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S01 E02 – Alone Time

In this episode of the podcast, Doug Belshaw and Laura Hilliger discuss their work with Catalyst, a funding network for charities, as well as their recent website redesign. We also talk about topics like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the algorithmic feed on Twitter, and share an article about the preferences of highly intelligent people for spending time alone. We reflect on how the pandemic has affected their social lives and the value of alone time, and express their intention to make podcasting a regular habit.


  • How Everything Can Collapse by Raphaël Stevens and Pablo Servigne
  • Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder

Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.



Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:30] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I am Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:43] And I’m Doug Belshaw.

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:46] Um, in our first episode we made you a bunch of promises about how we were going to do this podcast, and then we had like a several week hiatus, which you don’t know about because we’re shipping the first few episodes all at the same time. Uh, but we got busy basically, and then realised that having such a. Stringent plan was blocking our creativity. So whatever we promised you in episode one, just ignore that by the wayside.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:18] Basically, what we decided was the way that our brains work is that we connect loads of different things together and they’re trying to force us to do a particular like topic or whatever was going against the grain a little bit. So here’s the plan. What we’re going to do is we’re going to look at what has been, what we’ve been working on, what’s been on our minds, cool things have come across and we’re going to have a bit of a chat about that and share them with you and share all the links in the show notes, because that seems to be the way that the universe wants us to do this podcast. So who are we to argue otherwise?

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:53] Yes, I fully agree. I feel a lot better now that we’ve decided to stop overengineering. A conversation between ourselves. It’s better.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:02] So, Laura, you’re in Dresden in Germany and the weather is slightly different to where it is here in the north east of England.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:09] So yeah, it is really hot. It’s a really hot, which is weird because it has been not hot and spring was really late and it kind of went from this is basically winter, snowy, sleety, rainy, yuck to this is the height of summer and I want to go swimming in the span of like three days.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:31] Weather fund is going to come here because we had that hail and snow and everything and we had thunderstorms last night. So I think all of this is probably down to climate change because I can never remember snow and hail in May when I was a kid. So with that as background chaos, what have we been working on recently? What’s been going on?

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:50] Well? I mean, you you always have a bunch of side projects. All of my side projects end up in, like, you know, handwritten notebooks and I start side projects. But then I kind of never take them anywhere or work.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:05] You have hobbies which are and like interests which are not on screens. So like mountain biking, for example, or doing things notebooks or, or whatever, crafty things. Whereas all of mine seem to be on screen. So the two that I’ll put in the, in the show notes are extension, FYI, which is me going and having a look at the news every day about why the planet’s going to end and we’re all going to die and sharing that for the world to see. And the second one is Privacy Garden, which is kind of the opposite of that technologically. Instead of me going in and having to update stuff. Privacy Garden automatically takes things from RSS feeds and then puts them all together like smushes them together into one particular site.

Laura Hilliger: [00:03:52] So how are you? How are you? See, because I thought Extinction.FYI, was actually also doing RSS feeds from somewhere. No, no, no. You’re doing that manually.

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:05] So let me just geek out very quickly on that. Right. So much as I don’t like Microsoft and I don’t like the fact that Microsoft has bought GitHub. Github is great for just being able to publish sites really quickly from a from a repository. So I had this idea, you know, one of those shower thoughts and I was like, hang on a minute, I know the year is 2021, but wouldn’t it be cool if a website was actually also an RSS feed? Like the website is just a nicely styled RSS feed like it used to be back in the day on Firefox and stuff. So that took me down a rabbit hole of stuff that I really did not understand when I went into it, and I still only kind of understand now, but it works. So basically what I’ve done is I’ve created an XML file and I’ve styled it and every day or most days I go in and look at the news. It’s a good opportunity for me to go and have a look at the news and I pick things. And the strapline of the site is documenting kind of the human response to the climate emergency. So what I’m trying to show is that we’re not really doing enough. And so I’m picking things that show that I’m not picking the most optimistic things. I am picking quite pessimistic stuff. And the really interesting thing is it’s kind of starting a dialogue with neighbours, with my mother, that kind of thing. So yeah, it’s kind of a an excuse to go and have a look at the news and share stuff with other people.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:24] But when you say we’re not doing enough, do you want to clarify what do you what do you mean by we?

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:32] Society. Society. Right. So that’s why I wanted you to do stuff but doesn’t make very much difference. And like individual recycling, for example, makes you feel good but makes no difference to the world. You could say the same about voting, but it’s a different kind of level of thing anyway. So what? The point I’m making is that there’s all of this rhetoric at the moment about net zero, but if you look at the graphs about where net zero will get us, it’ll be like half a degree of cooling when we need like two and a half degrees. And so it’s not enough. And so, yeah, I just want to be part of people who are pointing out that this isn’t enough. I am not the kind of person who’s going to go and chain myself to railings and sit in the street in front of cars with placards and stuff. But I will do some stuff to be part of a movement to say, we’re not really doing what we should be doing here.

Laura Hilliger: [00:06:24] Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think that the point that I wanted to get across is that like the, the idea that individuals can change what is going on from a society level perspective in terms of climate change is something that has been force fed to us over the last 50 years, starting in the fossil fuel industry, oil companies. It is a narrative that we have any sort of power or responsibility. And I think I mean, I believe in individual action. I’ve said that for years. And, you know, I think that what we do matters. But more and more and looking at the climate emergency, I’m really kind of you know, I’m getting tired of feeling like what I do is not enough. And I think collectively what we do is not enough. But I think there’s there’s just like a little inflection. Will understanding that I think needs to go into it so that I don’t feel, I don’t know, shame, guilt, you know, these kinds of things, because I think that if the masses are feeling ashamed and guilty, then actually the onus on what we should be doing about climate change is in the real place. Sorry, the wrong place, right. Like we as individuals should not be feeling guilty about climate change. We should be putting pressure on the structures of society that can actually do something about it, and that is government’s fossil fuel industry. Other industries that are very dirty, like, you know, the tech industry, you know, all of our devices have all of this like chemicals and minerals and stuff that are, you know, completely raping the planet in order to be able to get bromine and destroying, you know, like entire societies in Africa. And I think the scale of the the problem is something that it would be helpful if people could actually make that intellectual leap from, you know, from oh, yeah, yeah. It’s so big. You know.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:12] The the problem is we don’t have strong unions and places for collective action Anyway, before this terms turns into a climate change podcast, I will just point people towards a book and I’ve forgotten the author’s names, the two French guys, and it was translated. It’s the books from about 2015. Um, but it’s called How Everything Can Collapse. And I finished it whilst watching my daughter play football last night and it’s great. And the reason I’m mentioning it is because right at the end it has all of the data but also has it’s not just data and really hard facts. It’s like how people feel about it. Societal stuff. Anyway, right at the end of this book, it talks about the way that people react when they find out about the scale of the emergency and about the fact that we can’t really solve this. And they talk about the difference between French words and English words. And in English we have the word predicament and the word predicament suggests that you can’t fix it. You can just manage the problem in some way. And they say that’s a really good word to use for for climate change and the climate emergency because there’s no way which we can really stop all of this happening. We can just manage it in different ways. And so they talk about the ways that people respond to it. So without belabouring the point, like there’s people who are just hedonists who say, well, we might as well just enjoy it while we can. Let’s just, you know, burn through everything. There’s people who are like, Right. And this was my initial reaction when I found out about the scale of stuff. I’m going to go and buy like a farmhouse in the country and I’m going to escape all of this. So quite a survivalist kind of thing. Then there’s other people who focus on like mutual aid and whatever. And the point they’re trying to make is that people will instinctively go into one of those modes. But actually we need a mixture of those modes in some way.

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:03] Yeah, we’ve I mean, that’s a that’s like a good segue to get away from climate and talk about how mixture of people is really important in other places. But we’ve, I mean we’ve kind of talked about that before how once you sort of understand how a particular person is reacting to a particular impulse, it makes it a lot easier to, you know, basically make sure that the people that you work with or the people that you’re talking to can actually contribute their kind of their best, their best, because they’re they’re not being forced into sort of the like, intellectual frameworks of other people. So you and I have had this problem, right? Like our brains, they take a little bit differently sometimes. But the more that we work together, the longer that we work together, the more we understand where each other is coming from. And so the easier it is for me to to like, the better I know you. It’s the easier it is for me to make sure that I’m thinking about your response to particular impulses. Anyway, that was a little bit of.

Doug Belshaw: [00:11:05] An aside just to to link because I think we’re going to talk about the work that we’ve been doing recently. But just to link those things together, I think in the last episode, although it’s a while since we recorded it, we were talking about collectivism and sociocracy and that kind of thing, and sociocracy and proposals and consent based decision making has made a big difference to our co-op. So our co-op had some issues last year and I’m not going to go into to all of that. Two members have left, etcetera. But us now having methods for getting consent from other people is such a valuable thing to do. And even small things, big, big changes to the co-op, tiny little things can all go through a process which can work really quickly because we know how to do it and that kind of thing. When people say, Well, don’t we just need someone to come along and take charge and be in control? No, actually we need the opposite of that. We need people working together and knowing how to make decisions together and working in solidarity with each other. So yeah, let’s, let’s link back to, to all of that sociocracy stuff. I’ll make a note of that. But anyway, during the pandemic, we’ve been doing a lot of work with charities and I thought it might be worth or we thought it might be worth talking about some of that because we’ve, we’ve been blogging about it and been sharing the work that we’ve been done. Do you want to go first?

Laura Hilliger: [00:12:23] Yeah. I mean, I said at the beginning of this episode that we kind of went on hiatus from our own podcast, that we wanted to get started, and that was that really had to do with a particular project through a network that’s called Catalyst. And the co-op has done a number of different contracts and jobs with with this network. It’s a funding network and worked with tons and tons of charities. I think there’s 106 charities that are involved in the various projects that Catalyst is stewarding. And then we, along with a bunch of other sort of digital agencies and folks working in between the charity sector and the technology sector, we have been running cohorts of charities through various kinds of programs. So I was leading one called the Catalyst Definition Project, which came off the back of something called the Discovery Project. And essentially what it is, is a bunch of charities who are kind of going through digital transformation and we are helping them do that. So figuring out what are the problems that they’re dealing with because they are now being forced to be online, how can we help them solve some of those problems? And along the way, learning the skills and competencies required for remote work in the 21st century. And and so the reason that we kind of took a break from the podcast was just because that is a big, exciting and a lot of work, like a lot of coordination and preparation.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:52] There were ten different charities doing ten different things.

Laura Hilliger: [00:13:54] Exactly. Yeah. So we were managing ten different charities with ten different target audiences, ten different staff sizes, ten different degrees of digital readiness, different skill sets. And and we only had ten weeks actually with the ten charities and it wasn’t like one charity a week. It was all ten for ten weeks. And so we we’ve been working on that for what that was like the last three months or so.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:21] It might be worth. So we end up buying them. Well, the discovery cohort we had, we ended up buying them a book at the end of that to kind of go away and, and read and kind of digest and stuff. And we ended up buying the same book for the definition projects as well. I’ll just put the link in the show notes, but do you want to just mention what that is while I’m typing?

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:43] Yeah. Do I remember the name of it? No, you don’t. Sorry. Value proposition.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:47] It’s value proposition design by.

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:49] I remember the name of it. Yeah. Value proposition design. It’s a, it’s a beautifully designed book and it puts it has a lot of different methodologies for user centric design and also participatory methodologies to help people get their team thinking about the actual problem that a you know that an organisation is having or that a team is having that a project is having. And, and yeah, I mean, Doug, you actually sent me this book after the, the Discovery program that we ran last year with a different ten charities And I, yeah, I mean it’s, it’s really become kind of the, you know the the Bible of user centric design for me too.

Doug Belshaw: [00:15:33] I mean it’s a few years old and Strategizer have this this website where you can go and do the interactive version and stuff. Um, but the reason why it’s so useful is that it’s, it’s user centred design and you might be listening to this podcast and thinking, oh well, don’t do product design and stuff, but you might work in education, in which case your users are students you might work in, I don’t know, health care, in which case your, your users are patients. Yeah. Whatever kind of industry you’re in, you you’re. Job is to serve a particular audience. And so putting them first and designing things with them in mind and also asking them what they want is a really useful thing to do. And in fact, my wife, Hannah, who’s been working with the co-op since we began, pretty much has switched careers from being the kind of person who works as end users, being students, i.e. a teacher, to being a UX designer and user researcher. And she’s kind of moving into kind of government and NHS kind of stuff at the moment, which is, which is interesting. It’s just kind of a different way of serving users.

Laura Hilliger: [00:16:41] Why don’t you, um, why don’t you talk a little bit about the Catalyst sector challenge? Because that’s kind of how I mean, do you feel like that was the project that sort of pushed Hannah in that direction? Because I know she was sort of she started studying UX actually last year, I believe. Yeah. And the more catalyst work that we’ve done, the more she’s kind of been, you know, learning about UX and helping people do user research. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:17:08] Yeah. Um, yeah. So Hannah was one of two UX designers and user researchers on that project. So this one, without going around the houses too much, if you’re interested, you can go and read this. I’ll put the link in the show notes. This was a sector challenge. This was something new for Catalyst. Basically, they got a number of charities together and tried to co-design a solution to a particular problem. So in the UK we have something called universal credit. So this is not universal basic income. It’s it’s quite far away from that. Universal Credit is trying to take all different benefits payments and kind of, I don’t know, megazord them together in some suboptimal way. And lo and behold, the government don’t really want lots of people applying for this. And so in different ways they’ve made it quite difficult. And during the pandemic, more people needed to get universal credit. So long story short, it was at the start of when the project was announced. The data we had was that about 25% of people who were due or were eligible for Universal Credit weren’t getting through the application process online. But by the time we actually start the project, it was about 33%. So a third of people who should be getting this credit so they can live weren’t getting it. And so we worked with a number of charities and the idea was to prototype different solutions. Interestingly, other people, other digital teams were working with other charities to kind of solve other problems. And when we all came together at the end of the project, we got a little bit of extension funding, which is just finishing now.

Doug Belshaw: [00:18:38] When we came together, what we found was that the people who had focussed really on relationships during the 11 week project, so that all of the charities and all of the project teams got on really well and whatever. And ironically they didn’t produce anything. Like there was nothing left, there was no prototypes at the end. Whereas we who, you know, you know, there’s that approach which is, um, forming, storming, norming and performing, that kind of thing. We had a really stormy phase during our during our project, but actually we are the ones who produced the most amount of stuff. We actually produced three prototypes and the Department of Work and Pensions, the DWP have picked up on the work that we’ve done and want to put that in our backlog. We got some extension funding and we’ve produced stuff that people are actually using now in their charities, which is really valuable. So the first one was an overview of the process which Hannah designed. The second one was like a checklist which of an Italian designer who worked with on Moodle net designed, and the third one which I primarily worked on. What we found was that usually an adviser would be able to go and sit down next to someone who was trying to claim universal credit to talk them through it. But in a pandemic you can’t do that. And screen sharing was really problematic. So we did a review of screen sharing apps and ones which are easy to use and privacy respecting, and we create the document and that’s now being used by some charities, which is which is fantastic. Cool.

Laura Hilliger: [00:20:13] Yeah. So we’ll we’ll what’s that link that you’re including is that like the the summary of the whole project or.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:20] Yeah. So there’s a medium publication which has all of the posts and the most recent one which I published yesterday is an overview of the entire project. So it’s got the GitHub repositories, it’s got all the Figma files it’s got, they’re all openly licensed and you can pick them up and, and use them for whatever people want to use them for. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:20:39] Yeah. I mean. That’s been both of those projects have been keeping us busy. But I think that I really like the catalyst work. Like, I really enjoy working with small charities. I enjoy working with big charities too. Of course, I’ve been working with Greenpeace for over five years at this point and before that Mozilla. So, you know, I guess I like that that sector. But something about the catalyst work like I feel like you know with some of the definition charities, we had a really big impact just simply by sort of modelling some of the behaviours and you know, and even just playing around with really fun tools like browser tools and stuff like that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:19] What I really appreciate about the Catalyst work and this is going to sound a little bit well, I’m just going to say it because I don’t I don’t know a way of saying this in a in a way that doesn’t sound like this, but like they each individual charity wouldn’t have been able to afford us. Yeah. Whereas if it’s funded by Catalyst and they’re working together, they can. So they’re actually getting a level of digital expertise that they wouldn’t usually get. You see what I’m saying? So I think they particularly appreciated that and we appreciated the doing, doing different things like the change of pace. The and I’m not saying that it was a slower pace because it was definitely.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:57] Wasn’t was not slower. Yeah no it’s yeah I mean I think it’s okay to say that we have to charge for our work. Like, I mean, you know, it’s not like the co-op is, you know, rolling in money or anything. We, you know, we are working people. We have I mean, at the end of the day, we work a actually pretty low salary for what it is that we do and how long that we’ve been doing it because we don’t work in corporate, you know, corporate tech. Um, yeah. And I think that’s okay to say that, you know, charities wouldn’t have been able to afford us otherwise. And, you know, frankly, like we have, we use a sliding scale. I think the way we do pricing is really actually very fair. Um, I don’t know. I don’t know. I always feel weird when we start talking about money.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:44] We have turned five recently as a co-op. On the one hand it seems like we only started two seconds ago. On the other hand, it feels like we’ve been around forever. Um, so there’s a blog post again on our, on our, on our blog about turning five and the roller coaster that’s been and also we’ve redesigned our website and as anyone who’s ever redesigned as not just designed but like redesigned a website knows these are the kinds of things that you think, well how hard can it be? It’s about 6 or 7 pages, but oh, my days.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:15] Oh my days a website redesign project. Like basically we didn’t update our website for. A year. I don’t know. Really. Quite a long time. I mean, it was part of it was the tech. But it’s also because I don’t know if you find this about your own, like Doug Belshaw kind of work, but Laura Hilliger kind of work that is not attached to a client, not attached to the co-op always takes a back seat, you know, like my books and the random kind of I consider writing work in some form or fashion because if you’re going to sit down and write a whole entire book, you know, it takes time and commitment. Um, and that that kind of work takes a back seat to co-op work or to client work. And I feel like the website is the Laura Hilliger work of the co-op or marketing in general.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:06] Absolutely. Absolutely.

Laura Hilliger: [00:24:08] It’s just not we do not prioritise, you know, selling ourselves because.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:13] Well, it was getting to the stage where I didn’t really want to link to our old website because I didn’t feel like it represented us well enough. Whereas the new one, um, I think previously last year we were being pushed in more of a corporate direction. Now it’s very fun and colourful and feels a bit more like what we, what we actually do, you know. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:24:36] Yeah. So and of course.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:38] A little bit haven’t we.

Laura Hilliger: [00:24:39] Yeah. And I don’t actually remember what we put, we, we went around in circles about the strap line as well because you know five years ago when we um, when we started the co-op and I mean all of us had, were pretty fresh coming from Mozilla. So three of the four founders of We are Open co-op all worked together at the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla is very big in the open source community. And you know, we we were really aware of how the behaviours, attitudes and culture of open source is different from typical, you know, corporate America kind of well, corporate corporate Europe, corporate Western, affluent countries. And and so we had a strap line that that was really about bringing open principles into other industries and organisations. And we sort.

Doug Belshaw: [00:25:30] Of we still do, right? But we’re not just all about that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:25:32] Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s a big thing is that that’s not the only thing we do. I think, you know, that we, we have a image on the front page of our new website that’s untangling spaghetti with a beautiful picture from Mr. Brian Mathers. And I think I think a lot of what we do is make sense out of complex problems. And so I think we added that as our strapline.

Doug Belshaw: [00:25:55] Yeah. And I remember at one point we were doing some work with a kind of a blockchain Start-Up Near and Grace from there said something about us being sense makers. And I think at that point it kind of clicked because when other people describe you or your organisation in a certain way, it helps you figure out what it is that you do, because we do all different kinds of stuff. Yeah. Anyway, um, if you’re interested in that and listening to this, go and have a look at what we’ve been doing.

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:24] Have you gotten any feedback from anybody about our new website outside of the Co-op?

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:29] Oh, Stella from the Inter-American Development Bank, who did some badges work with a couple of years ago in Washington, DC. She said it looked very pretty.

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:38] Oh, nice. Yes. Yeah, because I included it in our newsletter and have like, I want some feedback. I would love to know what people think and maybe we should actually go and ask for it because as we know, people are much more likely to give feedback if you specifically ask. And I think, you know, I’ve always kind of put it as like, you know, here at the bottom of the newsletter, kind of, Hey, what do you think of the new website? But I would love to do some quote unquote user testing of our website and see how people are responding.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:07] Given that Hannah does use testing and user research. Now, we should probably get to some.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:11] We should ask Hannah to do that for us. Yeah. Hannah, are you listening to this podcast? Do you think anybody ever listened.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:18] To this podcast? She never used to listen to Tide Today in Digital Education, which was the podcast I did until a couple of years ago. She never used to listen to that. So no, I’ll go and have to go and literally ask her, Well, maybe. Anyway, let’s move on. So that’s been the work that we’ve been doing and the side projects and stuff, and that’s taken a good 27 minutes of our time so far. Um, let’s move on to stuff that we’ve found which is interesting or cool. You got an email the other day about Nfts. What on earth is an NFT?

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:45] Uh, yeah. I mean, you know, we have been paying a bit of attention to the explosion in Non-fungible tokens, which are essentially they are marks on the blockchain saying that you own something like a certificate. I think that a really good metaphor is if you buy a piece of art, you know, having a certificate that says that that art is original piece of art, it’s kind of like an NFT. But the big difference is, is that while art has a physical object attached to it, an NFT can be of a digital object or of a URL that is. To a digital object. There doesn’t necessarily have to be something attached to it that is in any way tangible. And it is a very interesting sort of explosion happening. And there are a couple of different sides to the debate. One one piece of one piece of the puzzle is that blockchain is actually quite hard, not blockchain. Certain blockchains are actually quite hard on the environment. There’s a lot of carbon exhaust coming out every time there’s a transaction that’s encoded into the blockchain, and that’s whether it’s an NFT or a cryptocurrency or a smart contract or whatever it is, because blockchain just requires some blockchains require quite a quite a bit of computing power.

Laura Hilliger: [00:29:05] And so that’s one side of it. But there’s also I got an email, um, looking at Nfts and looking at I found a marketplace or the person pointed me to a marketplace that is supposed to be a more carbon neutral than most of the other blockchains. And I don’t know, I haven’t done research, but I can include a link to this kind of punk rock nft marketplace. Um, yeah, I don’t know. I’m honestly, I don’t really know or understand a lot of what’s going on in that space, but I find it fascinating how much debate there is around the blockchain. And I have always said for years I have talked about the blockchain as a solution to a problem nobody had. And you know, the more I learn about it, the more I actually want to have an intellectual conversation. But since we’re at 29 minutes, I’m wondering maybe we should not start debating it just yet. What do you think?

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:04] I was just I was I was muted because I was trying to find something there. The guy called Jonathan Poet, who’s kind of part of the community and whatever. He’s got a website called Blockchain Fairydust or something like that, which is making the exact point that you just said, which is, you know, like blockchain is a pretty boring solution to a problem that not many people have. And if there wasn’t kind of money attached to it or pretend money, then no one would care. I say this slightly hypocritically as somebody who does actually hold cryptocurrency and who does enjoy kind of speculating a little bit, but I do make sure that it’s all proof of stake rather than proof of work. So it’s not killing the planet. I think I read something about one Bitcoin transaction using the same amount of carbon as like a hundred thousand visa transactions or something crazy like that. It’s insane. Yeah. But yeah, this, this particular one looks interesting. I don’t know. I have no desire to buy an NFT in any shape or form.

Laura Hilliger: [00:31:12] Yeah, I know. I I’m really struggling to understand why any like, why there is this interest in nfts to the point that it’s creating a marketplace. And and I think, I don’t know Nfts I’m not sure that they’re great for creative people. Um, I, you know, I can see that creative people might be trying to use them to sort of capitalise off of some of their creations, but I’m not sure that it’s actually going to bring about what people want it to bring about. And I feel the same way about cryptocurrency, right? Like. I mean.

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:48] Again, I feel slightly hypocritical in that there is a there’s a platform called valuables, and I’ll stick the link in the I’ll stick the link in the in the show notes. And this allows you to, to sell your tweets. And I thought would be hilarious for me to sell my tweets because I have them set to auto delete after every three months. Um so what you can do is you can sign like you can say, okay, here’s one of my tweets. I am cryptographically signing this and I’m putting it up for sale so someone can buy one of your tweets. You know, if it was a particularly famous one or whatever, like no one would really particularly want to buy mine. But I thought it would be particularly ironic given that it’ll disappear in in three months anyway. So yeah, I don’t understand nfts either, other than I think it’s a way that people are it. I see it as a form of DRM, like digital rights management for art, which is kind of problematic. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:32:47] Yeah. Agreed.

Doug Belshaw: [00:32:49] Anyway, while we’re talking about Twitter this morning, literally this morning I wrote a blog post kind of in response to a guy called Aral Balkan. Have you come across a Royal Balkan before? No. So I spoke at one of Orwell’s events, the Indie Tech Summit, when I was still at Mozilla, and he’s the kind of guy who is against. He’s got this kind of small technology collective. Um, he’s, he talks about people like Facebook who people farm, you know, they’re trying to make money from, you know, farming people, as it were. Anyway, he is still on Twitter but is finding he’s got a post called the Hell site and talks about how it’s just descended into a version of Twitter, which is very far away from 2006, 2007. And the particular point he makes is about the algorithmic feed. And it reminded me of a blog post I wrote almost seven years ago now called Curate or Be Curated. And it was when that algorithmic feed was being mooted. So when we join Twitter, Laura. If you followed someone, the most recent tweets from someone would be at the top of your timeline. But that’s not the case anymore. And so if you want to get back to some kind of control and don’t just want Twitter to show you what it wants to show you, there’s kind of three things you can do. The first one is Twitter does allow you to switch back to the latest tweets, which is good. But it will sneakily change the algorithmically algorithmic one when you’re not looking. Yes.

Laura Hilliger: [00:34:23] Yes. They switch it back because I do it all the time. I’m always like, What is this? I don’t want to see two day old tweets. I want to see the most recent and I know this person is tweeting and then I change it and then I get very annoyed. I you know, I’ve really in the past couple of years, stopped using Twitter like I just don’t bother anymore. I schedule some tweets every once in a while, but I am very annoyed with the interface. Okay. Sorry to interrupt. Go on.

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:50] No, no. All good. The second one is you can use TweetDeck. So kind of prior to 2009 ten, there was this like wonderful blossoming of third party Twitter clients, and people used all different kinds of ones. Then Twitter kind of regained control of its ecosystem through API controls and stuff. Anyway, they bought TweetDeck, which was one of the most popular ones and you can access that TweetDeck dot, and it’s got that kind of multiple columns. And it’s not just that that’s useful because if you just use TweetDeck and you’re following lots of people, you’re following column just goes tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, like go like goes really, really quickly. So what you can do is you can create Twitter lists which I’ll link to in the post, and then you can say, okay, these are the people I want to make sure that I don’t miss their tweets. And so you can do that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:35:39] So that’s that’s what I’ve been doing for, I don’t know, five years or so. I’ve been using TweetDeck a while since it was different than it is now. And I have a I have a list that I call. I have one list which is maybe not super sophisticated. I follow a lot of people, but I have one list and that list is mostly all it is all people that I know. Like personally, professionally, you know who I who I respect, who I’ve worked with, people who I you know, people at Mozilla that I used to work with that I just kind of want to know what are they up to now? What are they thinking about? And it’s a relatively small list. I mean, it’s probably 100, maybe 200 people on that list.

Doug Belshaw: [00:36:26] So I’ve got something similar which I call core for some reason on that screenshot. I’m the Times Higher education supplement is part of that. I don’t know why. Anyway, that would be the one I pay most attention to. And then the third thing you can do, which you can also do on Mastodon and I don’t know whether it was a thing which first was first on Twitter or first on Mastodon, but if you go to someone’s profile and I’ve done this for all the members of the co-op and on this one, I’m showing Patrick from Patrick Tangwai, who has a series of different newsletters which are awesome. One is called Centres, and you can just click a little kind of bell button. And I don’t think the UI of this or the UX is particularly great, but basically if Patrick then tweets, I get a notification in my notifications feed so that, you know, that’s maybe if you’ve got 5 or 10 people that you definitely don’t want to miss any of their tweets, then you can you can kind of do that. And it’s just a bit of a shame that we have to wrestle with Twitter a little bit to to not have be controlled by algorithms. And I can see why they do it because it makes sense for increasing shareholder value. It’s just not necessarily great for users.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:40] Or maybe we’re just not typical users because it’s kind of like the same. I mean, you know, they must be doing user research, right? It’s Twitter. Like, you can’t imagine that Twitter is like implementing new features and functions without actually talking to quite a lot of users. And maybe we’re just, you know, we’re just not the right people to be using those big corporate tech platforms.

Doug Belshaw: [00:38:04] Well, I wasn’t going to put this link in, actually, so I’m going to. But I’m going to put it in now and I know that you want to read it and I’ve only really scanned it. But this one here, which I’m sticking into the show notes. Now, this one, the title of it is it’s by someone called Andalo Acordado. I’ve heard of before. But basically they’re saying that autism is a disorder only because the world is neurotypical. And you and I have talked about this a lot before, about, you know, the way that our brains work and all that kind of stuff. I think it was prompted by Elon Musk going on Saturday Night Live last week and saying that he was Asperger’s or is Asperger’s. Yeah. Mhm. Um, and the way that we can feel that things aren’t made for us is because the world has a view of normal that can be problematic. Um. And that can be on a massive scale. Like you feel like you don’t fit into society or social media or whatever. Or it can be like this morning when I told my son not to walk out of the door of our house eating just lettuce and walking down the street eating lettuce, because that’s a weird thing to do. And he was like, How is it weird? Did he have, like.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:24] Cheese wrapped in.

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:25] It? People seeing you and stuff.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:27] Was it but was it just lettuce or did he have, like, cheese?

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:30] He’d made his packed lunch, which is a good thing because he’s 14. Right? But he had some lettuce left and he was just literally nibbling lettuce as he was walking out the door. I was like. That isn’t the best. Look, just saying.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:43] I love that I have been like, all right, you go with your lettuce. Go on, Ben. Why not?

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:51] Right? Anyway, so don’t. That was a bit of a random aside, but the point I’m trying.

Laura Hilliger: [00:39:54] To make, I don’t even know. The point I’m.

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:57] Trying to make is you said maybe we’re atypical users of social media. And what I’m saying is maybe everyone’s an atypical user because there is no typical user. And what we’re trying to do is and this could end up being a kind of anti-capitalist rant, but I’ll try not to make it, is that there’s a certain logic in society, especially at the moment, which forces people to only show one facet of who they are. So.

Laura Hilliger: [00:40:28] So what do you think? Shall we talk a little bit about that link you’ve got? Why the most intelligent people love spending time alone. Because you put it in this section and now we’re talking about what it means to be atypical and that the fact that the world is actually built for something that might not even exist, which is a very strange concept to consider. I have not read this. This.

Doug Belshaw: [00:40:54] No. Well, basically all it is, is that they did some some research on people who are between 18 and 28 years old, and they found that for most people, the more they socialise, the happier they were. More times they spend time with other people. But in in that kind of sample of people aged 18 to 28, those who were who scored as being highly intelligent, the more they socialised, the less happy they were. And so they had two explanations for this. The first one was kind of an evolutionary perspective. Another one was aspirational. So the evolutionary one was and I’ll just read this bit, it says, Greater intelligence led smart people more easily adapt to a modern world where the benefits of staying in close contact with a social group for food, shelter, protection, etcetera are no longer as important. So basically, I don’t need to be in close contact with loads of people to survive, so I’m not going to do it. And the second one was aspirational. So again, quoting it says, The smarter you are, the more focussed you’ll be on longer term goals, which means spending time with friends can be distracting instead of helpful. Yeah. So what do you think about that?

Laura Hilliger: [00:42:07] Um, I think that if you would have told me that in 2019, I would probably have a very different opinion than I do now. But at the moment, after having been alone for a year, I find that I am not really craving alone time. Maybe I’m not, you know, maybe I’m not intelligent enough or something That is not actually. No, no. I just I just think that I think at the at I find that to be quite an interesting, um. Study. But I really I don’t know. I guess I question the, the context of. Of who they asked. How many people did you say it was?

Doug Belshaw: [00:42:51] They didn’t say how many people in that particular article. They just said it was a number of people between 18 and 28. And. The and I find it interesting that it wasn’t based on like, are you introvert? Are you extrovert? Yeah, but based on kind of intelligence. However, they’re measuring that and maybe I need to go and look at the original data. But yeah, I thought it was interesting given the pandemic and given we’ve been having to spend more time alone, although what counts as alone I found really interesting. So right now I am sitting by myself in my home office talking to you, and so I am physically alone, but I don’t feel alone because I’m talking to you. Um. And then in the evening, after spending all day, sometimes in Zoom meetings and in here doing work on whatever, I actually want to go and spend time by myself. And my wife would be like, But you’ve spent all day by yourself. I’m like, No, I haven’t. I haven’t been spending all day by myself. I’ve been working and I’ve been talking to people. I now need to go and be properly by myself, which is it feels weird as I’m saying it, but it nevertheless feels like an important thing for me to do.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:04] No, I feel I feel exactly the same at the end of the day. Like after a day of work meetings, zoom calls, emailing, interacting. It’s interaction really. And then I feel the exact same way. Like just I just want to go in the garden and stare at the leaves, go on a walk, something, something that’s I think that’s part of the reason why a lot of my hobbies are disconnected from the screen because writing in a journal feels more alone than writing a thing that I’m going to post on the internet. Um, which is not to say that I should not post some of that stuff because you know what?

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:42] I don’t even for me, I don’t even think it’s necessarily an intelligence thing. I think it’s more, you know, I once heard someone describe being an introvert as being like, there’s enough conversation and stuff going on in your own head that you don’t need the conversation and stuff going on from like other people. And like for me, just figuring out what I think about stuff or like what, you know what, what’s going on or trying to make sense of the world takes enough of my brain power. Yeah. Um, that. Yeah, that’s. That’s enough.

Laura Hilliger: [00:45:12] Do you consider yourself an introvert?

Doug Belshaw: [00:45:15] No, like I quite like that term ambivert so I can get on stage and present to a thousand people. Like, no, you can. But then afterwards I have to go back to my hotel room and walk myself backwards and forwards. I couldn’t. I find it really difficult when you go to a conference and you have to, like you present people come and talk to you afterwards and then you have to go to the drinks reception. That’s like too much for me. But I can do I can do each one of those things separately. Um, but I really enjoy, I don’t like, enjoy spending too much time by myself, but I enjoy spending enough time by myself. So somewhere in the middle. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:45:53] Yeah, I’m exactly the same. Everybody thinks that I’m just a total extrovert because I’m when I am with people, I’m quite, you know, loud and take control of a room or whatever, which is, you know, gets me in trouble sometimes. But it’s, yeah, it’s, um, definitely has, has a counterpart that involves being alone and finding that balance again. And conferences are, although I do miss being at conferences at the moment.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:21] Me too.

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:22] Yeah, haven’t been anywhere in a long time. And I think that, you know, part of the reason that I feel exhausted from the pandemic is quite simply because I have not had enough social interaction in like in real life and not been able to extrovert really enough, but yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:38] No, I agree and the thing I really miss is being part of a, and I’d never thought I’d say this being part, part of a crowd that’s experiencing something together. Yeah. Like football match or whatever it is.

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:48] Concerts.

Doug Belshaw: [00:46:49] I got a notification on my Google photos thing that two years ago this week I was in Lisbon at the Creative Commons conference, which was a conference I loved. I really enjoyed being there. Lisbon was amazing, etcetera. And all the stuff that’s happened since then, it seems like a different world. A different time.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:04] Yeah, it really does.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:06] Okay. We’re currently at about 46 minutes. Yeah. So there’s a quotation here which I thought might be a nice thing to share. Do we want to go into our stuff on in the vaccine and the different toys that we bought or do you want to save that for next time?

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:20] I think we should save it to next time and um, we can. I think that we need to get ourselves into a habit because it’ll get easier and better. And, you know, maybe there’s an audience somewhere out there that wants to listen to us chat about things. I enjoyed the conversation. I think we should end on a high note. I like this quotation of the week.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:40] Do you want to read it out?

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:41] Where did you find it? Did you just mute yourself.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:44] On Mastodon, actually?

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:47] Okay.

Doug Belshaw: [00:47:49] And the reason I’m hesitating is I’m never sure how to pronounce this person’s surname.

Laura Hilliger: [00:47:56] Uh, well, we will put it in the show notes. The quotation is creativity is part of human nature. It can only be untaught, and I am quite sure that I will butcher the name. However, it says AI Weiwei. I’m not sure if I pronounce that correctly. I apologise if I did not.

Doug Belshaw: [00:48:19] So this person is an artist and an activist. And I remember when I was in Amsterdam for the kind of Light festival in December about four years ago, he’d put an installation which was just a red line. It was lit red line that went all the way around Amsterdam and it was kind of supposed to represent and I’m going to forget. But something to do with survivors of abuse or something like that. So kind of thought provoking installations. But I really liked the idea that creativity can only be untaught and that’s part of human nature. I think that’s a that’s a kind of a fundamental insight. So I’m really glad that this this podcast is going to be more conversational and less kind of thematic. I think that suits us better. If you’ve got this far in the podcast, then please let us know what you think. If you’ve got any suggestions about how we could structure it differently or what you found interesting, let us know. But on that bombshell, maybe let’s just end here!

Laura Hilliger: [00:49:19] Yeah!