Back to busyness

Today, I came across this interesting blog post by Carl Barenbrug, titled Saved Time. He writes:

In recent months, you might have found yourself with an abundance of time that has come to you unexpectedly. Time saved by working from home instead of commuting. A pared down social life instead of filling up your calendar with events. Fewer commitments. Less chaos. But how are you spending all this saved time? With all this time you have back, as temporary as it may be, will you choose to spend it on things that are truly important to you?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last couple of days: the lockdown in France, the end of it, the new rules, the new behaviours: How did I spend my saved time?

During the first few weeks of lockdown, mid-March to end of April, I have been very busy. My work days were full1, the wife and I took the time to cook a lot of delicious meals, I watched a lot of new shows and movies I hadn’t seen before, and I tweaked a lot of things on this blog. We could hear all the birds sing in the air-pollution-free Paris, and Twitter felt exciting again. Times were in many ways interesting, and lockdown felt a little like an adventure. A sad, boring, dull adventure, but an adventure nonetheless.

The only true casualties among my habits were music and podcasts. Without a commute to wear my earphones, I felt that time — one hour per day — was actually taken away from me, rather that given back. Not that I enjoyed commuting everyday in the Parisian métro, but I think podcasts in particular were designed for this moment of the day, in length, format, concept. Without commute, podcasts feel like pretentious on-demand radio don’t they?

Since May, the interesting part of this abnormal situation has vanished. The related sense of adventure too. During this new normal period, I became less and less productive. My work load was the same, but my energy levels were empty at the end of the day and I stopped writing, stopped reading. I only watched things I’ve already seen before, looking for comfort and reassuring familiarities.

As the lockdown ended, and we were able to walk around again, I could finally listen to music again properly. Not new music, but the music I missed the most, the music I was already familiar with. I didn’t miss podcasts so much. Meanwhile, traffic jams were back in Paris, we couldn’t hear the birds from our windows anymore, and Twitter felt like an empty space again.

Today, I look at all the books I didn’t read. I browse through all the shows I didn’t watch, and I haven’t opened my podcast app in weeks. I subscribed to Skillshare back in March thinking it would be a good use of my extra time: I haven’t watched one minute of it.

What did I do with all this time given to me this year? Like Carl writes:

There’s no correct way to spend your time. Or more specifically—free time. You might choose to read, write, exercise, explore nature, volunteer, watch TV, listen to music, listen to podcasts, learn about topics that interest you, cook, clean, repair things, build things, or maybe you choose to slow down and simply do nothing.

Exactly. I did nothing special, but I don’t feel like this time was wasted at all. All this saved time was not spent right away on something else, but saved for later, sort of.2

2020 has gave me a lot of time to do things, but it also has given me a chance to not do things, it has given me the opportunity to think, and in many ways it gave me space to know myself better.

While doing nothing, I never felt so busy.

  1. Since March, I’ve been working from home, and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

  2. Unlike money, time cannot be saved for later, it has to be spent right away. So much for the Time is money bullcrap.

“You should not undermine how quickly people can change their ideas”

Must-watch video by Double Down News, featuring writer and stylist Ayishat Akanbi, talking about cancel culture.”

I’ve been lucky to be a Twitter follower of Akanbi for quite a while now, and her thoughts and tweets are very well written and full of wisdom. Considering all of the things happening in the world and in our Twitter timelines, it is a true breath of fresh air to read her words.

This video doesn’t disappoint either: she manages to go straight to the point and make it clear on a very difficult topic. Highly recommended.

Scary heatwave in Siberia is scary

Damian Carrington — environmental editor for The Guardian — writes, in a piece aptly titled Climate crisis: alarm at record-breaking heatwave in Siberia:

Russian towns in the Arctic circle have recorded extraordinary temperatures, with Nizhnyaya Pesha hitting 30 °C on 9 June and Khatanga, which usually has daytime temperatures of around 0 °C at this time of year, hitting 25 °C on 22 May. The previous record was 12 °C.

[…] Martin Stendel, of the Danish Meteorological Institute, said the abnormal May temperatures seen in north-west Siberia would be likely to happen just once in 100,000 years without human-caused global heating.

If climate change doesn’t scare you yet, well, I admire your optimism.

Missing the point reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Samuel Gibbs used the latest foldable phone from Samsung for four months, and today published a second review. Despite being short by today’s standards when it comes to reviews — around 800 words — I found that two things were especially worth mentioning.

First, the hardware seems to be excellent and quite durable. It should not come as a surprise that Samsung makes great pieces of hardware, especially great high-end phones.1 In the foldable devices area though, their reputation suffered quite a lot with the Galaxy Fold. It is therefore impressive to see that they managed to crack to code — and not the screen — on their second-only try.

Second, I think it is disappointing to not see Gibbs give more details on how it is to use the phone, you know that thing you do with yours? What does it mean to have a folding device in terms of checking your messages and emails? Putting it in a pocket a million times a day? How often do you really need to open and close it? I am convinced that the answers to these questions are what people need to know about a folding phone, and something we don’t really learn from this review.

The durability after only four months should not — in a perfect world — be a concern, not to the point of focusing a reviews on it anyway. Especially considering that during these last four months, people were safely stuck at home half of the time. I get that we don’t live in a perfect world, and that people may only have questions about the durability of such innovative phones, especially at that price, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

A few months ago, this is what I wrote about foldable phones like the Galaxy Z Flip, or the Motorola Razr:

If you thought first generations of Face ID and under-the-screen fingerprint sensors were slow, think about having to physically unfold a device every time you want to take a quick photo, reply to a message, or maybe just glance at your list of groceries.

And below are the only three sentences — four lines — where Gibbs writes about this matter:

I can open the phone with one hand, but rarely do.

So most of the time two hands are needed to open it?

Snapping the phone shut to end calls is very satisfying.

Oh damn, I did not know about the main key selling point.

The notification panel on the outside is enough to show me there’s something important waiting or the time, but I wish it was slightly longer so scrolling text was easier to read.

Sounds to me like a terrible experience for a phone that cost twice as much as a regular Samsung Galaxy S20, but it shows the time so I guess everything is forgiven.

On an average day, we unlock our phones more than a hundred times. Maybe we do it less often while using these devices, but the folding/unfolding part of the story is barely something to be overlooked, yet it is barely mentioned in the review. Too bad it focused solely on durability and not user experience; not unlike when the first iPhone reviewers where complaining about the lack of a physical keyboard or the lack of Flash.

  1. When they are not catching fire that is.

“I would love to ignore racism and focus all my attention on climate. But I can’t.”

Great read from Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on The Washington Post. Johnson is, among other things, a marine biologist, and it happens that I started to follow her just a few days ago mostly for that reason.1

She writes:

Toni Morrison said it best, in a 1975 speech: The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.

There are so many good bits on this piece that I could have quoted every paragraph.

  1. I studied marine biology back in 2004-2005 at the university of Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, believe it or not.

Beautiful illustrations and a peculiar Instagram description

Earlier today, my Twitter pal1 Daniel Benneworth-Gray tweeted this excellent story on the New York Times Magazine, by Claudia Rankine: I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked. Before I had the chance to read it, he rightfully praised the illustrations made for the article by Nabeejah Al-Ghadban, which immediately got me curious about what other works had been done before by this artist, which brought me to Al-Ghadban’s website. Besides the usual-for-an-illustrator Portfolio and Biography pages, there is also an unusual Collage page, which consists of a collection of illustrations seemingly not featured on the portfolio. This is how she describes it on top of the page:

An experimental feed: often where instant thoughts, ghosts, and ideas materialize, and co-exist through back and forth visits in time and medium; where the hand occasionally becomes illogical, nonsensical.

In other words: Instagram.

I love this. It reads like the pitch Instagram founders gave to VC funds in an awesome, alternate universe.

  1. We need a word for this kind of acquaintances.

UK National Parks photography competition shortlist

A few weeks ago, The Guardian shared a few entrants of the UK National Parks and Campaign for National Parks photography competition, and I believe that all of these pictures are gorgeous. My favourite is the one of Wistman’s Wood in Dartmoor, by the photographer Debra Smitham : I find it has some kind of a Hound of the Baskervilless vibe that I have loved since I was a kid.

The Guardian published those pictures on the 13th of March, which is the day I started working from home, a few days before the official confinement measures here in France. After now almost three months stuck in Paris, I cannot wait to rediscover nature with my own eyes this summer, and appreciate the beauty and peace of it all. The year 2020 as it is can surely use more of it.

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