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The new normal

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

Part of the reason I moved to a full-time digital nomad lifestyle is that I expected something like the current situation to happen. Not like that though. I thought the system would slowly collapse under its own weight, but I didn’t expect such a violent crisis to hit all of it globally and expose all of its weaknesses at the same time.

Unfortunately, whether it is slow or violent, it doesn’t seem to make any difference when it comes to the resistance to change.

I just spoke with a recruiter, looking for a highly specialized profile involving corporate backend development and blockchain stuff, the kind of profile that is really hard to find, even in conditions where more and more people are going to lose their jobs and missions. And as soon as I told her I was fully remote, the conversation stopped almost instantly, because her client is looking for someone who can work remotely at first, but is expected to work on site quickly when all of this is over. Denial.

When will all of this be over? No one can say. How long can companies afford to make decisions based on the premise that it will all be over soon, and that everything will go back to the way they were? And even if the COVID-19 pandemic ends soon, when will the economic and social fabric of our world fully recover, if ever? No one can say that either. And perhaps more importantly, it was already hard for companies to find highly skilled software developers when everything was “normal”, do they really think it will get easier after this, when so many people will have been able to see that not only is remote work possible when you are a software engineer, but in most cases, it’s actually more productive and offers a better work-life balance across the board?

My point is the whole world, and especially the business world is going through the first stage of a process of grief right now: denial.

I’m convinced that there will be a before and an after COVID-19. That the world will never be the same. That some people and organizations will do everything in their power to try and put the cat back in the bag, but they will fail. Because the holes that this crisis is exposing in our system have been there for a long time.

Our nation states are simply unprepared for challenges like that, because they only think short term, pressured as they are by a capitalism and an electoralism without any vision. That’s why Trump’s administration dismantled the US’s NSC pandemic unit. That’s why the Belgian health minister destroyed a whole stockpile of expired protection equipments and never replaced it. That’s why all but a few countries now have to isolate entire populations because they don’t have the testing capacities to isolate only the infected ones.

Our nation states are slow to respond to any new challenge, because they are preoccupied by elections, and because they lost the trust and the education level of their populations a long time ago, so if they impose any drastic measure, people are defiant, they make up conspiracy theories and they take matters into their own hands as a way to cope with a situation they feel completely powerless about.

And finally our nation states don’t operate at the right scale, which makes them completely inconsistent. At a national scale, there is no way they can effectively tackle any challenge that, by essence, hits the entire planet. Whether it is climate change, business regulation, resource distribution or pandemics, they are completely incapable of handling these issues with any sort of consistency. And even if some countries try to do everything right, like New Zealand where I am stuck right now, where they went into full lockdown after hitting only their 100th case, with only 6 patients in the hospital, no death and after having closed their borders for a full week, they still pay the price for the absence of responsibility of other countries. How does it make any sense that as a citizen of France, being in New Zealand, I have to suffer the consequences of a decision I didn’t even take part in making, to elect a clown to the White House?

All of these things already didn’t make sense before this crisis, current events only make it more vivid. And yet, people still want to go back.

What’s the connection between the obsolescence of nation states and a company that wants to recruit onsite software developers? Everything! Because we are witnessing the most crucial transition the world has seen since the Renaissance. Because if it’s obvious at least to some of us that we cannot go back, that the old normal is completely broken to the core, then it follows that we have to invent a new one.

A new normal that is based on Globalism, this idea that whatever our different and rich cultures, languages, religions, histories and traditions, we are essentially all human beings, facing some of the same planet-wide challenges, born with the same fundamental Human rights, connected through the same global communication network, participating in the same global economy. And despite the vain hopes of a few protectionists, there is no going back on that, and that can be a good thing if we finally give up on one key concept: countries.

Countries are nothing natural or physical, they are just lines we drew on a map a few hundred years ago at most. They are a convention that served a purpose at a given point in history, to end the territory wars that created so much instability back in the days. But when a convention is obviously that flawed, and when the tools at our disposal have evolved that much, we must allow ourselves to invent a new one, or rather to adopt a more natural one, closer to the real world, in harmony with the planet we live on, as one species part of one global ecosystem.

Sure, that culture shift seems daunting, we have invested so much in the base structure of nation states, so much of our legal systems, of our currencies, of our cultures, of our belief systems are entangled with concepts like patriotism, nationality, limited international movements. Even more daunting is the fact that a lot of big organizations and governments are benefiting from this national division. Multinational corporations pit tax systems against each other, and exploit cheap labor in countries where people can’t leave anyway, forced to accept the conditions they are given. Banks thrive on the inconsistency of money regulation across different countries and totalitarian governments keep their power by blackmailing their population or using them as human shields. All of these have all the incentives in the world to keep us divided into abstract national units fighting against each other, trying to protect themselves.

In other words, to me, the problem is not the globalization of our economy, it’s the absence of globalization of governance that’s supposed to keep economy in check for the collective good of humanity.

What will currencies look like in the globalist world to come? What will companies look like? What will education and information look like? What will governance look like? It’s impossible to say at this point, but what is for certain, is that it won’t look like anything we already have.

We have to get over an economy based on credit-issued geographically-limited currencies. We have to get over pseudo-representative democracy as a means of governance. We have to get over corporations as a way to pull together financial resources to build stuff without any consideration for other forms of capital (environment, health, human rights, etc.). We have to get over old forms of education that gather 30 to 100 kids into a classroom for 20 years and then send them on their way after having shaped them into docile uncreative executors. We have to get over an information infrastructure that is so incapable of sustaining itself that it has become corrupted by greed and sensationalism instead of seeking and spreading the truth.

This is the sense of history, the transition started a few decades ago, but it just got a huge boost with this coronavirus. And there will be those who resist that change, either because they don’t believe it can happen, or because they don’t want it to. But their resistance is futile, because the cat is already out of the bag.

So I choose to embrace it. I embrace the uncertainty. I embrace having to develop new skills all the time. I embrace cultures from all around the world. I embrace moving all the time as if the entire world was my village. I embrace working as a freelance without any illusion of job security. I embrace thinking out of the box, dreaming of new systems, being flexible and open-minded to whatever comes next. Because this is a fascinating time to live in, and I invite everyone to embrace it too. Because you are in for a bumpy ride, whetever you do, so you might as well enjoy it.

Jobi joba (mais sans la caravane, et avec un laptop en guise de guitare)

Pour ceux de mes amis qui ne seraient pas encore au courant: je viens d’atterrir à Osaka, au Japon. Parce que oui, certains de mes amis ne sont pas encore au courant, et vous allez comprendre pourquoi.

Quand j’expliquais mon projet autour de moi, la question suivante était naturellement: “Ah! Sympa! Et pour combien de temps?”. Et quand je répondais “6 semaines”, la réaction était invariablement une grande surprise, suivie d’un “mais pourquoi y vas-tu alors? Vacances? Travail?”. Ce après quoi j’aimais enfoncer le clou en précisant que je n’avais pris qu’un billet aller simple.

Et la confusion était palpable. Après tout, c’est vrai: soit on part quelque part définitivement, on déménage, soit on part 2 ou 3 semaines pour les vacances. Mais quelle raison pouvait bien justifier un tel voyage, dans un pays si lointain, pour une durée aussi longue, et avec quels moyens?

Alors je me suis dit que j’allais profiter de cet article pour expliquer un peu.

Imaginez que votre métier ne vous lie à aucun employeur fixe, ni même à aucun bureau fixe. Imaginez que vous puissiez gagner votre vie correctement depuis n’importe où, et que tout ce dont vous ayez besoin pour travailler, c’est un laptop et une connexion internet. Imaginez enfin qu’au delà des liens que vous avez tissés avec les personnes qui vous sont chères, rien ni personne ne dépende de vous ou de votre présence physique en un endroit précis (ni même plus votre chat, Yahoo, respect et robustesse mon p’tit père 😢). Si tel était le cas, resteriez-vous là où vous vous trouvez en ce moment? Ou plus exactement, limiteriez-vous votre champ d’exploration à la ville, à la région, ou même au pays où vous vous trouvez?

Et bien figurez-vous (allez-y, figurez-vous!) que ce contexte, ces possibilités, cette indépendance professionnelle et géographique se font de plus en plus fréquentes, et amènent de plus en plus de gens vers un nouveau mode de vie: le nomadisme digital.

Les nomades digitaux, où les DN (Digital Nomads, ndlr) comme on les appelle parfois sont de plus en plus nombreux, ils s’organisent, créent des liens entre eux, constituent des communautés, deviennent la cible de nouveaux services, voire même de nouveaux statuts administratifs, se regroupent dans des espaces de coliving (parce que le coworking, c’est “so 2010”), créent des groupes de voyage, et ce n’est que le début.

Depuis que j’ai découvert l’existence de ce mode de vie, il me fascine. Et après m’être longtemps renseigné, j’ai décidé de faire un premier test. Après la fin de mon dernier contrat “sédentaire” (traduisez une mission 8 heures par jour chez un client fixe en Belgique, dans un bureau), j’ai décidé de remplacer la recherche d’une nouvelle mission par des contrats qui me permettaient de travailler uniquement à distance et selon mon propre agenda, en tout cas jusqu’à ce que mon activité de formation en ligne prenne intégralement le relai. Puis j’ai fait un premier test de coliving dans les Alpes suisses pendant 4 semaines, un orteil dans l’eau en quelque sorte. L’expérience fut quelque peu “artificielle” (pas beaucoup de monde à cette période de l’année bizarrement), mais en même temps me donna envie de me lancer pour une phase 2.

Et c’est cette phase que j’entame aujourd’hui. Je rejoins un groupe de nomades digitaux qui partagent une spécialité autour du numérique et qui voyagent ensemble et de manière régulière grâce à des organisatrices de choc. Le groupe s’appelle Hacker Paradise, et la première étape de cette aventure me mène à Osaka, au Japon.

Première étape, car j’ai décidé de ne pas me limiter dans le temps ou dans l’espace. Parce que je me suis autorisé à suivre le groupe dans ses pérégrinations si jamais l’expérience était concluante. Ou alors à tester d’autres variantes de ce mode de vie, par d’autres moyens, dans d’autres contextes.

Est-ce que cela signifie que je quitte la Belgique pour autant? C’est plus compliqué que ça. Ce que je préfère dire, c’est que je ne quitte pas un endroit pour m’installer dans un autre, mais plutôt que j’élargis l’endroit où je vis: avant j’habitais en Belgique, et maintenant je vais tenter de vivre sur Terre.

Je vais me faire des amis, mais un peu partout dans le monde. Je vais explorer de nouveaux paysages, mais pas seulement pendant mes vacances. Je vais développer de nouvelles opportunités, mais pas uniquement celles qui me sont proposées.

Donc d’une certaine façon, je ne quitte rien ni personne dans ma tête ou dans mon cœur, je ne m’éloigne de nulle part. Je me rapproche du monde et je m’ouvre à une planète d’horizons riches et mouvants.

D’un autre côté, entendons-nous bien: j’ai toujours mon appartement en Belgique, je suis toujours enregistré en Belgique, et je me suis également autorisé l’éventualité que cette expérience soit un échec, que la réalité rattrape les fantasmes, partiellement ou totalement, et que je doive rentrer pour réévaluer mes options. Mais si je le fais, ce sera un choix, pas une solution par défaut, pour coller aux conventions, ou pour rassurer à outrance mon petit enfant intérieur éternellement effrayé.

Parce que ce voyage, cette aventure dans laquelle je m’engage, c’est aussi une expérience initiatique évidemment. Parce que toute la première partie de ma vie, j’étais un aigle déguisé en ours, qui essayait de ne pas trop faire de vague, de ne pas prendre trop de place, qui donnait parfois ce qu’il avait l’impression qu’on attendait de lui plus vite que ce à quoi il aspirait vraiment. Mais aujourd’hui, j’ai décidé d’envoyer l’ours en hibernation pendant quelques temps (oui au début de l’été, et alors, au diable les conventions on a dit, non?), et de laisser l’aigle déployer ses ailes engourdies.

Il parait que les grands rapaces ne se posent que très rarement au sol, et préfèrent généralement un promontoire en hauteur pour se poser parce qu’ils savent qu’avec leur envergure et l’amplitude nécessaire dans leur battement d’ailes, leur redécollage sera toujours bien plus compliqué depuis le plancher des vaches.

36 ans déjà que je le foule ce foutu plancher. Et je dois bien admettre que ces dernières années, ce plancher s’était même mis à ressembler à un bourbier qui commençait à engluer méchamment mes ailes. Donc le décollage n’est pas des plus faciles. Mais ceux qui m’aiment, me connaissent et se reconnaîtront savent que c’est ce dont j’ai besoin. Et sans forcément en être conscients, ils m’auront porté jusqu’ici pour m’aider à prendre mon envol, et je leur en serai éternellement reconnaissant.

Car malgré mes angoisses que j’essaie de ne plus ignorer, malgré les craintes qui me nouent l’estomac, malgré les incertitudes qui entourent les changements inévitables qui vont s’opérer naturellement sur les liens que j’ai tissés à travers toutes ces années, j’ai l’intime conviction que cette nouvelle étape de ma vie, quels qu’en soient les enseignements, les déceptions, les découvertes ou les revers, va me permettre de démultiplier l’impact que je peux avoir sur ce monde, et la trace que je pourrai y laisser.

Alors merci à tous ceux qui me soutiennent dans tout ça, désolé pour ce qui l’auront appris tardivement, voire qui l’apprendront ici. Mais je suis sûr que vous le comprenez tous maintenant: ceci n’est pas un changement d’endroit, ce n’est qu’un changement d’échelle, que j’essaierai de documenter ici et ailleurs.

Car je suis convaincu que quoi qu’il m’arrive à moi, c’est une évolution qui nous sera à tous salutaire, à plus ou moins longue échéance, dans une plus ou moins grande mesure, et quels que soient nos contextes ou nos contraintes, ne serait-ce que pour éviter de basculer dans ce repli sur soi qui guette de plus en plus nos sociétés, en ces temps où de plus en plus nombreux sont ceux d’entre nous qui se sentent dépossédés de leur destinée.

Et bien entendu, je suis tout à fait conscient que ce mode de vie n’est pas fait pour tout le monde, et que c’est beaucoup plus compliqué quand on a sa petite famille (on ne peut pas tout avoir hein 😉). Donc ne voyez aucun prosélytisme dans mes propos, juste du partage d’expériences nouvelles.

Je pars en éclaireur, je vous raconterai.

PS: Il y a plein de liens à explorer dans ce post.

PPS: Ne vous inquiétez pas pour le tremblement de terre, tout va bien.

The Last Kingdom

After binge-watching the first season of the TV show “The Last Kingdom” yesterday on Netflix, I was really annoyed and upset by all these constant references to God and Christianity, and as an anti-theist myself (atheist is not strong enough), I couldn’t help but feel close to Ragnar Ragnarson in his fight for justice. But what struck me even more is how much Christianity back then has in common with something today: Finance.

The Profit God

Finance has become the new Chrsitianity of the land. Currency has become the new Prayer. Economy is the new Faith. In Christianity, you have to suffer in life to be happy ever after in Heaven. In Finance, you have to work like a slave all your life to live happily ever after in retirement. Christianity had its priests and clergy, Finance has its traders and bankers and quotation agencies. In Christianity, you could either be a good Christian believer, or a godless barbarian. In Finance, either you are a docile taxpayer, or a jobless slacker. And if you push boundaries a bit further, when you dare to point out the flaws and the corruption of Finance, you are called a Conspiration Theorist, pretty much with the same status as blaspheming heretics back then. Dare to try something different, propose an alternative currency, universal income or negative interest rates and you are pretty much a witch, in direct contact with the Devil. Talking about the Devil, the closest thing to Finance’s equivalent of Hell would probably be… Socialism? Or Misery? Or Bankruptcy? Or homelessness? The concept of Salvation has been replaced by the concept of Growth, this thing that every politicial would like to influence, but nobody really knows how. Sometimes they sacrifice some jobs or human rights to the Markets, those angels of the Profit god, hoping it will please the Markets and bring some Growth. But everybody is drinking every word from the quotation agencies, those direct conduits to God. And then of course, nobody dares to discuss the fact that the clergy has to take its toll on all that: what used to be called tithes are now called interests, and everybody finds it perfectly normal to pay those interests when they borrow money that doesn’t even exist in the first place, they would almost be afraid not to pay them. Same for the taxes people pay to their Nation-State, that are used in turn and in good part to pay back interests to the banks as well. The Church itself didn’t have to pay taxes by the way, pretty much like the Markets and their actors. The main problem is that our governments, our Nation-States are way too entangled with the Clergy of the Finance Church, they are not independent anymore, and it will take years and tremendous courage to separate both, to separate the Finance from Government in the same way as we separated the Church from the State. Maybe we can take some inspiration, remember how this separation was done, and continue the metaphor to do the same for Finance.

A Vision

The way I see it, Finance has corrupted and rotten the very foundations of our societies. And I’m afraid that every attempt to separate the parasite, will also bring the whole house down. Unless we do something to build other foundations in parallel and when they are ready, we destroy the old ones. I would start with currency: with crypto-currencies, we don’t need the bank anymore, either to create currency or to monitor it. We can get rid of the middle man and let the network handle the security and rule-enforcement. Bitcoin is just one example of such a currency, not necessarily the best one because of the rules it was designed to enforce: deflation, parity with fiat currency, etc. But it opened the discussion and a whole new horizon of possibilities. Without middle-men in our currency exchanges, no more need to “pray for something to happen”.

I would continue with democracy. Once we have a suitable crypto-currency, based on a proper blockchain (a transparent, verified and universal ledger of all transactions), we can also dis-intermediate every single contract our democracy is based upon, including the most fundamental one: the voting contract. And I’m not talking about corruptible electronic voting machines here. I’m talking about the ability for every citizen of the City to take part in the public debate and give their vote on issues that matter to them on a daily basis, along with the capability to inform them accordingly of course. I’m talking about switching from Representative to Participative democracy. And I know some people will call me a utopist on this one (yet another word to discard heretics), but just make an effort to wonder how many of your beliefs that led you to this conclusion were actually taught to you by the Finance clergy. “People are not educated enough, if people had been asked about the death penaly in France, they would have voted to maintain it”. Etc.

Another important pillar for me is the very notion of work. Work in Finance is like Penance in Christianity. Society’s Growth is the direct product of your individual work, like mankind’s Salvation was the result of everybody’s penance. It seems obvious and non-questionable because we are being taught that from our very early age (and because it echoes some of the same theories from the Church as well). But with the massive movements towards workforce automation these days (Uberization and the likes), the absurdity of this logic becomes apparent. We are even creating some artificial penance, forcing people to work silly jobs that could easily be automated, for the sake of maintaining that illusion. Work, like Penance back then, is becoming a goal in and of itself. We are forgetting the real goal behind Growth: self-fullfillment, happiness, freedom. For decades we have been told that the only way towards that goal went through Work, Taxes and Financial Growth. But what if there’s another way, a faster way, a cleaner way? Do you think the traders who are paid more in a year than what you are paid in a lifetime will wait until retirement to find their Salvation? I think we need to change our vision about work, from something we must do to make a living, to an activity we enjoy doing because it brings us plenty of different rewards directly, including happiness, self-fullfillment and freedom. Because it brings value to the society as a whole today, not because it will bring Salvation later. Of course some of this value will be paid back to us in currency, and of course, the more value we create for society, the more benefits we should get (currency or otherwise). But work should not be a life-or-death necessity anymore. That’s why I’m convinced Basic Income is THE solution. And when you hear the Clergy of Finance say things about basic income like Socialism, and conspiration theory, and utopia, remember about Hell, heretics and witchcraft.

Probably the last pillar, the hardest one to change, and the longest change to show its effects, is education. Our entire school system was designed for another time, a time of centralization, of pyramid structures. A time when school needed to train good employees, docile citizens, not independent entrepreneurs who have to figure out their mission in this world, and have the power to decide what they want to achieve. I strongly believe that this is the world that is emerging before our eyes. And it is time that we take it into account and rebuild our education system from the ground up accordingly. Our kids need skills more than knowledge. They need initiative more than authority, they need creativity more than learning by heart. Not just because of the internet and all that it gives them access to. But because of the way it is changing our societies, because of all the new paradigms it’s going to create in the future, whereas we are still preparing them for yesterday’s only paradigm. Our children need to be able to use their full potential, not just the normal one, to be able to see patterns and explore all the opportunities and dangers of what’s to come, because there will be both. And nothing in our current education system prepares them for that, neither in content, nor in form. I think we need to explore ideas like flipped classrooms and Montessori. Those are just two possible evolutions I’ve heard of and I’m clearly no education expert, but I think it’s time for us to reinvent our system, and maybe get out of the dogma of one single school system. Because kids are diverse, they are individuals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they all live in different contexts, with different realities and concerns, and of course we need to spend as much energy understanding those contexts and adapting our schools to those contexts, as actually coaching our kids in those schools.

With the right currency, democracy, workforce and a generation prepared to take full advantage of all this, I don’t see how we couldn’t take things to the next level.

Earthians

Once we have those four pillars, we can actually start to build a new house on top, a global house. Because in the same way that the Church understood that it had to transcend borders back in the day, Finance is already transnational, unlike our democracies. And for me, that’s one of the reasons why we are powerless and divided. I don’t believe in borders, I don’t recognize the right of national governments to tell me where I’m allowed to live or not, depending on where I was born. I don’t see why I should suffer from the consequences of decisions of other countries simply because I have no say in choices that their governments make, although they have an impact on all of us. And more importantly, I believe I’m not alone to believe that. I think the new generations see themselves more and more as citizens of the world. I’m not French, I’m not Belgian, I’m not even European, I’m an Earthian. Yes, we have different languages, different cultures, different lives and different day-to-day concerns, but we all share the same planet, the same resources, the same science. So we should have a global platform for governance. Note that I didn’t use the expression “global government”, because it sounds too much like what we have today, only bigger, thus with even more corruption and control. What I think is that the transition I described earlier will happen locally, in various countries, playing by the rules of the old system, and then those transitioning countries will work together, create alliances, merge their platforms into one until it covers the whole planet. Will there still be a place for Finance in this world? Sure. Like there is still a place for Christianity in some places in today’s world. Some people will keep having faith in Profit, they will live by its rules, act on its precepts, but it won’t affect all of us. Because it should not.

 

Original Photo by keeva999 (with a cross instead of the dollar sign) – http://flic.kr/p/dQKNXH

Here Comes Grails APNs Plugin

That’s it. I’ve released my first Grails plugin ever. Woooo! Champagne!

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been playing a lot with Apple Push Notification service lately (APNs for friends). Indeed, ConferenceGuide still requires a data connection, which can be problematic on a lot of events because they’re usually abroad (and roaming fees are waaaaaay too expensive), and even when you do have a data connection, it’s usually pretty slow… at best. That’s probably why one of the most requested features for ConferenceGuide is Offline Mode.

But getting all the data directly from the server does have at least one advantage: you’re always up-to-date. And experience has shown that sh** happens: sometimes sessions are cancelled at the last minute, or a global sound mixer reboots out of nowhere, thus shifting all sessions by 15 minutes. Those of you who were at Devoxx last November know what I’m talking about. So I needed a way to combine the best of both worlds: being able to browse schedule and speaker information without a data connection, and still get updates whenever something changes and I can find a wifi hotspot or something.

The first part of the solution is the local database. The second part involves sending push notifications. The problem with the latter is that the API provided by Apple is pretty low-level and the documentation is rather scarce. And it’s understandable because they expose a service that should be usable by any server technology, whether it is Java, .Net, PHP, Rails, etc. Fortunately, Java has a huge community and a great Open Source spirit, so it wasn’t long before a few projects were created to build an abstraction layer on top of APNs API. The simplest and most documented one I found is java-apns by Mahmood Ali. But ConferenceGuide server is not plain Java. It’s Grails 1.1 (I haven’t taken the risk to migrate to 1.2 yet). So I wanted to ease the integration of java-apns into any Grails application. And voilà! Grails APNs Plugin.

Special thanks to Burt Beckwith for helping me get started, and Mahmood Ali for developing java-apns!