If I’d included weeknotes, which I compose every weekend, I’d perhaps have finished on time. But, for some reason, I decided not to — thinking, perhaps, that it was somehow ‘cheating’ to do so. Whatever the reason, I’ve realised that I haven’t been writing as much as usual during the pandemic.
In general, I find the quantity of my outputs are determined by the quantity and variety of my inputs. The more my information diet and everyday activities revolve around the same things, the less I’m likely to compose something new. I miss travelling in that respect. Not only does it open the mind, but meeting new people and having serendipitous conversations explains the arc of my career in a way that my LinkedIn profile does not.
As a member of the tight-knit Team Belshaw, travelling also gives me the kind of freedom from familial obligations that allows my mind to roam a little. I met my wife at university aged 18, so I’ve never truly lived the bachelor lifestyle. Conferences, events, client meetings, and mountain training enable me to travel both physically and mentally to other places in a way not afforded by other means of escape.
In particular, there’s something about travelling on planes, looking out the window, that gives one perspective on life. Given the environmental impact, I can’t see myself wanting to travel via that method in the future unless I can avoid it, so I think I’ll have to make do with the view from the top of mountains. The added benefit, of course, is that walking to the top of them not only provides exercise, but gives one time to think.
So, on reflection, it’s no wonder the quantity of my outputs have diminished in proportion to the variety of my inputs during a global pandemic. I’m very much looking forward to a bit of travel as the lockdown in the UK eases. Hopefully, that will have a knock-on effect on both the quality and quantity of my writing here, and elsewhere.
This week has been all about my trip to New York for ITHAKA’s Next Wave conference. You can find my slides here. Given that I was speaking immediately before a session featuring a representative from Facebook, I took the opportunity to lift the veil on surveillance capitalism. As a result, at least one person deleted their account!
Clay Shirky was in the audience for the event which blew my mind as he’s been such an influence on my thinking over the last decade. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve ever asked someone for a selfie. I also had the privilege of meeting up with Jess Klein, friend and former Mozilla colleague who is now at the Wikimedia Foundation.
As I flew out and back in two days, there wasn’t much point in putting my body through the torture of changing timezones. That’s why you would have found me in Times Square at 04:30 on Wednesday morning taking a video to share with my family back home, who were five hours “in the future”.
Other than that, I worked on MoodleNet-related stuff on Monday and Friday (and, let’s face it, plenty other times inbetween). The team is nearly done fixing the issues that prevented us from doing a live demo at the Global Moot. I’ve been working on a draft roadmap with Mayel and other members of the team, and I’ve got a three-hour meeting scheduled with Martin Dougiamas next week to get that nailed-down.
I’m off social media now for December and have downed tools on Thought Shrapnel until 2020. However, if I was composing a newsletter this weekend, I’d include this post from Jason Kottke that he wrote a few weeks ago about how he’s learning to love winter:
Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings.
So how has this tiny shift in mindset been working for me so far? It’s only mid-November — albeit a mid-November where it’s already been 5°F, has been mostly below freezing for the past week, and with a good 6 inches of snow on the ground — but I have been feeling not only not bad, but actually good. My early fall had some seasonally-unrelated tough moments, but I’ve experienced none of last year’s pre-winter despondency.
Great stuff. I think the run-up to last Christmas was the first one I actually enjoyed. I’m endeavouring to ensure this year will be similar.
Next week I’m working on MoodleNet from Monday to Thursday, and then attending the CoTech Winter Gathering on Friday and Saturday, rather handily located this time around in Newcastle-upon-Tyne!
I’m composing this from Boston Logan airport before an overnight flight to Manchester, and a drive back home. Team Belshaw has been in New England on holiday for the past couple of weeks. In many ways it’s felt a lot longer than that.
Let’s deal with the positives first. Our experiences here have been the kind we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The kids have got on well together — gloriously screen-free, apart from the occasional movie on a TV in an Airbnb.
The weather has been exactly what we hoped for: hot without being scorching. We travelled clockwise from Boston, to Cape Cod, to Providence, Rhode Island. From there we went up to Vermont and then across to Maine. Finally, we drove back to Boston to fly home.
It’s the most expensive holiday we’ve ever been on for a couple of reasons. First, New England is an expensive place to take a vacation in there summer. We managed to score super-cheap flights thanks to Jack’s Flight Club, but the accommodation cost a lot more than we were expecting.
Second, it was announced a few days into our holiday that the British pound was the lowest it had been against the US dollar since 1985. In these kinds of situations, you can decide to economise as much as possible, or just enjoy your holiday and deal with the consequences when you get home. Unusually, we decided to do the latter.
Some of the many memories I’ll take back with me:
Going whale-watching off Cape Cod at the same time as starting to read Moby Dick for the first time.
Playing ‘baseball’ with a foam bat-and-ball pretty much everywhere we stayed.
Visiting, and photographing, beautiful old lighthouses along the coast of Maine and Cape Cod.
Kayaking near Cape Elizabeth (it was our daughter’s first time!)
Paddling in Queechee Gorge in Vermont and imagining what it must have been like hundreds of years ago.
Eating whole lobster and feeling like we were eating an alien!
We’d definitely come back, especially to Cape Cod which we absolutely loved.
Now then, while I was away, the plan was to uninstall all messaging and social media apps from my phone. It was supposed to be a break from what can feel very much like an always-on, hyperconnected lifestyle back home.
As I’ve already written, we stepped off the plane to some tragic news about my good friend Dai Barnes. Given that Twitter is the place many know him from, it was important to try and balance honouring his memory with being present for my family.
As a result of being on Twitter, I couldn’t help but become briefly embroiled in a debate which happened amongst educators in Twitter. I didn’t originally engage with it directly, but rather reminded white guys with a decent following that they have responsibilities via this tweet:
Unfortunately, instead of any kind of nuance or healthy debate, the whole thing descended into A Hashtag About Which People Should Take Sides™. I’ve been a little skeptical when people have called Twitter a ‘rage machine’ because of the move they’ve made towards an algorithmic timeline. Well, I was wrong to be doubtful; this was that in action.
Next week will be all about the jet lag and catching up with developments with MoodleNet while I’ve been away. I’ve been mostly Telegram-free all holiday, so I guess I should be thankful for small mercies.