Category Archives: Writing

Schoonheid en Troost…

Deze week deelgenomen aan een schrijfweek in Het Beauforthuis in Austerlitz en daar in een groep van 10 mensen in de Boskamer aan een schrijftafel zitten mijmeren en schrijven over Schoonheid en Troost.  Dit leken me interessante begrippen om eens verder ut te diepen in mijn Queeste naar De Waarheid en De Zin van het Bestaan. Uitgangspunt van de cursus was een serie interviews door Wim Kayzer voor de VPRO televisie met schrijvers, wetenschappers, filosofen, beeldend kunstenaars en musici over de kernvraag ‘Wat het bestaan de moeite waard maakt (of niet…)’. Op basis van deze interview is een boek verschenen en de interviews zijn te downloaden op de site van de VPRO.

Schoonheid en Troost zijn mooie begrippen waar veel over te zeggen valt maar zo gauw je het over de onderlinge samenhang hebt kom je volgens mij in de gevarenzone, dat bleek ook tijdens de schrijfsessies deze week. Als je een verschillende lading geeft aan deze begrippen gaat het praten over de onderlinge samenhang snel mis. Dat is dan ook een van de grootste problemen van de Geestwetenschappen: ze bijven vaak steken in de fase van de begripsdefinitie en als je het daar met elkaar niet over eens kunt worden is het verder uitbouwen van een verklaringsmodel heel moeilijk, zo niet onmogelijk. Ik heb zelf Sociologie gestudeerd en weet hoe moeilijk is met het sociologische begrippenapparaat achteraf zaken te verklaren laat staan een blik in de toekomst te werpen en voorspellingen te doen.

Toch hierbij een bescheiden poging van mij kant iets over Schoonheid en Troost te zeggen na daar een paar dagen mee bezig te zijn geweest en ook met anderen daarover gesproken te hebben. Volgens mij zit ‘het gevoel van’ Schoonheid tussen de oren en is het iets subjectiefs en wordt Schoonheid door iedereen anders ervaren. Lees je een tekst dan krijgt iedereen daar zijn eigen associaties bij, hoor je muziek dan raakt de een in vervoering terwijl het de ander juist getroost wordt en een weer iemand anders niet kan wachten tot het afgelopen is, zie je de zon opgaan dan vind jij dat mooi terwijl de ander zit te verlangen naar een stevige regenbui.

Als ik aan schoonheid denk denk ik in eerste instantie aan kunst omdat dat iets is waar ik zelf in geïnteresseerd ben maar dat hoeft niet voor iedereen zo te zijn. Schoonheid kan ook ervaren worden in de natuur of de blik in iemands ogen, dat is individueel bepaald. En Kunst en Schoonheid vallen ook niet altijd samen omdat de kunstenaar los wil komen van wat was en iets nieuws wil creëren, een kunstenaar loopt vaak vooruit en verkent onbekende wegen en probeert dit voor ons vast te leggen en niet altijd met de bedoeling Schoonheid te creëren: kunst kan ook schokkerend zijn, opzettelijk lelijk en bedoeld om heilige huisjes omver te werpen. Van Gogh heeft de aardappeleters echt niet geschilderd omdat hij iets moois wou maken, hij wilde de harde werkelijkheid van arme mensen vastleggen en deed dit met harde lijnen. Zijn doelstelling was volgens mij eerder sociaal dan ingegeven door een verlangen schoonheid te creëren. Toch vinden velen dit nu mooi en ervaren ze de Schoonheid van dit schilderij.

Waar bij mij de Schoonheid in  eerste instantie gekoppeld wordt aan de kunst bleek dat afgelopen week bij veel van mijn medecursisten niet het geval te zijn. Kunst kwam alleen zijdelings aan de orde terwijl de Liefde, de Natuur, Geluk en Troost wel uitgebreid aan de orde kwamen. De vraag welk kunstwerk vind je mooi is dan ook de afgelopen dagen niet aan de orde gekomen terwijl vorig jaar tijdens de schrijfcursus van Wim Brandt die vraag door hem wel gesteld werd, ik heb daar toen onderstaand stukje over geschreven. Ongetwijfeld zal Wim Kaizer daar in de interviews met de kunstenaars wel over gesproken hebben maar de afgelopen dagen kwam dat niet aan de orde, dat zal wel met de potentiële doelgroep van de cursus te maken die in Amsterdam toch iets anders is dan in Zeist.

Er is zeker een relatie tussen schoonheid en troost maar ook dat is niet één op één voor iedereen zo. Ikzelf loop graag door een museum als ik even van de leg ben en meestal kom ik dan geïnspireerd en verfrist weer naar buiten en heb ik er weer zin in. En soms kan een mooi uitzicht of een spelend kind even alles waar je mee bezig bent relativeren en geeft dat je troost. Maar ook hier geldt dat kunst meer is dan dat alleen, het kan ook vervoeren en creatieve krachten bij je oproepen waar je erg blij van wordt.

Kortom: Schoonheid en Troost zijn moeilijk te definiëren begrippen en hebben iets magisch waarbij bewustzijn en onderbewustzijn, ratio en gevoel, reflectie en creatie bij elkaar komen, er in ene gewoon is en ervaren kan worden voor wie er voor open staat…

Hieronder het stukje dat ik vorig jaar schreef tijdens de schrijverscursus van Wim Brands:

De bedreigde zwaan (voorjaar 2016).

Rijksmuseum, “De bedreigde zwaan” van Jan Asselijn, tijdgenoot van Rembrandt, en geschilderd rond 1650.

Ik ben op dit moment het boek “Wat is een kunstenaar?” aan het lezen van Sarah Thornton. Sarah heeft voor haar boek 33 kunstenaars geïnterviewd en gevraagd wat hen tot een kunstenaar maakt. Niet de vraag “Wat maakt jouw werk kunst” staat in het boek centraal maar wat iemand tot kunstenaar maakt waardoor hij in staat is kunst te maken. Overigens heet het oorspronkelijke boek in het Engels “33 Artist in 3 Acts” wat een andere lading aan het boek geeft en meer diversiteit suggereert dan de Nederlandse titiel. Op de vraag “Wat is een kunstenaar” zijn vele antwoorden mogelijk.

Ik was gisteren in een museum en wat mij dan altijd weer opvalt is dat er tegenwoordig bij tentoonstellingen steevast een film over het leven van de kunstenaar wordt vertoond naast de nodige andere audiovisuele media die ons uitleggen wat we eigenlijk zien. Toppunt was twee jaar geleden een museum in Duitsland waar je alleen naar binnen kunt als je mee doet aan zo’n rondleiding met een koptelefoon op. Allemaal achter de juf aan en uitleg krijgen in je eigen taal, solo rondlopen mocht niet. Dat heb ik dus geweigerd, ik kijk en informeer me liever zelf! (1)

Je kan een schilderij ook gewoon mooi vinden en een goed voorbeeld van een mooi schilderij is voor mij “De bedreigde zwaan” van Jan Asselijn in het Rijksmuseum, destijds de eerste aankoop van het Rijks. Wanneer ik de eregalerij oploop trekt dit werk me als een magneet aan. Het schilderij is beeldvullend, levensgroot en levensecht geschilderd. De zwaan komt dapper, krachtig en vol vuur recht op je af, met deze zwaan valt niet te spotten! De symboliek van de zwaan die normaal vreedzaam is en als het nodig is zijn kroost met alle macht beschermd maakt het schilderij ook mooi.

Als je dichterbij komt blijken er twee woorden aan het werk toegevoegd: “Raadspensionaris” en “Holland” volgens kenners verwijzend naar Johan de Witt waardoor het schilderij destijds een politieke lading kreeg. Dit is niet door Jan Asselijn zelf gedaan, hij overleed in 1652 en Johan de Witt werd pas in 1653 “Raadspensionaris”. Het is niet bekend of Jan Asselijn er uitgesproken politieke standpunten op nahield, het blijkt in ieder geval niet uit zijn andere werk. Het kan net zo goed zijn dat hij met dit werk gewoon een bedreigde zwaan wilde uitbeelden. Door deze toevoeging wordt ons dus een bepaalde visie op dit schilderij opgedrongen. Ook toen deed men dus al aan kunstmarketing maar toen ging het nog om het kunst object zelf en niet de kunstenaar.

(1) Inmiddels heb ik in dat zelfde museum wel de rondleiding gevolgd en wel van een alleraardigste dame die ons enorm de ruimte gaf zelf rond te lopen en alleen indien gevraagd een toelichting gaf, top! 

Voyeur

Op een doordeweekse dag liep ik mijn vaste route door landgoed Den Treek, vlak bij mijn huis. Zoals meestal kwam ik niemand tegen behalve een herder met zijn schaapskudde. Op mijn pad kon ik het spoor van hun uitwerpselen niet alleen goed volgen maar ook scherp ruiken. Terwijl ik langsliep ging een herdershond er in paniek als een speer vandoor nadat hij tegen een schrikdraad was aangelopen. Na een tijdje zoeken en met behulp van een fluitje vonden hond en herder elkaar blij weer terug.

Even verderop begon het langzaam te miezeren waardoor het bos er nog mooier uitzag dan daarvoor en de regen voor een frisse geur zorgde. Onder de bomen bleef het nog droog en kon je de druppels op het bladerdak goed horen; gaan wandelen als het net gaat regenen heeft zo zijn voordelen net zoals het op het strand tijdens een storm mooier is dan wanneer de zon uitbundig schijnt en het volk om een ligplaats vecht.

Terwijl ik, een zanderig ruiterpad volgend, een fietspad overstak zag ik plots, iets verderop midden op het fietspad, een elektrische fiets staan. Nieuwsgierig geworden liep ik naar de fiets toe en dichterbij gekomen zag ik een oude man in de berm staan die heel langzaam, voetje voor voetje schuifelend, probeerde af te zakken in een greppel. Tussen zijn bewegingen in zaten lange pauzes waardoor het leek alsof het hem veel moeite koste. Toen het maar niet wilde lukken draaide hij zich langzaam om en probeerde hij zich achteruit voetje voor voetje in de greppel af te laten zakken, zich vasthoudend aan graspollen en struiken.

Hoewel ik inmiddels dichtbij was gekomen schaamde ik me toch een beetje voor mijn voyeurisme hoewel het voor mij wel duidelijk was dat de man mij nog niet gezien had.  Net op het moment dat ik mijn oude pad weer wilde vervolgen zag ik de man plots in gebogen houding achteruit omvallen met zijn hoofd tegen een boomstam.  Stil bleef hij daar liggen.

Snel liep ik op hem af en terwijl ik dichterbij kwam kon ik zijn gezicht en uiterlijk beter zien, hij zag er goed uit voor zijn leeftijd en was goed gekleed. Met één hand was hij bezig schors vaan een boomstam af te pellen en te bestuderen wat hij daaronder aantrof.

‘Meneer, gaat het goed met u’, vroeg ik de man, ‘Ik zag u vallen, kan ik u wellicht ergens mee helpen?’. Hij draaide zich langzaam half om, keek me aan en reageerde: ‘Met mij is alles in orde, ik heb geen hulp nodig”. Beschaamd keerde ik mij om en vervolgde mijn pad.

Blauw Bloed

O ja, wat ik vergeten te vertellen was. Vorige week liep ik door de Kalverstraat op weg naar een afspraak met ex-collega’s toen ik mij plots herinnerde dat we afgesproken hadden dat ik cake mee zou nemen. Bij de eerste bakker die ik tegenkwam liep ik naar binnen en vroeg ik de bakker om een cake en of zij die voor mij in twaalf plakjes wilde snijden. Ze begon de cake aan te snijden en na tien plakken bleek dat er voor de laatste twee nog maar weinig over was. Daar baalde ik van en vroeg haar om twee extra plakken van gelijke grootte. ‘Dat kan maar dan moet u wel een tweede cake betalen’ zei ze toen. ‘Maar waarom snijdt U de cake niet eerst in twee, daarna elk stuk weer in twee en uiteindelijk elk stuk in drie? Dan krijg je toch een gelijke verdeling?’ reageerde ik. Kwaad reageerde ze ‘Ik ben een bakker en geen beëdigd cakesnijder!’ Protesterend ging ik akkoord en at de restanten van de cake zelf maar op, zonde om weg te gooien!

In het chique hotel waar we hadden afgesproken was een groot restaurant met meerdere verdiepingen en ik liep snel de verdiepingen langs op zoek naar mijn ex-collega’s. Na zo’n dertien verdiepingen zag ik op een soort verhoging mijn ex-collega’s zitten. ‘He Gerard, we zitten hier!’ hoorde ik Arnon roepen, ’daar rechts kan je het podium op!’. Ik liep naar rechts en op de verhoging van ongeveer 70 centimeter zat een portier achter een bureau de krant te lezen. Toen ik hem vragend aankeek zei hij: “Dat is dan twee gulden!”. ‘Maar ik heb hier afgesproken!’ riep ik, ‘Daar zitten mijn collega’s!’. ‘Dit zijn de regels van Grand Hotel Royal’, zei de portier die gewoon doorging de krant te lezen… Zuchtend legde ik de twee gulden neer en bleef wachten op wat er komen ging. Na enige tijd zei de portier: ‘U mag nu het podium op hoor!’. ‘Kunt u me niet optillen meneer, ik heb immers betaald en dan mag je toch ook een inspanning van uw kant verwachten?’ reageerde ik.

Plots werd ik wakker en hoorde ik beneden het vertrouwde geluid van ‘Blauw Bloed’ op de TV waar mijn vrouw elke zondagmorgen vroeg stiekem naar kijkt…

Geïnspireerd door Etgar Keret.

De Stand van de Media

Ik lees al vanaf mijn jeugd elke ochtend De Volkskrant en als ik op vakantie ben geweest verheug ik me er elke keer weer op de stapel kranten van de afgelopen drie weken door te nemen omdat ik anders het gevoel heb iets gemist te hebben. Het kost me meestal wel een dag maar dan heb ik ook in sneltreinvaart drie weken wereldnieuws aan mij voorbij zien gaan. Het is mij één keer overkomen dat een behulpzame buurman die ons huis tijdens onze vakantie in de gaten hield alle kranten had weggegooid omdat hij dacht dat oud nieuws geen nieuws is. Ik heb nog steeds het gevoel dat ik in de zomer iets gemist heb: er laat zich dan een soort leegte achter en het gevoel dingen gemist te hebben.

De krant, aangevuld met het NOS Journaal, is voor mij dus een ijkpunt voor het nieuws, mijn filter op de wereld en het kader waarbinnen alle andere informatie die ik ontvang door mij gestructureerd wordt. Ik denk dat dat voor een hoop generatiegenoten lange tijd zo geweest is maar ik merk dat daar de afgelopen jaren, met name door de opkomst van de sociale media, veel verandering in is gekomen en dit ijkpunt voor velen ontbreekt. Voor veel mensen vormen de social media nu de structuur waarlangs het nieuws tot hen komt waarop ook de meer traditionele media inhaken in hun nieuwsvoorziening. Je ziet het gebeuren in alle talkshows zoals DWDD, Pauw en RTL Late: ze hebben allemaal een blokje zogenaamd leuke nieuwtjes die ze halen van social media (en die waarschijnlijk iedereen al gezien heeft) en als er een nieuwe hype is zijn ze er als de kippen bij een en ander te duiden, succes gegarandeerd!

Aanjagers van dit soort nieuws zoals Geen Stijl en Dumpert, hier verzamelen zich de uitdragers van flauwe grappen en puberaal gedrag (en daarom kijk ik om principiële redenen nooit naar dit soort site). En recente gedoe zijn daar de vloggers an toegevoegd, een volstrekt onbelangrijk en onbeduidend fenomeen dat al langer bestaat en meer een bron van vermaak is voor de jeugd dan een serieus te nemen beweging. Vlogs zijn over het algemeen doodsaai, amateuristisch gemaakt en zonde om tijd aan te besteden. Je kan het vergelijken met de gratis porno kanalen die ook veel cliënten trekken en waar ook een miljoenen publiek voor is. Maar omdat er blijkbaar veel jongeren naar vloggers kijken en het om een nieuw soort social media gaat (het nieuwe toverwoord) worden ze inhoudelijk serieus genomen terwijl dat helemaal niet zo bedoeld is door de makers. Die willen gewoon aandacht en als ze daarvoor iets geks moeten zeggen of op hun hoofd een biertje moeten drinken met een spijker door hun neus dan doen ze dat: als het maar clicks genereert (en inkomen)! Deze blogs gaan vaak om helemaal niets maar roepen wel een beeld op bij jongeren dat je beroemd kan worden met vlogs zonder ook maar iets te doen. Een sporter of rapper moet nog iets presteren om beroemd te worden, bij een vlogger gaat het meestal alleen maar om de beeldvorming rond de persoon van de vlogger en het verwachte succes.

En dan gaan de serieuze nieuwsmedia zich er ook in ene mee bemoeien, voor een volger van het publieke debat een verschraling van de nieuwsvoorziening die meer zou moeten gaan om informatie voorziening en duiding rond de belangrijke thema’s die er op dat moment spelen dan het continu focussen op social media hypes en bang zijn er een gemist te hebben. Je ziet bijvoorbeeld vaak op Twitter mensen die boos worden als een actualiteiten of nieuws programma niet direct verslag doen van iets wat trending is op het internet terwijl dan soms al snel blijkt dat het om een verkeerd bericht gaat.

Waar ik me ook aan heb gestoord is de nieuwsvoorziening rond de Amerikaanse verkiezingen, dat gaat allemaal wel erg gemakzuchtig. Batterijen ex correspondenten en journalisten worden met cameraploegen naar de VS gestuurd om van daaruit te berichten wat er al lang in de krant of op de sociale media te lezen was. Vroeger werden nog wel eens historici of deskundigen uit de VS zelf geïnterviewd maar nu zijn het Eva Jinek, Twan Huys, Charles Groenhuijsen en Ton Klein die aan tafel aanschuiven en de oceaan over te steken, zelfs Maarten van Rossum heb ik nog niet op de buis gezien… Eveneens vreemd is dan dat de NOS ‘s tijdens de verkiezingsnacht urenlang deze mensen aan het woord laat terwijl iedereen die ook maar een beetje geïnteresseerd is in de Amerikaanse politiek en bereid is daarvoor op te blijven natuurlijk naar de Amerikaanse zenders kijkt die tegenwoordig alom te zien zijn. Totaal overbodig deze uitzendingen.

Een paar jaar als journalist in de VS voor de NOS rondlopen en je bent leven lang expert terwijl de deskundigen die zich hier al tientallen jaren in verdiepen buiten beeld blijven, de doctor Clavans komen helaas tegenwoordig niet meer aan bod…De media moeten zich weer gaan bezig houden met waar ze eigenlijk voor bedoeld zijn: het informeren van het publiek wat het laatste nieuws is en het duiden van het nieuws bijgestaan door deskundigen. En daarbij moet de nodige zorgvuldigheid in de nieuwsvoorziening in acht worden genomen waarbij bronnenonderzoek en eerst iets uitzoeken voordat iets als waar wordt gepresenteerd essentieel is. Positieve uitzonderingen op deze gemakzuchtige benadering zijn programma’s als Buitenhof en Tegenlicht van de VPRO die gelukkig niet met deze trend meegaan. Buitenhof heeft wekelijks een rubriek heeft waarbij een opiniemaker de Internationale kranten doorneemt en dat levert meestal mooie nieuwe inzichten en de VPRO durft het aan ook andere mensen die tegen de stroom ingaan aan het woord te laten.

The Online Communication Cycle

‘Why are you writing in English’, Simone asked me. She had told me Victor had read my blogs about politics, business and IT on the internet which were sometimes in English. I told her I had two reasons for this: it gave me a broader audience and having worked for an English company where I learned to write compact English and liked doing this. ‘And why don’t you focus on one topic, you are writing about such a lot of different topics’. I answered: ‘Having studied Sociology and having worked a long time in IT I have always been interested in how the world was changed by IT, not only from a business point of view but also regarding their personal lives. And as Lecturer Information Management I also teach students about this and tell them about my personal experiences during the lessons and my view on this.’

She wanted to know more about my visit to Sedona and how I met Victor so I told her about the Resurfacing workshop and our discussion on the airport waiting for our planes because of the heavy snow delaying our flights. The reason I participated in this workshop was that I wanted to investigate if I could use this format as a lecturer. ‘I like to do things which in first instance don’t have anything to do with my work but there is always a new perspective which helps me further developing my thoughts. Just like the conversation I had with Paul last week on his startup: I was not sure yet how I could use this but I feel this could in the future. I explained her what we discussed the week before.’

Simone replied: ‘The problem with most people nowadays is that they are confused because of the fact so much is changing all the time. The media are focusing on hypes which are coming up quickly but also ending quickly and soon forgotten. And as most of these hypes have a negative background most people think were are going in the wrong direction. But if you look at it from a scientific and historical point of view we are steadily doing better al the time. The Swedish physician, academic, statistician, and public speaker Hans Gosling made a lot of statistics in which he proofed were are doing better than most people expect, he died a few days ago, a terrible loss for science.’

‘Victor’s communications paradox has to do with the fact that the way we interact and communicate with our environment is rapidly changing and that our mind is not able to cope with this, we are not in the drivers seat any more but constantly reacting to what’s happening around us. Direct one to one communication is now being replaced by new ways of communication and the big difference with the old way of communication is that in the past, when you were communicating with someone, the message was key and you were using verbal and none verbal communication to interact. Now, while the internet has become available you can easily communicate with all people allover the world using channels as Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat.

This way of communication is new for most people (Facebook exists only 13 years) and we don’t know yet what the real impact of communicating through these channels will be. This impact can be both positive, your tweet or post can go viral and become a hype, or negative in the sense that a wrong post can change the way others see you. That’s why mots people have their personal brand in mind when they communicate and respond when communication is not in line with this. That’s the reason most people don’t create content themselves anymore but are constantly responding and having an opinion on what others have to say by liking, sharing and replying, I call this spinning.’ She showed me a picture from Victor’s book how this has changed.’

‘As you can see in the picture online communication is more complex than direct communication and not everybody’s has the skills and is able to manage this process successfully. It starts with having a good picture of your identity and this can, especially when your young, become a big problem: when receiving negative feedback this can make them very unsure. Channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become very important and have big impact on the way we communicate and the way we receive information.’

I responded: ‘True, and that’s why, according to me, you cannot talk about social media anymore as most people do. Technology made communication channels available and these have completely changed the way we communicate with each other and this development has just started and already high impact. From a sociological point of view this new ‘Online Communication’ can never replace ‘Direct Communication’ but it has changed it. And it will never change back to the days before we got our own PC or Smartphone, it’s here to stay. And what we need to learn our students now is what the value of these ways of communication can be, what’s is their potential.’

‘Take for example the development of popular music since the fifties of the last century when we had only the radio and television and the LP was not there yet. Songs were about love and personal communication and the message in a song was always very clear and easy to understand. This has completely changed, it’s not about the text of the song and the music anymore but about the artist and his brand and management taking care the artist is in the news all the time. Ask someone what a song is all about and nobody knows.’

‘I have studied Sociology, what did you?’, asked Simone. ‘Me too’, I said ‘but that was more than 30 years ago before I started working in IT, I’m not familiar with the latest developments’. ‘But if I read your blogs I’m not listening to an IT guy talking but to a Sociologist who is talking about the changes in society due to the Internet, why don’t you write something from your old Sociology background, I think the publisher I work with would be very interested’. She is right, I thought, what I’m writing about is not a structural analysis but just a reflection on what I experience and read somewhere, a more structural approach using the sociological body of knowledge would make sense.

While drinking our wine we discussed what an interesting subject would be from a sociological point of view and agreed after some time it would be interesting to look how our view on the world around us has changed since the massive introduction of new ways of communication made possible by the internet. ‘Interesting subject’, I replied to her, ‘I will think about it and let you now how I would approach this but this will take time’. ‘Take your time, she smiled, ‘and in the meantime let me know once in a while how you are doing…’.

The Information Funnel

Two days later I received a phone call from Victor, he was in Amsterdam for a few days and wanted to meet me, did I have some time the next evening? He wanted to discuss something with me. I had already planned to go to Amsterdam to the University so we made an appointment at 18:00 in the American hotel, my favorite place to meet someone in Amsterdam. When I arrived, Victor was not alone, he was sitting at a table overlooking the Leidseplein and talking to a women of his age with long blond hair. When I approached, Victor introduced me to her as his Sedona friend and introduced her to me as Simone, the translator of his books into Dutch.

He was talking to her about his new book ‘The Communication Paradox’ which he already explained to me while waiting on the airport about impact of the changes in our communication infrastructure which took care we never had so many means of communication as before while at the same time direct one to one communication becomes harder for us, especially for young adults who are not able to communicate easily which causes a lot of stress and psychological problems for them. After this he looked at me and said to me: ‘and that’s why I asked you to join us, maybe you could help solving the problem.’.

I told him I was surprised and Victor smiled and continued ‘Working on my book I realised I was only describing a problem but not working on a solution and last week I remembered our recent conversation and that you told me you were lecturing Information Management to students, the same students who I describe in my book having all these problems. I want to know more about what your lecturing. What is the definition of Information Management according to you?’.

I responded: ‘Key for Information Management is that business nowadays have more and more IT available in which continuously data are stored about their customers, sales, inventory, distribution and financial situation but also data from the outside world available through external sources and the Internet. Information Management is the skill to translate all this data to useful information which makes it possible to manage your business, I call this the Information Funnel. There is so much data available that it’s not easy to do this, you not only need to understand IT but also the business of a company and understand what is going on inside and outside the company’.

‘Why do you call it a skill’, Victor asked. ‘Well’, I told him, ‘Twenty years ago Management Reporting was 90% plus financial and most of the time only available after month ends closing. If something went wrong in an organisation it ws only noticed when a customer had a complaint or your bank did not want to give you credit any more. Today changes go so fast that managers want information as soon as available and if possible direct online, stand and ad hoc. To be able to produce these dashboards and reports you need to know a lot about a company and be experienced’.

‘And what happens when companies not have a good Information Management Function?. Victor asked’. ‘Then you have a problem’, I responded, ‘It’s like a patient being sick and not having the right instruments available to investigate what’s wrong. Management Information gives you the insights on what’s going right and what’s going wrong so you can immediately take action when needed to change things for the better, if possible. In the past this was a role for the CFO but this has changed with the introduction of IT and is now more the domain of the CIO who does not only have to know about IT and needs to have broad business knowledge being able to combine both to usefull Management Information’.

‘Students have the same problem as companies nowadays, how can they structure all the digital data they receive so it becomes useful information for them? Digital overload is a big problem now for students, they are not able to filter the content which comes available all the time on the internet properly which can have big influence on their future performance’, Victor concluded. ‘Within companies the CIO is responsible for managing this information funnel and for students this of course should be the teacher and as you teach Information Management you are sitting on the solution of our problem’.

Since three years I was lecturing students the basics of Information Management on a private University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam mainly from a manual yet like in the old days when only books were available. And during my lessons when all my students were busy with their smartphones and laptops multitasking between me and what was going on online. The manual I used ‘Information Management’ was clearly written by someone who had worked in IT because I recognised a lot described in my book as my own experiences in the past working for IT companies. And my students were not interested in these old stories because they were born in a world with IT all around them while I had slowly grown into this from nothing.

Victor looked at me and said: ‘ And you teachers could be the key for solving this issue, there is a task for schools and universities to prepare students for the information society certainly in a time when politicians talk about ‘alternative’ facts and everybody is creating his own Facebook environment filtering out post they don’t like’.

‘But how do you want to do this’, Simone asked. Victor relied: ‘Maybe a school is not the right solution for this, we need something to replace this which is more modern and fit for our Information Society. The reason why schools were founded in the first place was that families were not able to educate their children themselves and you need teacher to learn them how to read, write and calculate. Children were living in large families and lived in small homes so going to school made sense in these days. Since then a lot have changed, most children now have a room on their own and parents both working and the relationship between parents and children has changed a lot’.

‘My students spend on average 7 hours on school and 4 hours a day online next to the time they spend online at school,’ I responded, ‘and for them these are two differente worlds. If you want to change this you need to change the whole school system and integrate these worlds into one and make more connections with the outside world. Why only go to one school and sit in a room with the other students and always the same teacher and following an education developed for the average student? Why not making this more flexible and use all available capacity with courses for students with different backgrounds and levels?’

‘Research has shown that collaborative learning works better than learning on your own, this has to do with the way your brain works. Another interesting conclusion is that you can better stay up late to finish a deadline than start early in the  morning, the time most schools want you to be the most productive. Also most teachers start with the theoretical concepts and than apply these while it’s better to first do something and than reflect on this form a theoretical background if you want to learn.’

‘Another important issue which influences learning is the changing relationship between students and their parents. It depends of course on the educational background of their parents but a lot is nowadays discussed around the kitchen table. 25 years ago students learned stuff not understood by their parents because the study content was more theoretical. Nowadays the study content is much more up to date and so students can easier discuss the content with their parents which makes it easier for them to learn’.

‘And just like companies need to manage their Information Funnel, students have to learn also how to qualify all the information they receive through their devices whole day and integrate this with what they learn on school or universities, this are not separate worlds but complementary. They have to learn the difference between facts and fake facts, an opinion and something which is scientific proven and how you can filter information which is relevant for you. They need to not only to see their smartphone as a tool to play with when they have noting to do but also as an instrument to become a useful member of society. Most schools see these diverse as a threat while it should be an opportunity.

‘In the Netherlands the school system is not able to educate around 15.000 students because their parents cannot find a proper school for them or schools don’t want them because of a lot of reasons. Around 5.000 of them have permission to get education at home from their parents  or private teachers giving lesson at home. At the same time the number of students who need extra lessons after schooltime from specialized institutes is growing and the same is happening for private schools were parents have to pay a lot of money to give more tailored education fit for the students needs.’

‘That’s why I thing we need to rethink the fundamentals of our school system’, Victor said, ‘We should develop a flexible system for all by which during once lifetime we van learn or teach others the necessary knowledge and skills to become a citizen, employee or owner of a business using all available methods and technology. If you define a school now a student now will say it’s a combination of a building and a set of teachers capable of giving lessons in a certain domain. This should be a student with certain qualifications who has to learn some things otherwise he/she can’t survive in society and invest in other qualifications he enjoys doing and which can potential become his future business. And the tools to do this can be having a course in a class with a teacher a a level and location of choice, following a virtual course, doing a study trip or internship, earning study points with a public service, travel and write an essay on your experiences, participating in an online knowledge community, doing a skills test, talking to a study coach, visiting a museum with their parents or talking to an entrepreneur or even start up your first business’

We talked about this for some time and Victor left around ten, he had to fly back next morning very early, I stayed behind with Simone. He was very glad with our discussion and it was very useful for him.

Protect or Die

Looking back, I was busy with the wrong issues those first twenty days of 2017. I had not foreseen the impact of the big changes which were coming. As soon as Donald Trump was inaugurated he started signing executive orders which were changing the worldwide political landscape significant. A few days after he took office I got a phone call from someone I did not know and he asked me if I was available for a meeting, he wanted to discuss something with me. We planned to meet in a restaurant in a small town not far from where I live.

He was already there when I arrived and he introduced himself as Paul. I started with introducing myself and told him about the projects I was running at the moment. After this, I asked him what he wanted from me. He started explaining his background, he had been in the Dutch army for a long time in a ‘technical’ function and had done assignments in Bosnia and Afghanistan and was now working in IT as a security expert. He still had a large network of ex-soldiers around him and participated in military training sessions all over the world. They did these trainings in secret because bad publicity was not what they wanted, they just wanted to practise their skills and meet old friends.

He had read my blogs on the International Police training Lowlands Grenade  in Marnehuizen in the North of the Netherlands. I participated during this training as an actor in June 2014. I was there for 5 days and really liked it working together with delegations of national police from 42 countries which were training there and showing each other their capabilities and skills. There were police from the US, Israel, Ukraine, Spain, the UK etc..

Working together with those policemen and women was big fun and most of the time I was walking around looking at what was happening and once in a while I was asked to play a role. I remember I had to play the role of Vice President of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment  (CPT) and drove around protected by an Lithuanian SWAT-team and an Hungarian CRC-team and visited the prison and a police station (PSS) interviewing staff there. I was impressed by the professionalism of all participating but also the friendship between the participants with these different backgrounds and had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the way they work and the technology they used.

After we discussed this Paul told me about his plans. He and his friends were very worried about the developments now happening worldwide with the election of Trump, the Brexit and the conflicts in the Middel East. They were discussing the impact of this and were investigating  what their role could be in this changing political and military landscape. He referred to the first meeting between Donald Trump and Theresa May who agreed that: “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”

The impact of this would be that probably the number of local conflicts would increase and he expected a lot of demand on the short run for companies who could protect civilians and objects on a commercial basis. Most European countries have not invested enough in military material and capacity the last 20 years and are now facing a world in turmoil with big problems in the Middle East and Africa and potential new conflicts at locations we are not aware of yet. They need to respond to this and build up their own capacity but this will taken some time and in the meantime they need to do something to protect their citizens. 

Paul was busy with investigating if starting up a company for this in the Netherlands was possible and for this he needed some “citizens” next to the military from his network who could help with the administrative but also the ‘selling” of this company external. In the US and UK have already a lot of private military contractors (like Blackwater) working closely together with their government but there are none in the rest of Europe. This has to do with the fact that there is no political foundation for such an initiative but, according to Paul, this could change on the short run when conflicts escalate and protection is needed. He asked me if I was interested in helping setting this up with his team, he needed someone who did not talk in military terms and was able to talk to politicians and explain why this company was useful and not a threat for the official military institutions. The primary objective of this company would be to protect people and objects and do this in a professional way with high moral and ethical standards.

I was very surprised by this question, why had he contacted me? How did he now about my background? Was he maybe part of an Intelligence Service testing me?  I told him I would think about what he said and give him my feedback later. Under normal circumstances I would have never had done this but the things happening at that moment made me change my mind because of course we need to protect ourselves from the bad guys.

The Communication Paradox

Victor’s communication paradox was about the problem that, while IT has developed more and more channels of communication for us (WhatsApp, Facebook etc.), growing up has become more and more difficult four young people nowadays and that they experience a lot of stress and problems while developing themselves. Victor called this the Information Paradox which he further explained to me.

The last decade we have created a new world next to the real ‘Physical world’ and ‘Fantasy World’ which can be called the ‘Online’ world and which is always available when you have access to a device with Internet connection. And, when going ‘Online’, you can influence your ‘User Experience’ and create your own environment and manage your content. You can, for example, only invite the friends you like on your Facebook or WhatsApp account or filter the information you like on your screen creating your own virtual world. This world also enables you to watch movies, play games and listen to music on your own and forget the world around you, it’s your unique and individual experience.

The current generation of students are the first-generation students who have grown up with constant access to the Internet. It’s not possible to explaining IT to them without considering their ‘Online’ perspective. And the funny thing is that most teachers have grown up without ICT and learned to use it at a later age. Our students don’t know how the none-connected world looked like 25 years ago before Internet was invented so you could better explain them how communication was done those days than explain how it works now.

You can compare being online with freedom: it doesn’t mean anything to those who have it but once taken away you know what it is! Of course, the new generation has experienced what it is to have no Internet connectivity. For most students this is a threat and creates stress, not an opportunity to relax. The way we communicate has changed, for example: when you take the train everybody is staring at their smartphone, in schools students check their smartphones between lessons instead of talking to each other and at home WhatsApp has replaced picking up the phone.

To investigate how young people use social media Victor asked a group of students two questions: 1) how many posts did you create yourself last week and 2) how many times did you respond to post posted by someone else. Regarding the first question most of them posted rarely something new: on average, only once a week a new post. But replying and sharing is done multiple times per day. Summarizing his findings: young people don’t create content themselves but are busy responding and having an opinion on what others publish online building their online identity.

Direct one to one communication is replaced by this new way of communication and the big difference with the old way is that in the past, when you were talking directly with someone, only the people around you were involved. Nowadays potentially the whole world can read your post which can go viral and become a hype before you know it. So doing something wrong online can have more impact now.

Our whole communication has changed significant and this makes especially young people, who are by nature very unsure, vulnerable for stress and psychological problems. And because your ‘Online World’, which you created yourself, is always available: you can escape from the ‘Real World’ to this ‘Online World’ . And the old ‘Fantasy World’ has become less important and is now underdeveloped at the expense of developing your own creativity. Direct communication is becoming difficult and even has become art like Marina Abramović performance in the MoMA in New York where she is only watching visitors in their eyes: direct none verbal communication reduced to object of art.

The only way to solve this is was developing training courses for young people in old fashioned communication skills and that’s why he was in Sedona to investigate if this course we did could be used. He concluded this was not the case, the format was to old fashioned and would not appeal young people. We did not have much more time to discuss this but we agreed we would in a few weeks and further discuss this, London after all was not so far from Amsterdam.

During my flight back home I had time to think back on what happened since New Years Eve, now two week ago. Next week I had to start working again, boring…

The IBM AS400

Flying back from Sedona I was thinking back on New Year’s Eve and my days in Sedona. During the course, I became friends with one of the other participants, Victor, a writer from the UK, and we spend time together on the airport there were delays because of the heavy snow which was fallen which caused the planes bringing us back home were rescheduled. Victor started writing when he was 12 years and published his first book at age 21: “The story Of Tess”. Only 36 he had already published 5 books, which were well received, and wrote a daily column in an English newspaper writing about social and political issues. He was flying back to Amsterdam where he had a large meeting planned with his readers in Hotel Americain and he was constantly in WhatsApp’ing his publisher hoping he would be back in time.

Reflecting on my own journey so far I was jealous on what he had accomplished. Before I started working in IT I had tried out al kind of jobs because I did not know what I wanted to become and, that is still my problem now. When I finally started working in IT at 30 this was just an easy way of earning money which I needed because my wife was pregnant and it was nice having earning money in an easy way and driving a company car: around 1980 it was very easy to get a job in IT without having the proper qualifications.

I remember being trained in Belgium as a software programmer where I was looking at a screen whole day with code and was certified after three weeks because at the end of the day I was still looking at the screen when everybody was gone. This was what the software company I was doing the training expected from me: give the impression of working and making long days so these could be billed to the customer, customers did not have any knowledge of IT in these day and you could sell them everything,

After some time, I became friends with one of the partners who always was the last to leave the building and appreciated a good glass of wine. The one thing I remembered from him is that he advised me to always wear a suit and tie and polish my shoes when wanting to make a career in IT. When I finished the course, he took care I was assigned as a software programmer to an IBM reseller who developed software for the AS400 computer designed to support medium sized companies. One day, still staring at the screen and not being productive at all, the manager of the company came to me and asked who of the programmers knew something about finance. Because nobody gave a response and I had learned you did not have to know anything at all in IT I said I was interested: after all I had done accounting on High school and had trained students in accounting during my studies. So after working as a software coder for three weeks I became instructor and in three months project manager, in no time I got a bigger car and a laptop.

On my first assignment with a customer I drove to the south to a laboratory which had just bought an AS400 and where IBM had done the implementation of the computer and the cables, and the screens. I walked in with three software tapes under my arms, introduced myself and was guided to the computer, uploaded the tape, looked at the screen and typed in INSTALL FIS and the computer started doing all kind of things. Time for me to start drinking coffee with the Finance Manager who was just appointed as IT responsible and also knew nothing about IT.

I asked him if he had any requirements about the new financial package and he did not have a clue: as long as the package worked as he was used to it was OK for him! When I asked him for documentation he told me they did not have this so I asked him to put this on paper and send this to me and made a new appointment with him in a week: too early for him and we agreed he would do this in two weeks. My first lesson: always take care next action is with someone else! After 6 hours, the software was installed and the start screen came up: time to leave and my boss could bill 8 hours to the customer: my first invoice for only drinking coffee and let others do the work!

Of course, he did not send me the requested description so I went there again, asked him for a list of account numbers, showed him how to enter them in the system, asked him to add them all before next week, had lunch and went back home after half a day. I had a list of 24 steps to be done before the system was ready to be used and it took almost 4 months before we finished them all and my boss was very happy for all the hours spend and invoices send. When I did not know something, I phoned a colleague and when this took also some time to investigate his or her hours were billed also.

I remember one customer very well who lived in my home town and, after we did the implementation, told me he and his partner both had a budget for external lunches but that he, as financial manager, did not have enough contacts to spend this. Because he also wanted to be out of the office weekly he asked me to lunch with him Fridays at his expense. For more then a year I went to the restaurant on my bike at 12:00, had lunch untill 15:00 and went home afterwards sending him an invoice for the whole day, an relaxed ending the week for me…

My boss was very happy with  this arrangement and toke care the manager got a laptop, the first one in his company. I give him some private lessons how to work with it at our office because he did not want his employees to say he did not know how to work with a laptop.  One day he called me and told he erased his computer by typing in DEL a:*.* an asked me to come to the office after working time to restore the software. If you know a little bit how IT worked when companies were first confronted with IT you could have a lot of fun and you did not need to know too much to become an expert and successful IT professional. Three years ago, after having worked for almost 30 years in IT, I stopped: time for a new challenge although I was still teaching Information Management to students who liked my stories on IT a lot.

While discussing this with Victor he said this description of the starting days of IT looked like the current impact of social media on society. While the first IT revolution was changing the way we work social media are changing the way we communicate, not only in the public but also in the private environment: while I was having lunch 30 years ago with my customers now the new generation is communicating through WhatApp and Facebook with it’s customers all over the world and which they maybe even had never seen. Social media have big impact and has changed the way we communicate significant, he wrote a lot about this issue in his columns. The reason he participated in the ‘Resurfing” course was he wanted to know learn more about this methodology because he was writing an essay on the modern communication paradox.

Resurfacing

The week after I flew to Sedona US for a two-day self-development course after being invited by an old colleague. I had some time free on the days of the course, had been in Sedona before and knew it was one of the best places to be in the US. The course was about “Resurfacing”, a technique which aimed to explore your conscience and in the end be the master of your own free will, just what I needed now to define my own Moon project!

When I presented myself at the registration desk in Sedona the lady behind the desk told me I did not pay the whole amount for the course: it was 12.000$ instead of the 1.200$ which I already paid. I was furious because I knew for certain in the invitation I received from my old colleague it stated 1.200$ for the two days and I would not have participated for this amount! I asked the lady to talk to the manager in charge of the workshop and after a few minutes a short bold guy came to me and gave me a cup of coffee and listed to what I had to say without giving me an answer on my questions. He kept smiling and told me he would talk to the legal department and could give me feedback afterwards on what he could do for me.

In the meantime, the workshop started and I had to decide what to do: stay and participate or leave. I decided to stay and participate, after all I was interested in the topic and had traveled a long distance from home. At the beginning of the workshop I met the other participants and I was assigned to a group of twelve people of which 6 were mentors and 6 participants, to my surprise my mentor was the old colleague who invited me for the course, I did not know he was invited also! 4 of the 6 ‘normal’ participants also complained on the price but we did not have much time to discuss because the workshop started and I decided to make my mind free of external stuff so I could concentrate on the course.

The next two days they kept us busy with all kind of exercises, some one to one with the mentors and some with the group. We started the course with identifying our earliest memories and life changing experiences and reflecting on what what we thought were our key drivers and ambitions, a mix of techniques I already experienced before and new ones. The mentors were all experienced master and guided us through the course with a personal approach and were alle ‘Believers” in the methodology developed by the inventor Robin Tree, a former teacher. The key objective of Robin was that by exploring the world of your mind, starting with introspection on your own experiences and connecting them to your beliefs, you will be able to get insight in your identity and will de enable you to set direction to your own life and be in control of your future.

That evening we had some time for ourselves as participants of the course while the mentors were sitting together somewhere else. During the day some of the participants had left the course and, because we were busy all day, we did not know why. In the restaurant I spoke to some other participants and they were all first time attanders and were very positive about the course although some complained on the quality of the mentors who guided them, for some this was the first time, luckily my mentor was very experienced. Only one complained about the money and thought it was a mistake because she knew others who had done the course before and had not complained about it.

Next morning we started with an evaluation of first day and this was for me the opportunity to ask the mentors when we would get feedback on the costs of the course, they were very surprised and did not know there was a problem. My mentor asked me to look at this “problem” from another perspective and ask myself the question “what is this course worth for you?”. If the course would cost nothing would it have the same value for you as if it was very expensive? If the course  would change your life in the sense that you would stop working at your current very well paid job and start a new adventure without a potential high income but more in line with your ambitions would it still be an interesting investment for you? And, if you look back, do the moments in your past life you made choices which changed your life structural had anything to do with money?

At the end of the day I concluded that is was good having done this course and not let me be influenced by the money problem. When checking out I met the short bold guy who I spoke to at the beginning of the course and he introduced himself as Robin Tree, owner and developer of the “Resurfacing” methodology. He told me he would not insist on paying the 12k $ but that I was free of course to pay more if the course was more worth than I thought before participating: on avarage participants of his course valued it ten times higher after then before. It was also a good methodology to ‘shake out” the participants early during the course who were to much focussed on the money and were not able to open their mind. I agreed, without this issue i would have been more relaxed and less focussed, pressure sometimes helps when you want change..