneously take an hour off, or an afternoon, or a week. Take a different route home, one that’s a little slower, a little less direct, and see something new. Stay up an hour or two later to read, watch, converse. Always be open to discovery and new experiences.
Make time for others. Talk to strangers. Make eye contact. Make time for that conversation with your father, your old college roommate, the homeless person on the corner. Other things can wait. There is always time for conversation, compassion, and sharing stories.
Spend time alone. You don’t always need to be in the company of others. Sometimes we all need time alone to get to know ourselves. Don’t be afraid to be alone from time to time. Schedule time and take yourself out on a date once in a while: coffee, dinner, the museum, a walk in the park. Try to find a few quiet moments alone every day to think, reflect, and ground yourself.
Make time for reflection. Stop every so often to ponder and reflect on your experiences, values, priorities, behavior, goals, and progress towards those goals. This might mean prayer, meditation, or simply going for a long walk, whatever flavor of reflection and contemplation you prefer.
Leave space. Don’t fill your calendar. Don’t fully plan the next day, week, month, or year. Instead, leave ample time for delight, surprise, wonder, and serendipity to work their magic. If necessary, intentionally block empty time on your calendar!
Be open-minded. We should strive to open our minds to the near-infinite possibility of the world around us. We should accept that there are realities out there other than the ones we’ve been taught and the ones that we’re familiar and comfortable with. At the same time, we should balance this against staying true to ourselves and our values. Replace expectation with openness, receptiveness, and respect of other perspectives.
Treasure what you have. I can think of 1,000 ways my life could be simpler, easier, more comfortable: ways my family could be less annoying, ways my partner could be more supportive, ways my work could be more effective. Indeed, I always have and always will strive to improve things. But this is not at all incompatible with being perfectly content with things as they are, no matter how good or bad they may seem. This means spending as much quality time as possible with friends and family, and reminding them often that I love them. It means taking the time to enjoy every meal, to really savor the flavors and textures, even when the food is quite simple. It means feeling genuinely grateful every morning when I wake up that I didn’t go to sleep hungry, and that I have a comfortable bed to sleep in and a roof over my head. It means taking the time to appreciate every leaf, every petal, every passerby and every note of birdsong even while walking down my own block. It means treating each new day in your heart as a gift.
Have patience. Patience is hard, especially in today’s fast-paced world. To have patience is to understand that all things have a season, and that not all seasons will be easy. It’s to appreciate that all things, good and bad, will eventually come to an end—so the good must be appreciated while possible, and the bad must be tolerated, abided, respected. It also means letting go of the good when the time comes to do so, without clinging. Patience means doing the best work I can every day and trying to effect positive change in the world, but recognizing that that change may take years, or a lifetime, or even a millennium, and truly being okay with that.
Be ambitious but balanced. Ambition allows us to improve our lives and the lives of others, but we should not be in a hurry to do so. And we should make sure that our ambition is motivated by the right reasons. To me this means thinking carefully about my life’s work and about the impact I intend to have, and about how my day to day life and my daily actions fit into that.
Reread books. We should not hesitate to reread a favorite book three, five, or eleven times, rather than chasing novelty and feeling that we always need to consume new content. How much you consume, whether books, news, video, music, or any other medium, is much less important than what you consume, what frame of mind you cultivate as you consume it, and how you later reflect and build on what you’ve consumed.
Give more than you take. Stop calculating what you personally stand to gain from an act or interaction. Do good for the sake of good, for the sake of the beneficiary, rather than for yourself. In a finite mindset, you might wonder why you should bother investing in relationships with people who seemingly have little or nothing to offer, e.g., the uneducated, poor, or elderly. In an infinite mindset, these relationships can be deep sources of joy and inspiration for both parties.
Don’t wait. Do as much good as you can for as many people as you can today rather than planning to do so at some indefinite point in the future. I know how tempting this way of thinking can be. Trust me, the day will never come when you will have earned your target amount of money or achieved that specific objective and can miraculously transition into giving mode. Making compassion and giving a part of your life today.
Be present. It’s one thing to be present and engaged when doing something engaging like having a conversation or working on something challenging. We must strive to be mindful, present, intentional, and genuinely curious even when engaging in the most mundane tasks: washing hands, cooking, walking, breathing. These moments are some of the best opportunities for slowing down and exploring the idea of timelessness, and when we learn to be present while doing them, they are a remarkable source of joy and wonder.
Do less. Instead of trying to maximize how much we accomplish, we should seek to do work that we are proud of. Prioritize quality over quantity. Take the time to really hone a craft. Stop trying to multitask, overoptimize, and do multiple things at once. When finishing something, don’t immediately rush on to the next thing. Take time to reflect on the task you just accomplished and consider how it could be done better the next time. Do fewer things, better and more mindfully.
Respect nature. Nothing embodies timelessness better than Mother Nature and there is no better place to learn to understand and appreciate timelessness than surrounded by nature. Go on trips, take walks and hikes, explore the countryside, climb mountains, swim in the ocean, and spend as much time outdoors as you can. Cultivate a profound respect for the beauty, power, wisdom, and timelessness of nature.
Relax. Don’t worry too much if you forget something, miss an opportunity, or fail at something. Missing one opportunity almost inevitably results in others appearing sooner or later. Herein lies another of life’s great paradoxes: when we feel under less pressure to accomplish specific things within a specific timeframe, we relax, perform better, and are more likely to accomplish those things!
It’s taken many years, but I’m beginning to see the wisdom of the old artisan I observed in Japan. Perhaps he really had spent his entire life and career perfecting his craft. Perhaps he had done something entirely different before. Perhaps he had traveled the world, and at some point, had decided that he had seen enough. Perhaps he had even gone to war, and when it was over, decided he just wanted a quiet, peaceful life. It makes no difference. He had achieved something most of us never will: a sense of total oneness with his work, and of purpose and satisfaction. I could see it in his eyes, in his hands, and in his work. He was living completely in the moment.
There isn’t really a good word for this state of being in the English language, this unique form of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. “Enlightenment” is a bit too strong. A better word is eudemonia, a Greek word which means a “state of excellence characterized by objective flourishing across a lifetime, and brought about through the exercise of moral virtue, practical wisdom, and rationality,” described in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as the ultimate form of happiness. Another possible word is simcha, a Hebrew word used to describe the happiness associated with any joyful occasion which has deeper meaning in Jewish philosophy: “the experience of the soul that comes when you are doing what you should be doing.”
It’s a state that most of us would be lucky to reach a handful of times in our entire life. To enter this state regularly, to be able to enter it at will, is rare indeed and is tantamount to enlightenment. We could do worse than aiming to achieve it in our own lives.
I don’t know the whole way there there, but I know that it starts with timelessness.
Recherche de vol, genre google flights.
Base de données gratuite et bien faite des entreprises.
Une personne seule qui bosse là-dessus depuis 2000, et qui continue. C'est pas mal.
It’s my birthday. I’m 68. I feel like pulling up a rocking chair and dispensing advice to the young ‘uns. Here are 68 pithy bits of unsolicited advice which I offer as my birthday present to all of you.
• Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.
• Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.
• Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.
• Don’t be afraid to ask a question that may sound stupid because 99% of the time everyone else is thinking of the same question and is too embarrassed to ask it.
• Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.
• A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier.
• Gratitude will unlock all other virtues and is something you can get better at.
• Treating a person to a meal never fails, and is so easy to do. It’s powerful with old friends and a great way to make new friends.
• Don’t trust all-purpose glue.
• Reading to your children regularly will bond you together and kickstart their imaginations.
• Never use a credit card for credit. The only kind of credit, or debt, that is acceptable is debt to acquire something whose exchange value is extremely likely to increase, like in a home. The exchange value of most things diminishes or vanishes the moment you purchase them. Don’t be in debt to losers.
• Pros are just amateurs who know how to gracefully recover from their mistakes.
• Extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence to be believed.
• Don’t be the smartest person in the room. Hangout with, and learn from, people smarter than yourself. Even better, find smart people who will disagree with you.
• Rule of 3 in conversation. To get to the real reason, ask a person to go deeper than what they just said. Then again, and once more. The third time’s answer is close to the truth.
• Don’t be the best. Be the only.
• Everyone is shy. Other people are waiting for you to introduce yourself to them, they are waiting for you to send them an email, they are waiting for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.
• Don’t take it personally when someone turns you down. Assume they are like you: busy, occupied, distracted. Try again later. It’s amazing how often a second try works.
• The purpose of a habit is to remove that action from self-negotiation. You no longer expend energy deciding whether to do it. You just do it. Good habits can range from telling the truth, to flossing.
• Promptness is a sign of respect.
• When you are young spend at least 6 months to one year living as poor as you can, owning as little as you possibly can, eating beans and rice in a tiny room or tent, to experience what your “worst” lifestyle might be. That way any time you have to risk something in the future you won’t be afraid of the worst case scenario.
• Trust me: There is no “them”.
• The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested.
• Optimize your generosity. No one on their deathbed has ever regretted giving too much away.
• To make something good, just do it. To make something great, just re-do it, re-do it, re-do it. The secret to making fine things is in remaking them.
• The Golden Rule will never fail you. It is the foundation of all other virtues.
• If you are looking for something in your house, and you finally find it, when you’re done with it, don’t put it back where you found it. Put it back where you first looked for it.
• Saving money and investing money are both good habits. Small amounts of money invested regularly for many decades without deliberation is one path to wealth.
• To make mistakes is human. To own your mistakes is divine. Nothing elevates a person higher than quickly admitting and taking personal responsibility for the mistakes you make and then fixing them fairly. If you mess up, fess up. It’s astounding how powerful this ownership is.
• Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
• You can obsess about serving your customers/audience/clients, or you can obsess about beating the competition. Both work, but of the two, obsessing about your customers will take you further.
• Show up. Keep showing up. Somebody successful said: 99% of success is just showing up.
• Separate the processes of creation from improving. You can’t write and edit, or sculpt and polish, or make and analyze at the same time. If you do, the editor stops the creator. While you invent, don’t select. While you sketch, don’t inspect. While you write the first draft, don’t reflect. At the start, the creator mind must be unleashed from judgement.
• If you are not falling down occasionally, you are just coasting.
• Perhaps the most counter-intuitive truth of the universe is that the more you give to others, the more you’ll get. Understanding this is the beginning of wisdom.
• Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat.
• This is true: It’s hard to cheat an honest man.
• When an object is lost, 95% of the time it is hiding within arm’s reach of where it was last seen. Search in all possible locations in that radius and you’ll find it.
• You are what you do. Not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on.
• If you lose or forget to bring a cable, adapter or charger, check with your hotel. Most hotels now have a drawer full of cables, adapters and chargers others have left behind, and probably have the one you are missing. You can often claim it after borrowing it.
• Hatred is a curse that does not affect the hated. It only poisons the hater. Release a grudge as if it was a poison.
• There is no limit on better. Talent is distributed unfairly, but there is no limit on how much we can improve what we start with.
• Be prepared: When you are 90% done any large project (a house, a film, an event, an app) the rest of the myriad details will take a second 90% to complete.
• When you die you take absolutely nothing with you except your reputation.
• Before you are old, attend as many funerals as you can bear, and listen. Nobody talks about the departed’s achievements. The only thing people will remember is what kind of person you were while you were achieving.
• For every dollar you spend purchasing something substantial, expect to pay a dollar in repairs, maintenance, or disposal by the end of its life.
•Anything real begins with the fiction of what could be. Imagination is therefore the most potent force in the universe, and a skill you can get better at. It’s the one skill in life that benefits from ignoring what everyone else knows.
• When crisis and disaster strike, don’t waste them. No problems, no progress.
• On vacation go to the most remote place on your itinerary first, bypassing the cities. You’ll maximize the shock of otherness in the remote, and then later you’ll welcome the familiar comforts of a city on the way back.
• When you get an invitation to do something in the future, ask yourself: would you accept this if it was scheduled for tomorrow? Not too many promises will pass that immediacy filter.
• Don’t say anything about someone in email you would not be comfortable saying to them directly, because eventually they will read it.
• If you desperately need a job, you are just another problem for a boss; if you can solve many of the problems the boss has right now, you are hired. To be hired, think like your boss.
• Art is in what you leave out.
• Acquiring things will rarely bring you deep satisfaction. But acquiring experiences will.
• Rule of 7 in research. You can find out anything if you are willing to go seven levels. If the first source you ask doesn’t know, ask them who you should ask next, and so on down the line. If you are willing to go to the 7th source, you’ll almost always get your answer.
• How to apologize: Quickly, specifically, sincerely.
• Don’t ever respond to a solicitation or a proposal on the phone. The urgency is a disguise.
• When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them which can soften the conflict.
• Eliminating clutter makes room for your true treasures.
• You really don’t want to be famous. Read the biography of any famous person.
• Experience is overrated. When hiring, hire for aptitude, train for skills. Most really amazing or great things are done by people doing them for the first time.
• A vacation + a disaster = an adventure.
• Buying tools: Start by buying the absolute cheapest tools you can find. Upgrade the ones you use a lot. If you wind up using some tool for a job, buy the very best you can afford.
• Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment.
• Following your bliss is a recipe for paralysis if you don’t know what you are passionate about. A better motto for most youth is “master something, anything”. Through mastery of one thing, you can drift towards extensions of that mastery that bring you more joy, and eventually discover where your bliss is.
• I’m positive that in 100 years much of what I take to be true today will be proved to be wrong, maybe even embarrassingly wrong, and I try really hard to identify what it is that I am wrong about today.
• Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.
• The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.
J’ai un aveu à faire
J’ai été magicien. Pas un illusionniste, hein : j’ai été sorcier, un vrai.
J’ai passé quelques années de ma vie dans une troupe de théâtre aux pratiques sectaires où nous avons spiralé dans une illusion de groupe : encens, cristaux, tarots, rituels, animaux totems, esprits-compagnons et âmes en peine à « faire monter », bougies protectrices, anges, énergies… Ça parait choupi-new-age comme ça, mais c’était psychologiquement et émotionnellement intense.
C’est pas facile, pour moi, de ressortir ces vieux souvenirs du placard. Si je le fais aujourd’hui, c’est pour dire à quel point je suis capable de comprendre une personne qui veut croire à la solution magique. L’abracadabra : le pouvoir de créer d’après ses paroles. Cette notion très Disneyienne que « si j’y crois trrrrrrrrès fort, avec toute la fôrce de mon cœur, ça arrivera. »
Je connais intimement cette envie impérieuse, en moi, de trouver une solution magique, un deus ex machina, une intervention miraculeuse qui fait que le monde ne sera plus une bataille permanente. Je la connais tellement que je la reconnais dès que je la vois apparaître dans mes communautés et mes écrans.
L’état de guerre dans nos têtes
Pourtant je suis quelqu’un d’intelligent : je le sais, j’ai même des papiers qui le prouvent :p !
Justement, avoir un cerveau qui turbine comme le mien, c’est la garantie d’être encore plus sensible aux manipulations, de foncer encore plus vite dans le mur. La première étape pour retourner mon intelligence contre moi-même est de mettre mon cerveau sur la défensive.
Par exemple, dans ma troupe de théâtre, la croyance que nous étions constamment en état de siège ou de guerre face à une attaque magico-énergétique d’un groupe extérieur (il y avait toujours les « méchants du moment » désignés par ma prof’ de théâtre) faisait que j’ai eu le bide tordu d’angoisse, que j’ai vécu des années avec un cierge allumé en permanence dans mon studio estudiantin, ou que j’ai loupé des cours en fac le matin car je passais une partie de la nuit à faire des rituels magiques.
En fiction, c’est génial : vas-y, bingewatche.
À vivre, je recommande pas. Nul. Caca. Zéro étoiles.
Avec le recul, tout cela n’était « que du vrai dans la tête » : cela m’a prouvé que le vrai-dans-la-tête a des conséquences bien vraies-dans-la-vie. Mon esprit en état de guerre et d’auto-défense, persuadé de l’utilité de rituels et autres croyances magiques, a eu une influence tout à fait matérielle sur mon corps, sur mon comportement, sur mes actions et mes relations.
Pas de guerre = pas d’armes de guerre
Cela m’a surpris de voir ces souvenirs enfouis ressortir du placard de ma mémoire. Voir le président de ma république nous répéter que « nous sommes en guerre » comme une incantation, pour implanter ce vrai dans nos têtes, cela m’a fait penser aux manipulations que j’ai subies à cette époque.
Les flics qui contrôlent nos intimités, les drones de surveillance bien en vue dans les JT, la tentation du tracking sur les smartphones des infecté·es… Cela ne m’évoque rien d’autre que les encens, bougies et prières auxquelles nous nous accrochions comme seule solution à cet état de guerre, qui n’existait que dans nos têtes, mais qui existait bel et bien dans nos têtes.
Si nous n’étions pas en guerre, alors nous aurions dû affronter que la vie est injuste, qu’on y tombe malade, qu’on y vieillit, qu’on y meurt #FuckingConditionHumaine. Qu’on hérite d’une éducation, d’une histoire, d’une culture, de structures qui nous dépassent #FuckingConditionSociale. Et que pour se démerder face à tout cela, il n’y a pas de baguette magique, pas de solution miracle. #Fuck
Chercher un raccourci clavier, un cheat code
Je la connais bien, cette envie en moi d’être celui qui a trouvé la warp zone. D’être le petit malin qui a trouvé le passage secret, l’astuce magique, le truc qui évite tellement d’efforts que c’est triché, que « LeS SCieNTiFiQueS Le DéTeSTeNT ! ! ! ! ». Cette envie, c’est la faille de mon esprit où peuvent s’engouffrer toutes les arnaques.
La solution miracle, la formule magique, le cheat code, c’est mon dernier rempart avant l’inéluctable : la destruction du monde. Enfin, avant la destruction de mon monde, du monde tel que je le vois, tel que je voudrais qu’il soit.
Car le monde m’emmerde… Il est comme il est, un point c’est tout : c’est rageant !
Or les accidents de la vie (genre : une pandémie) viennent remettre en question l’image que je me fais du monde. Ils me collent le nez dans le caca de mes illusions, et ne me laissent que deux choix : soit accepter de composer avec le monde tel qu’il est, soit inventer une solution magique pour préserver mes illusions.
La technologie n’est pas la solution
Je ne suis pas le seul. Nous voulons croire aux régimes miracles et crèmes amaigrissantes car autrement il faudrait étudier comment fonctionnent nos corps, et accepter l’effort d’en prendre soin comme ils sont, pas comme on voudrait qu’ils soient. Nous voulons croire au pouvoir de la prière ou de la positivité car autrement il faudrait prendre soin des autres, faire l’effort de les écouter comme iels sont.
Nous voulons croire aux drones-espions-délateurs pilotés par les gendarmes. Car autrement, il faudrait considérer que #LesGens sont des êtres complexes et intelligents qui ne se laissent pas manipuler bien longtemps par la peur et la menace. Il faudrait faire l’effort d’une police de proximité, par exemple, et donc détruire cette vision du monde où la convivialité, où éduquer au civisme, « ce n’est pas le rôle de la police [YouTube] ».
Nous voulons croire aux applications de tracking pistage volontaire. Car autrement, il faudrait faire l’effort de cesser toute activité non essentielle le temps que les dépistages, équipements de protection puis vaccins soient disponibles. Mais pour cela, il faudrait à la fois faire le deuil d’un capitalisme qui a besoin que certains hamsters fassent tourner la roue, ainsi que faire le deuil d’un gouvernement efficace, qui aurait anticipé et qui serait organisé.
Le logiciel libre n’est pas la solution
Faire le deuil de ses illusions, c’est pas facile. Il faut passer l’état de choc et les moments de déni (non mais c’est rien qu’une grippette). Souvent ensuite vient la colère (À QUI C’EST LA PUTAIN DE FAUTE ? ? ?), et comme le dit Mémé Ciredutemps : « La colère est une chose précieuse : il faut la mettre en bouteille, pour la ressortir dans les grandes occasions. »
C’est alors qu’arrive le temps des marchandages, le moment où on crie au monde : non mais si j’ai une solution magique, est-ce que je peux pas garder mes illusions ? Juste encore un peu ?
Si on utilise pas Google Classrooms, mais rien que des logiciels libres, on peut faire cours comme si personne n’était traumatisé la continuité pédagogique ?
J’aimerais pouvoir dire que la solution, c’est le logiciel libre. Qu’une application de pistage ne nous fera pas entrer dans la servitude volontaire et la panoptique si elle est sous licence libre. Que des drones libres empêcheraient magiquement les abus de pouvoir et violences policières. Que les communautés du logiciel libre peuvent miraculeusement accueillir les besoins numériques du service public de l’Éducation Nationale.
Mais ce serait du bullshit, de la poudre de perlimpinpin. Ce serait odieusement profiter d’une crise pour imposer mes idées, mes idéaux.
À qui profite la solution
Derrière l’élixir magique qui fait repousser les cheveux de la #TeamChauves, il y a le charlatan. Si la plupart de nos mairies ont dilapidé nos impôts dans des caméras de vidéosurveillance dont l’inefficacité a été montrée, c’est parce qu’il y a des entreprises qui font croire à cette solution magique pour vampiriser de juteux marchés publics.
Je laisse les personnes que ça excite le soin d’aller fouiller les papiers et nous dire quels sont les charlatans qui profitent le plus des solutions miracles de la crise actuelle (du « remède magique » à « l’appli de tracking si cool et citoyenne » en passant par les « drones conviviaux des gentils gendarmes »), je ne vais pas pointer des doigts ici.
Ce que je pointe du doigt, c’est la faille dans nos esprits. Car cette faille risque de se faire exploiter. Ceux qui ont trouvé la solution magique, celles qui ont la certitude d’avoir LA réponse, ces personnes sont dangereuses car (sciemment ou non) elles exploitent une faille dans nos esprits.
Dans le milieu logiciel, après avoir signalé une faille, il faut trouver un patch, un correctif pour la colmater. Je ne suis pas sûr de moi, mais je crois qu’il faut observer nos envies de croire en une solution magique, et ce qu’elles cachent. Regardons en face ce à quoi il faudra renoncer, les efforts qu’il faudra faire, le soin qu’il faudra prendre, les changements qu’il faudra accepter.
Il n’y a pas de solution
Qu’est-ce qu’on fait ? Comment on fait ?
J’ai beau être un sorcier repenti, je suis aussi perdu que quiconque face à cette question (ou alors, si je concluais sur une solution miracle, je ferais la une de Tartuffe Magazine !). Je vais donc me concentrer sur un domaine qui occupe mon plein temps depuis des années : le numérique.
Sérieusement : je me fous que le logiciel soit libre si la société ne l’est pas.
Or, d’après mon expérience, créer des outils numériques conviviaux, émancipateurs… bref éthiques, c’est pas « juste coller une licence libre sur du code ». La licence libre est une condition essentielle ET insuffisante.
Il faut aussi faire l’effort de penser aux personnes dans leur diversité (inclusion), leur intimité (protection), leurs caractéristiques (accessibilité), leurs usages (ergonomie), leur poésie (présentation), leurs pratiques (accompagnement)…
C’est là qu’on voit que, comme toute création de l’esprit, le code n’est qu’un prétexte. Ce qui compte, c’est l’humain. Il faut faire l’effort d’apprendre et d’écouter des humain·es, et de s’écouter soi (humain·e) pour pouvoir se remettre en question, et avancer pas à pas.
La loi des poules sans tête
Je me suis extrait, progressivement, du monde des fariboles magiques. Le plus gros deuil que j’ai dû faire en perdant ces illusions, ça a été celui des « Non mais ça, les responsables s’en occupent. », « Non mais les haut-placés font de leur mieux. », « Non mais les gouvernantes veulent notre bien. ». Toutes ces croyances me confortaient, me réconfortaient. RIP ma tranquillité d’esprit, j’ai dû faire face à cette vérité qui pour l’instant ne s’est pas démentie :
Personne ne sait ce qu’il faut faire, tout le monde improvise, nous courons dans la vie comme des poules décapitées.
La loi des poules sans têtes ne s’est pour l’instant pas démentie, dans mon vécu. La bonne nouvelle, c’est qu’elle implique des corollaires assez enthousiasmants, qui ont changé ma vie :
Si j’arrête de croire qu’une autre personne s’en chargera, je peux influer sur le petit bout de monde qui se trouve devant moi ; Si je prends la charge d’un sujet, je sais combien c’est énergivore, et j’ai plus de compassion avec les personnes qui ont pris à leur charge d’autres sujets, même quand elles font pas comme je voudrais ; Si je trouve les personnes avec qui je suis à l’aise pour faire des trucs, on peut agrandir l’horizon du bout de monde qu’on est capable de changer ; Si on veut pas de hiérarchie, il faut trouver comment s’écouter les unes les uns les autres, afin de mieux s’entendre ; S’il n’y a pas de personne au-dessus, tout le monde peut résoudre les problèmes que nous vivons ; Si on écoute les vécus, expériences, connaissances et pratiques qui sont partagées autour de nous, on peut expérimenter et faire mûrir des solutions qui font du bien. (Ce dernier point vaut le coup d’être répété autrement) Oui, parfois, y’a des gens comme toi et moi qui font des trucs, sans le pouvoir en place, malgré le pouvoir en place : et ça marche.
Plot twist : la magie était dans nos mains depuis le début
Le plus gros secret que j’ai appris en cessant d’être sorcier, c’est que la magie existe. Annoncer ce que l’on souhaite faire, comment on veut le faire, et l’aide dont on a besoin pour y arriver nous a plutôt bien aidé à concrétiser nos actions, chez Framasoft. Le fait de transformer les paroles en actions concrètes est possible : j’appelle ça de la communication.
En vrai, il s’agit d’abord d’écouter soi, son groupe, son entourage, son monde… puis d’exprimer le chemin qu’on aimerait y tracer, ce que l’on souhaite y faire. Écouter puis exprimer. Dans l’incertitude et la remise en question. La partie magique, c’est que les gens sont gentils. Si tu leur donnes des raisons de te connaître, de te faire confiance, iels vont t’apporter l’aide dont tu as besoin pour tes actions, et parfois plus.
Les gens sont gentils, et les connards en abusent. L’avantage de m’être déjà fait manipuler par des gurus, c’est que je repère les pseudo mages noirs de pacotille à des kilomètres. Celles qui s’expriment et n’écoutent rien ni personne, même pas la énième consultation publique mise en place. Ceux qui sont obligés de rajouter des paillettes à leurs effets, qui font clignoter de la digital french tech for good tracking, parce qu’il leur manque un ingrédient essentiel à la magie : notre confiance.
Il n’y a pas de solution, il n’y a que nous
Si j’applique mon expérience à un « où on va » plus général, mon intuition me dit que la direction à prendre est, en gros, celle où on se fait chier.
Celle où on se bouge le derche pour combattre, éduquer ou faire malgré ces poules sans tête qui se prennent pour des coqs.
Celle où on se casse le cul à écouter le monde autour de nous et celui à l’intérieur de nous pour trouver ce que nous pouvons prendre à notre charge, ici et maintenant.
Celle où on s’emmerde à essayer de faire attention à tous les détails, à toutes les personnes, tout en sachant très bien qu’on n’y arrivera pas, pas parfaitement.
Celle où il n’y a pas de raccourci, pas de solution magique, juste nos petits culs, fiers et plein d’entrain.
À mes yeux la route à choisir est celle qui parait la plus longue et complexe, parce que c’est la voie la plus humaine. C’est pas une solution, hein : c’est une route. On va trébucher, on va se paumer et on va fatiguer. Mais avec un peu de jugeote, on peut cheminer en bonne compagnie, réaliser bien plus et aller un peu plus loin que les ignares qui se prennent pour des puissants.
On se retrouve sur le sentier ?
Promis : la voie est Libre !
A few months ago, I was contacted by a senior executive who was about to leave a marketing firm. He got in touch because I’ve worked on the non-profit side of tech for a long time, with lots of volunteering on digital and human rights. He wanted to ‘give back’. Could I put him in touch with digital rights activists? Sure. We met for coffee and I made some introductions. It was a perfectly lovely interaction with a perfectly lovely man. Perhaps he will do some good, sharing his expertise with the people working to save democracy and our private lives from the surveillance capitalism machine of his former employers. The way I rationalized helping him was: firstly, it’s nice to be nice; and secondly, movements are made of people who start off far apart but converge on a destination. And isn’t it an unqualified good when an insider decides to do the right thing, however late?
The Prodigal Son is a New Testament parable about two sons. One stays home to work the farm. The other cashes in his inheritance and gambles it away. When the gambler comes home, his father slaughters the fattened calf to celebrate, leaving the virtuous, hard-working brother to complain that all these years he wasn’t even given a small goat to share with his friends. His father replies that the prodigal son ‘was dead, now he’s alive; lost, now he’s found’. Cue party streamers. It’s a touching story of redemption, with a massive payload of moral hazard. It’s about coming home, saying sorry, being joyfully forgiven and starting again. Most of us would love to star in it, but few of us will be given the chance.
The Prodigal Tech Bro is a similar story, about tech executives who experience a sort of religious awakening. They suddenly see their former employers as toxic, and reinvent themselves as experts on taming the tech giants. They were lost and are now found. They are warmly welcomed home to the center of our discourse with invitations to write opeds for major newspapers, for think tank funding, book deals and TED talks. These guys – and yes, they are all guys – are generally thoughtful and well-meaning, and I wish them well. But I question why they seize so much attention and are awarded scarce resources, and why they’re given not just a second chance, but also the mantle of moral and expert authority.
I’m glad that Roger McNamee, the early Facebook investor, has testified to the U.S. Congress about Facebook’s wildly self-interested near-silence about its amplification of Russian disinformation during the 2016 presidential election. I’m thrilled that Google’s ex-‘design ethicist’, Tristan Harris, “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,“(startlingly faint praise) now runs a Center for Humane Technology, exposing the mind-hacking tricks of his former employer. I even spoke —critically but, I hope, warmly—at the book launch of James Williams, another ex-Googler turned attention evangelist, who “co-founded the movement”of awareness of designed-in addiction. I wish all these guys well. I also wish that the many, exhausted activists who didn’t take money from Google or Facebook could have even a quarter of the attention, status and authority the Prodigal Techbro assumes is his birth-right.
Today, when the tide of public opinion on Big Tech is finally turning, the brothers (and sisters) who worked hard in the field all those years aren’t even invited to the party. No fattened calf for you, my all but unemployable tech activist. The moral hazard is clear; why would anyone do the right thing from the beginning when they can take the money, have their fun, and then, when the wind changes, convert their status and relative wealth into special pleading and a whole new career?
Just half an hour flipping through my contacts produced half a dozen friends and acquaintances who didn’t require a ‘road to Damascus’ conversion to see what was wrong with big tech or the ways governments abuse it. Nighat Dad runs the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan, defending online freedom of expression and privacy for women, minorities and dissidents. That’s real courage. Gus Hosein has worked in tech and human rights for over 20 years, runs Privacy International, the UK-based non-profit, and is the most visionary thinker I know on how to shake up our assumptions about why things are as they are. Bianca Wylie founded the volunteer-run Open Data Institute Toronto, and works on open data, citizen privacy and civic engagement. The “Jane Jacobs of the Smart Cities Age,” she’s been a key figure in opening up and slowing down Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs juggernaut in Toronto. Aral Balkan runs Small Technology Foundation and works on both the tools and the policies to resist surveillance capitalism. Unafraid of being unpopular, even with other activists, Balkan freely hammers rights organizations or conferences for taking big tech’s sponsorship money while criticizing the companies’ practices. In the western Balkans, hvale vale works tirelessly and cheerfully on women’s rights, sexual rights and the political and practical path to a feminist internet. Robin Gross, a Californian intellectual property lawyer, could have put her persistence and sheer pizazz to work defending big entertainment companies, but instead she’s worked for decades against the copyright maximalism that strangles artists’ creativity and does nothing to increase their incomes. I would love to hear their voices amplified, not (just) the voices of those who took a decade and more to work out the rottenness at the core of big tech.
Ex-Google lobbyist Ross Lajeunesse left the company in 2019 over its censored search engine for China and also because of homophobic, sexist and racist work practices. He’s now running for a Democratic senate nomination, and recently wrote a classic of the ‘scales have fallen from my eyes’ genre, called “I Was Google’s Head of International Relations. Here’s Why I Left.” Its lede is “The company’s motto used to be “Don’t be evil.” Things have changed.”
Really? Has Google really changed? Lajeunesse joined in 2008, years into Google’s multi-billion dollar tax avoidance, sexist labor practices and privacy hostility and continued to work there through the years of antitrust fines, misuse of personal health data, wage fixing, and financially pressuring think tanks. Google didn’t change. It just started treating some of its insiders like it already treated outsiders. That only looks like radical change if you’ve never thought too hard about what you are doing and to whom.
One hundred thousand people work for Google/Alphabet; some of them have much more power than others. The point isn’t whether Lajeunesse is or isn’t culpable for the many acts of the enormous company he represented—as its chief lobbyist in Asia for several years—it’s that of all the people who spent the decade of 2010-20 working thanklessly to expose and reduce the firm’s monopolistic abuse and assault on global privacy, it’s the ex-lobbyist who gets our attention now.
We all need second chances. Even if we don’t need those fresh starts ourselves, we want to live in a world where people have a reason to do better. But the prodigal tech bro’s redemption arc is so quick and smooth it’s barely a road bump. That’s because we keep skipping the most important part of the prodigal son story—where he hits rock bottom. In the original parable, the prodigal son wakes up in a pig sty, starving, and realizes his father’s servants now live better than he does. He resolves to go home to the people and place he did not value or respect before. He will beg to be one of his father’s servants. He accepts his complete loss of status. But instead of chastising and punishing his prodigal son, the rejoicing father greets him joyfully and heads off the apology with a huge party. It’s a great metaphor for how to run a religion, but a lousy way to run everything else.
Prodigal tech bro stories skip straight from the past, when they were part of something that—surprise!—turned out to be bad, to the present, where they are now a moral authority on how to do good, but without the transitional moments of revelation and remorse. But the bit where you say you got things wrong and people were hurt? That’s the most important part. It’s why these corporatized reinventions feel so slick and tinny, and why so many of the comments on Lajeunesse’s train wreck post on Medium were critical. The journey feels fake. These ‘I was lost but now I’m found, please come to my TED talk’ accounts typically miss most of the actual journey, yet claim the moral authority of one who’s ‘been there’ but came back. It’s a teleportation machine, but for ethics.
(While we’re thinking about the neatly elided parts of the prodigal tech bro story, let’s dwell for one moment on the deletion of the entire stories of so many women and people of color barely given a first chance in Silicon Valley, let alone multiple reinventions.)
The only thing more fungible than cold, hard cash is privilege. The prodigal tech bro doesn’t so much take an off-ramp from the relatively high status and well-paid job he left when the scales fell from his eyes, as zoom up an on-ramp into a new sector that accepts the reputational currency he has accumulated. He’s not joining the resistance. He’s launching a new kind of start-up using his industry contacts for seed-funding in return for some reputation-laundering.
So what? Sure, it’s a little galling, but where’s the harm?
Allowing people who share responsibility for our tech dystopia to keep control of the narrative means we never get to the bottom of how and why we got here, and we artificially narrow the possibilities for where we go next. And centering people who were insiders before and claim to be leading the outsiders now doesn’t help the overall case for tech accountability. It just reinforces the industry’s toxic dynamic that some people are worth more than others, that power is its own justification.
The prodigal tech bro doesn’t want structural change. He is reassurance, not revolution. He’s invested in the status quo, if we can only restore the founders’ purity of intent. Sure, we got some things wrong, he says, but that’s because we were over-optimistic / moved too fast / have a growth mindset. Just put the engineers back in charge / refocus on the original mission / get marketing out of the c-suite. Government “needs to step up”, but just enough to level the playing field / tweak the incentives. Because the prodigal techbro is a moderate, centrist, regular guy. Dammit, he’s a Democrat. Those others who said years ago what he’s telling you right now? They’re troublemakers, disgruntled outsiders obsessed with scandal and grievance. He gets why you ignored them. Hey, he did, too. He knows you want to fix this stuff. But it’s complicated. It needs nuance. He knows you’ll listen to him. Dude, he’s just like you…
I’m re-assessing how often I help out well-established men suddenly interested in my insights and contact book. It’s ridiculous how many ‘and I truly mean them well’s I cut out of this piece, but I really do, while also realizing I help them because they ask, or because other people ask for them. And that coffee, those introductions, that talk I gave and so much more of my attention and care—it needs to go instead to activists I know and care about but who would never presume to ask. Sometimes the prodigal daughter has her regrets, too.
So, if you’re a prodigal tech bro, do us all a favour and, as Rebecca Solnit says, help “turn down the volume a little on the people who always got heard”:
Do the reading and do the work. Familiarize yourself with the research and what we’ve already tried, on your own time. Go join the digital rights and inequality-focused organizations that have been working to limit the harms of your previous employers and – this is key – sit quietly at the back and listen. Use your privilege and status and the 80 percent of your network that’s still talking to you to big up activists who have been in the trenches for years already—especially women and people of colour. Say ‘thanks but no thanks’ to that invitation and pass it along to someone who’s done the work and paid the price. Understand that if you are doing this for the next phase of your career, you are doing it wrong. If you are doing this to explain away the increasingly toxic names on your resumé, you are doing it wrong. If you are doing it because you want to ‘give back,’ you are doing it wrong.
Do this only because you recognize and can say out loud that you are not ‘giving back’, you are making amends for having already taken far, far too much.
Super site pour tester les XSS: on récupère un payload, et si il se déclenche quelque part on reçoit une alerte avec plein d'infos (screenshot, ...)
Le pouvoir n’est pas seulement ce que vous avez, mais également ce que l’ennemi croit que vous avez. Ne sortez jamais des champs d’expérience de votre groupe. Sortez du champ d’expérience de l’ennemi chaque fois que c’est possible. Forcez l’ennemi à suivre à la lettre son propre code de conduite. Le ridicule est l’arme la plus puissante dont l’homme dispose. Une tactique n’est bonne que si vos militants ont du plaisir à l’appliquer. Une tactique qui traîne trop en longueur devient pesante. Maintenir la pression, par différentes tactiques ou opérations, et utiliser à votre profit tous les événements du moment. La menace effraie généralement davantage que l’action elle-même. Le principe fondamental d’une tactique, c’est de faire en sorte que les événements évoluent de façon à maintenir sur l’opposition une pression permanente qui provoquera ses réactions. En poussant suffisamment loin un handicap, on en fait un atout. Une attaque ne peut réussir que si vous avez une solution de rechange toute prête et constructive. Il faut choisir sa cible, la figer, la personnaliser et polariser l’attention sur elle au maximum. Le choix d’une cible ne doit pas être abstrait ou général, mais doit représenter une personne bien précise.
An interview with the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis