Monthly Archives: April 2007

Rethinking Peer-Review and Journalism

Can’t find more information just now but on the latest episode of ScienceTalk (SciAm‘s weekly podcast)

Scientific American editor-in-chief John Rennie discusse[d] peer review of scientific literature, the subject of a panel he recently served on at the World Conference of Science Journalists

I hope there will be more openly available information about this panel and other discussions of the peer-review process.

Though I do consider the peer-review process extremely important for academia in general, I personally think that it could serve us more if it were rethought.  Learning that such a panel was held and hearing about some of the comments made there is providing me with some satisfaction. In fact, I’m quite glad that the discussion is, apparently, thoughtful and respectful instead of causing the kind of knee-jerk reaction which makes many a discussion inefficient (including in academic contexts).


Is Canadian Tire Corrupting Our Youths?

No, I don’t mean TV ads…

Language Log: The Problem With Today’s Youth


Ethnography and Technographics

This one certainly made the rounds among observers of online activities, but I only just got the link through a comment by Martin Lessard, the insight-savvy YulBlogger and “Internet culture” describer.

The Groundswell (Incorporating Charlene Li’s Blog): Forrester’s new Social Technographics report

Many companies approach social computing as a list of technologies to be deployed as needed – a blog here, a podcast there – to achieve a marketing goal. But a more coherent approach is to start with your target audience and determine what kind of relationship you want to build with them, based on what they are ready for.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? I get from it the same reaction as from effective ethnography. Not really a “Eureka!” moment. More of a “Doh!” moment, when you suddenly realise what was really happening around you.

This ethnography-like insight is even more obvious in the report itself (a review copy of which I got through email, thanks to Forrester’s excellent policy for content use). In that report, Li et al. define different user types in a manner not incompatible with our tendency to classify, in ethnography as in cultural life. Like ethnography, the report is showing the relationships between those different profiles (instead of stereotyping or “profiling”).

Sure, the proportion of creators is an important factor for Old School market research. But, what’s more important, is that different people adopt different behaviours in different contexts. Obvious, but important.

The report talks about age and gender differences, provides evidence for the changes in the Internet 6 ecology, and manages to treat Internet users as human beings. “All in fifteen pages or less!”

Again, this report isn’t groundbreaking. But it can be really useful as a representation of cultural patterns for technological adoption (MS Word document). (As it turns out, this issue came up in an exam I gave today… Wish I could share the textbook page on early-adopters in cultural change.)

There are other blog posts about this report, including some advice for marketers:

Companies seeking to engage customers with these new tools need to understand where their audiences are with this categorisation and then create bespoke programmes for them.

As per Larry Wall’s ethnographic training, diagonal thinking. “There’s More Than One Way to Do It.”


Post-Book Culture

Interesting post about Google’s history-tracking Web History service. In my mind, this service has a lot of potential if it can do some of what Spurl.net, Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, ma.gnolia.com, Google Reader’s star and share features, and other “social bookmarking” systems can do. The ideal blogging tool, for me, is one which has enough access to my history that I can quickly insert full links in my blog posts.

Anyhoo… The blog post:

Official Google Blog: Your slice of the web

Printed and bound together, the web pages you’ll visit in just one day are probably bigger than the book sitting on your night table.

Not a new idea. But it takes on a new meaning in the context. Pushes Google’s mission in our faces. To an academic, the prospect of having a way to trace back all of our readings (especially in the context of Open Access)…? Dream come true.


Concordia and Open Access Self-Archiving

Fascinating talk:

News@Concordia: Stevan Harnad, Maximizing Concordia University’s Research Impact, April 25

Reactions were varied but some of us were able to have a very good chat after the talk. For one thing, it helped me understand the whole “Green OA” issue in a new light. As an idealist non-tenured faculty, I tend to get dreamy about the possibilities for the next step in the Open Access movement. Including in terms of pedagogy and community outreach. But Harnad’s talk really put the focus on the “knowledge ecology” involved in this world of unlimited resources.

To me, Concordia is an interesting case. So far, the university’s online visibility has been quite low, self-archiving is quite rare among Concordia researchers, and people tend to focus on the logistics. But Concordia seems to be on a mission to redefine itself in the broader frame of “forward-looking institutions of higher learning.” Contrary to McGill (Concordia’s “neighbour”), Concordia focuses on such things as flexibility, diversity, community outreach and, yes, even rebranding (which some people dislike). Sure, much of it might be “corporate-speak” to increase enrollment. But the point is, Concordia seems to truly cherish the diversity of its enrolled students. In fact, it’s not positioning itself as the “so elite, just being admitted is enough to get a job” model typical of certain prestigious institutions in the United States. Some people at Concordia are making sure that the message of “going forward to meet new challenges” is heard.

It’s no secret that I like Concordia. As my second semester there comes to an end and as I reflect on my time there, I tend to see this university as a place where true learning can occur. I may only teach one more semester there before I move to Austin so I will enjoy it to the last drop. And, who knows, I might find as many things to like in Texas once I’m settled there.

If Concordia can increase its visibility by engaging itself on the OA route, I’m all for it.


Balado et radio, version Sarko

L’effet est saisissant. Arte Radio, la balado-diffusion de la chaîne Arte, s’amuse à faire une parodie de DJ radio, version Sarko. Outre le thème politique, j’apprécie le contraste entre cet extrait et le son habituel d’Arte Radio. C’est en entendant cet extrait que je m’aperçois à quel point la radio me rase et que la balado est plus près de mes habitudes d’écoute.


Lessons in Podcasting

Been recording a lot of things since I got my iRiver H120, last summer. Despite my conscious effort at making sure everything would work, I still made several mistakes and ended up losing some material. Luckily, nothing I lost was mission-critical. Also, since Concordia’s Creative Media Services have been recording my lectures, I was able to really notice the value of having a specific person on the task. Multitasking is fun but it’s often more efficient to monotask.

Seems like we all learn by doing:

Synthesis of Thought: Blog post up for another SfAA session and a lesson learned the hard way

Actually, I mostly wanted to leave a comment but this blog’s TypeKey system seems not to work.


Siva on Open Access

SABREOCRACY.NET (formerly SIVACRACY.NET): An Important Message for the Folks at Google

All I’m asking for is full access for the public to government documents on Google BookSearch. These documents are in the public domain and therefore should not be limited by claims of copyright, by Google or by the Library Partners.

IMHO, these issues will eventually be solved, regardless of the source.


Audio People of the World: “You, Knight!”

Much to be said about a recent ITConversations podcast episode. Ostensibly, this episode was about the LibriVox success story. (LibriVox is a community project producing public domain audiobooks from public domain books in diverse languages.) Yet, during this conversation, Web analyst (and Microsoft employee) Jon Udell along with LibriVox founder Hugh McGuire managed to share much insight on such varied issues as community-building, project management, grassroots movement, open source development, participatory culture, and aurality/orality.

After the chat, Udell and McGuire followed up, on their respective blogs. Udell developed a useful script to make all LibriVox books into RSS feeds for use in iTunes and other media players. Such a collaboration is an appropriate example of the power of “scratch your own itch” development, described during the podcast conversation. The conversation also prompted Librivox reader Sean McGaughey to describe LibriVox as a killer app. [Update: Blog version of the same description.]

I was led to this podcast episode through a visit to LibriVox reader Kara Shallenberg’s blog. Started listening to the LibriVox podcast after reading about LibriVox on fellow YulBlogger Patrick Tanguay’s own blog. Among other things, LibriVox helped me appreciate Canadian Literature and I’m quite glad that the project may contribute to Montreal’s widespread recognition at the cutting edge of technology and culture.

As an aural learner, I was quite taken by Udell and McGuire’s comments on auditory media. It seems that these two guys really grok what is so neat about sound. At least, their ideas about sound are quite compatible with my own ideas about music, language, and the cultural importance of sound.

We might be in a minority, North Americans who care about sound. Many people (including some online visionaries) seem to care more about visuality. In fact, given the large number of Web designers in the “Web 2.0” movement, it might be said that auditory media have often been considered a subset of “audiovisual content.” Yet there is something to be said about sound standing alone in digital life.

For instance, McGuire and Udell talk about the possibility for people to undertake other activities while listening to audiobooks and other auditory content. Commuting is probably the easiest one to grasp, for most people, and while it might be fun to watch a DVD on a plane or bus, audio podcasts are possibly the ideal “distraction” for (hearing) commuters. Listening to podcasts while moving around has led to very stimulating experiences.

Fans of McLuhan would probably think of “hot” and “cool” media. The difference between video and audio podcasts clearly relates to McLuhan’s ideas about participation.

There’s also the issue of rhythm. While moving images certainly can be rhythmic, speech and musical rhythm seem, to me, to be more readily associated with diverse human activities. No idea where to look for the cognitive side of this but it’s clearly worth investigating.

For lack of a better word, sound is more “abstract” than other sensory experiences. Acoustic signals do have a physical reality but the practise of listening has been used to elicit important ideas about abstract structures in Euro-American aesthetics.

Lots more to talk about but it will do for today.


As Simple As That

Speaking of Omnikrom and Numéro#, full version of their fun-loving VCCGFMCA. (Via La Swompe, again.)

YouTube – Numéro# feat Omnikrom Chewing-gum fraise


No Apology Required

Not sure why, but I quite like Omnikrom. Their summer hits  are unapologetically poppy and I like the self-deprecating humour which seeps through the whole thing. These guys seriously don’t take themselves too seriously. All the while posing as superstars, which they could well become.

I should go to the free (as in summer beer) Omnikrom and Numéro# Fouf show on May 9.

Omnikrom and Numéro#

Thanks to André Péloquin’s PodMo for including «Été hit» (which he got from La Swompe).


Testing Slideshare

It could be useful for course content. In this case, lecture notes from the next to last class meeting of my ANTZ202 Introduction to Culture course. Don’t know if I like what SlideShare did with my slides (they’re less readable than the original). And no Web application seems to support PPTX files from PowerPoint 2007.


The Participating Minority

[Update: The original article was about traffic, not user base. Should have read more carefully. Doh!]

Interesting stats about blogging and “viral participation” from Technorati’s Dave Sifry and Hitwise’s Bill Tancer. Also summarised on Ars Technica.

Bottom line: Despite extreme growth, only small (some would say “positively tiny”) fractions of the user base [traffic] for participatory Websites like YouTube and Flickr contribute any content. New blogs are created but a smaller proportion of them are active. Tagging, however, is taking off.

This can all be fascinating, on a social level. One thing that gets me is that those figures challenge a notion widely held among members of the participating minority itself. Even the usual figures of 10%, given for textual contributions to forums, mailing-lists, and blogs seems fairly low to those of us who write a lot, anywhere. In other words, it might well be that individual contributors are proportionally more influential than originally thought.

So, is this a trend toward less participation or are Internet users finding other ways to participate, besides contributing original content? Maybe users spend more time on social networking services like Facebook and MySpace. Even “passive participation” can be important, on SNS.

One thing people seem to forget is that private communication (email, IM, VOIP…) is alive and well. Not that I have figures to support the claim but my experience tends to tell me that a lot is happening behind closed doors. Oh, sure, it’s not “Web 2.0 culture,” it’s not even Web-based. It’s not even the sixth Internet culture, as it’s more in continuity with the fourth Internet culture of “virtual communities.” But it’s probably more influential, even in “epidemiological” terms, than “viral marketing.”


Une personne extraordinaire

Vraiment, je suis amoureux d’elle.


Lydon at His Best

By definition, my reaction is subjective. So it might just be the fact that it’s a sunny day or that Life Is Good®, as my water bottle and diner mug say.

Yet there’s something about the April 17 episode of the Radio Open Source (ROS) podcast with Christopher Lydon which works for me.

Maybe I was just charmed by the introduction as it played with my expectations. But there’s clearly more to my enthusiasm for Lydon’s interviewing style in that specific episode than the mere enjoyment of being fooled. My initial excitement abated a bit as the show progressed and Lydon went back to his I-show mode (which I mentioned before and warned students about). This decrease in excitement strengthens my notion that Lydon was, surprisingly enough, letting participants speak in earlier portions of the show.

In fact, Lydon did something he rarely does, during the first part of this episode: he proposed a topic and let one of his guests respond without even asking a question. Sometimes, Lydon will string together a long series of questions to which the interviewee cannot really respond. In the way I was enculturated, these strings of questions are markers of close-mindedness so I have a hard time understanding why Lydon would produce them.

In fact, I would seriously like to do some conversation analysis of Lydon’s interviewing style. For instance, how long (in seconds) are his questions as compared to his guests’ comments? Is there a difference when the guest is perceived to have a higher status, in which case Lydon might go into “deference mode?” Is my perception accurate, that Lydon speaks differently to women and men? (In my observations, ROS seems to mostly have women as guests when gender is admittedly the focus.) Are there cues in Lydon’s speech patterns which reveal what he might be thinking about his guests? Is Lydon typical of “Old Media” radio shows even though he entered the “Web 2.0 landscape” with ROS?
What ticked me off, originally, was Lydon’s tendency to cut his guests in a very cavalier manner and his habit of emphasising distinctions based on perceived prestige. These issues are less problematic to me during some shows, but they still do tick me off fairly frequently. Lydon’s respect, contrary to mine, seems quite selective.

Why do I care so much about Lydon’s style, you ask? Why do I ever listen to the show if it makes me react so strongly? A number of reasons.

Radio Open Source is one of the first few podcasts to which I subscribed when iTunes began podcast support. Although I’ve unsubscribed to many other podcasts, this is a podcast which became part of my habits. I know several people who watch shows they don’t like so that they can complain about it. It might be the case for my listening to Open Source. Although, I would really prefer it if I were not to complain (I hate myself every time I do). My “problem” is that ROS often has insightful guests, frequently tackles fascinating issues, and represents the cultural specificity of a small segment of U.S. society with which I happen to relate on a fairly regular basis. In fact, ROS often provokes thoughts in me which lead to my own insight about U.S. society specifically or, on occasion, about post-industrial societies in general. And the often insightful blog comments, gatekept by the very thoughtful “blogger in chief” Brendan Greeley, occasionally make their way into the program, which evokes a type of polyvocality that is rare in Old Media (but required in the “Web 2.0 movement”). (Unfortunately, Greeley is apparently leaving the show, on which occasion I might start listening to another Greeley show if it’s podcast.)

So I probably won’t stop listening to ROS for a while. Can’t avert my ear.

Why do I tease Lydon so much? Well, as we say in French, «qui aime bien, châtie bien» or “I keed because I like.” People from the United States, especially those who claim European-American ancestry and respond rather well to the Judeo-Christian liberal model, tend to avoid conflict at all cost. It might be the main reason why, though some members of the ROS staff have contacted me after reading some of my blog posts about the show, I get this feeling that my perspective on the show is falling on deaf ears. It’s not that they don’t want to hear criticisms and critiques of the show, it’s just that my voluntarily confrontational style might clash with their own styles. If anyone on the ROS staff reads this: sorry, nothing personal!

So, do I write those posts just to be mean? Not really. But I do like challenging preconceived notions about the skills of people in positions of power. In other words, I tease Christopher Lydon because I know he can handle it. He apparently has a fairly high status within “PRI culture” (which is possibly similar to the “BBC culture” described by Georgina Born). And, to be honest, he sounds self-assured enough (notice I didn’t say “cocky” or “arrogant”) to dismiss this type of nagging offhandedly.

So, Lydon is the journalist I enjoy teasing.

Hey, it is some people’s idea of fun!


Performance, Expertise, Ingenuity

Wow!

Haven’t read Dr. Atul Gawande’s Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance yet, but from an interview with Gawande on the Science Talk Podcast, it seems that his “systems” approach to his field is almost anthropological. In fact, much of the interview sounded like they would fit in discussions among medical anthropologists, including the importance of ingenuity in medical practise, local conceptions of health, social responsibility, etc.

It also goes well with a previous Science Talk interview with Dr. Christopher Cowley about which I previously blogged. That one had to do with a polemical article on medical ethics published (available as PDF). In that article, Cowley called for open discussion on medical training by making a few recommendations, some of which having to do with giving physicians a broader training. As could be expected, that article generated strong reaction, especially on the part of medical doctors. I sincerely hope that Gawande’s book will generate thoughtful discussion but I get the impression that medical specialists tend to react very strongly at the suggestion that some of the things they do could be improved outside of the strict training they receive. In other words, it seems that physicians and surgeons are unwilling to challenge some broad ideas about their fields. Of course, they’re strongly motivated to improve their practise and enhance their expertise. But it seems rare, in medical fields, to be taking a step back from practise and look at the broad picture.

To me, this is related to both extreme specialisation and to the social status afforded medical professionals.

Some anecdotal examples relating to my thinking about medical fields.

A friend of mine who’s whose [doh!] girlfriend is a student in medicine keeps teasing doctors by calling medicine a “technique.” Another friend, herself a student in medicine, says that it is frequent at the medical school where she is to portray medical students as an intellectual elite («crème de la crème»). Health professionals I know frequently say that one problem in the health system (especially in Quebec) is that physicians and surgeons have too much power. And, in my own experience, those physicians who have been best able to help me were those who took a broader view of health, outside of the strict application of well-remembered guidelines.

One argument against such discussions of what medicine could be revolve around the idea that “a good doctor is someone who has been well-trained.” Often phrased in the “if you had to go through surgery, wouldn’t you want the best surgeon to perform the operation?” (with the assumption that “the best surgeon” is someone who has the most credentials). This perspective is quite common in North America and it relates to a whole ideology of evaluation. Something similar is said about “the best students” (who are likely to be the ones getting “good grades”). What’s missing from it, IMHO, is mostly a notion of appropriateness, flexibility, ingenuity.

So Gawande’s book is sure to stir up some interesting ideas. Especially if medical professionals stop foaming at the mouth and actually spend a few hours thinking in a broader frame about the things they do.


Getting Ready for Google Presentation

Been waiting for this for a little while.

Presentation boost for Google Docs & Spreadsheets | The Register

Using Zoho Show in the meantime. One advantage of the Google version might be that PPT attachments could be opened directly. Also, the access control in Google is fairly decent. But Zoho Show has been fairly good to me.


Brits and Journalism

2.0’Reilly quietly rips up blogna carta | The Register

Aside from the resounding failure of the [blogger code of conduct] itself, the act of proposing it was a huge success for O’Reilly, winning him coverage in such venerable forums of public debate as The New York Times and Metro.

Gotta love The Register! One of the few New Media outlets with the gutz to kindly tease Old Media.


Internet Democracy

There’s been several “If X were a country” analogies, especially with MySpace as a target.

But then:

If the Internet was a country, it would be many times larger than the country of MySpace The Something Awful Forums

And then:

Nicholas Negroponte, the noted futurist and author of ‘Being Digital’, once observed that if the Internet were a country, it would be the nicest place on earth. Security and Vulnerability

Not to mention:

If the internet were a country, you’d know a relative of almost everybody. Scribd

It’d be interesting to use notions we have about actual countries to follow the analogy further. Some might think that the Internet could have a president but most of us seem to agree that the current structure of the Internet, without a specific “head of state,” works fairly well. We’ve known for a while that ordered anarchy can work:

In his classic study of the Nuer of the Southern Sudan Evans-Pritchard presents them as naked cattle-herders, seasonally nomadic, living in grass huts and supplementing their diet of animal products by horticulture. They form a congeries of tribes, sometimes gathering into loose federations but without central administration, rulers or grading of warriors or elders, and the age-sets into which they are divided have no corporate function. Evans-Pritchard speaks of ‘leopard-skin chiefs’ among them, but makes it clear that this position is backed by no coercive force. They show some specialisation but nothing amounting to a profession and cannot be said in any strict sense to have law, for there is no authority with power to adjudicate or enforce a verdict. In sum, ‘their state might be described as an ordered anarchy’. From Village to Empire

Associating the ‘Net with that anarchic model isn’t new. What seems to me a bit newer is to call that system “democratic” (especially in the context of User Generated Content, and other “Web 2.0” phenomena).

Even newer, to me at least, is the idea that the open and flexible nature of the Internet as it was originally designed might not be part of redesigns of the Internet.

Should we apply a more democratic model for the new Internet? How far should the “country” analogy affect the way we remodel the ‘Net?

The literature on nationalism and communities could help.


Confessions d’un papillon social

Tiens, tiens! C’est pas mal, ça… Ça fait plusieurs fois que j’utilise la formule «Confessions d’un {désignation personnelle}», par référence détournée à Rousseau. Amusant de voir que, cette fois-ci, le lien entre «promeneur solitaire» et «papillon social» est même orthographique… 😉

C’est aussi la première fois que je fais un billet aussi personnel. Quasi-introspectif. Et même pseudo-catholique.

Fiou!

Oui, je l’avoue, l’admet, le confesse et le proclame: j’aime les gens. Tout simplement. Tout court.

Pas «j’aime les gens qui me ressemblent». Pas «j’aime les gens de qualité». J’aime les gens. Tous. Les êtres humains. Les membres de mon espèce. Sans raison spécifique.

Ils font de tout, les gens, du plus vil au plus beau, du plus laid au plus louable. Mais ils sont surtout très intéressants, les gens.

Me sens «humaniste» dans un sens très précis: amoureux de la nature humaine. Me fait surtout traiter de «papillon social», y compris par mes proches. Quelqu’un qui passe d’une personne à l’autre comme un papillon qui butine de fleur en fleur. C’est surtout utilisé en anglais, mais des Francophones parlent aussi de papillonnage dans un sens assez proche.

C’est assez réaliste, comme désignation. J’eus toutefois tendance à prendre ça comme un reproche. Surtout quand certains observent ma tendance à passer d’une personne à l’autre lors de rencontres publiques. Ça rend “self-unconscious”. Après tout, il y a cette idée que le papillon social est un être fat, qu’il est motivé par un désir de gloire, qu’il n’est pas loyal… «Papillonnage» est même plus connoté et me ressemble moins puisqu’il touche à la promiscuité, qui n’a jamais été mon truc.

Donc, «papillon social», c’est pas une étiquette facile à porter. Mais désormais, je m’assume en tant que papillon social. Oui, j’en suis fier.

D’après moi, les papillons sociaux ont la possibilité d’avoir des effets intéressants, sur les gens et sur la société. Pas exactement un pouvoir d’influence. Mais plutôt le pouvoir d’un grain de sable dans l’engrenage. Les choses changent, les papillons sociaux participent au changement. Simplement en étant eux-mêmes. Les papillons sociaux ont aussi la possibilité d’unir les gens. Je me sens donc très confortable dans mon rôle de papillon social. Je ne suis pas sélectif dans mes amitiés mais j’accorde beaucoup d’importance à mes amis. Certains sont très proches de moi. D’autres sont plutôt des connaissances. Mais tous ont de l’importance pour moi.

Va pour le côté «social» de mon caractère social. Il y a une part plus intime.

M’allonge sur un divan modèle psychanalytique, tendance Freud et non Jung. Presque Woody Allen comme scène. Et les mots résonnent avec la force du lieu commun: «ça date de mon enfance».

Si si! De ma plus tendre enfance. Mes parents avaient de nombreux amis. Ma mère, surtout. Et ils m’ont emmené avec eux dans toutes sortes de soirées. Souvent, j’étais le seul enfant entouré de nombreux adultes. Parfois, j’étais le centre de l’attention. Toujours, j’avais du plaisir. Du moins, si mon souvenir est bon.

Faut comprendre la chose. Notre vie familiale a toujours été basée sur l’amitié. La maison de ma mère a souvent été le lieu de rencontres impromptues. Nous avions une terrasse sur laquelle nous passions de longues heures à bavarder, avec des amis. Parfois, nous chantions, nous accompagnant à la guitare. Souvent, nous réinventions le monde. Nos références étaient souvent européennes et francophones, étant donné notre lien avec la Suisse Romande et avec la France. Nous mangions, buvions, savourions la vie.

Il y avait un côté européen à la chose. Et mondain. Et intello. Par contre, rien de très bourgeois. Pas de notion d’exclusion. Beaucoup de franchise. Bref, comme une version post-hippie des salons proustiens.

J’avais six ans quand mes parents se sont séparés. C’était donc avec un seul parent à la fois que je découvrais les délices sociales de la «soirée entre amis».

Mais ma famille a toujours été unie. Surtout l’unité familiale formée par ma mère et ses trois fils. Puisque je suis l’enfant unique du deuxième mariage de ma mère, il y a de grandes différences «objectives» entre mes frères et moi. De plus, par diverses circonstances, nous avons souvent été géographiquement distants, les uns des autres. Mais nous avons toujours été unis par des liens filiaux très forts. D’une certaine façon, mes «demi-frères» sont encore plus réellement mes vrais frères que si j’avais été né du même père qu’eux. Leurs amis sont parfois devenus mes amis. Tout ça grâce à ma mère, dont je parle peu parce qu’elle est quasi-sacrée, pour moi. C’est elle qui a soutenu cette cellule familiale. Quiconque parle de familles mono-parentales de façon condescendante n’a pas vécu ce que nous avons vécu.

D’ailleurs, nous avons créé pour nous-mêmes une identité propre. Nous sommes les Enforaks. «En-» pour «Enkerli», le nom de mon père et mon propre nom de famille. Et «-fo-» pour «Thiffault», le nom du premier mari de ma mère et le nom de famille de mes frères. Étant, à l’époque, fan du dessin animé Goldorak, j’ai ajouté le pseudo-suffixe «-rak» au nom d’un robot en blocs Lego que j’avais construit. Pour moi, rien de comparable au noyau familial formé par Marielle Gagnon et ses fils: Christian Thiffault, Pierre Thiffault et Alexandre Enkerli. Les Enforaks, ce fut aussi plusieurs personnes qui ont gravité autour de nous. Si je me rappelle bien, c’est même pour manifester l’acceptation de Catherine Lapierre, celle qui allait devenir ma première belle-sœur, que j’ai bâti et nommé ma construction Lego. Il y eu plusieurs autres Enforaks, y compris une autre Catherine: ma tendre épouse, Catherine Léger.

Oui, je suis nostalgique.

Quoique…

J’ai autant de plaisir maintenant qu’à l’époque, à rencontrer des gens. Et je suis très content d’avoir la chance de converser avec des gens de divers horizons sociaux, culturels, géographiques, idéologiques et professionnels. C’est d’ailleurs plus facile pour moi d’être un papillon social dans l’ère digitale que ça ne l’a jamais été dans mon enfance.

Ma vie familiale et sociale à travers ma famille était surtout heureuse par opposition à ma vie scolaire. J’avais de bonnes notes, les profs m’appréciaient, j’avais l’occasion de développer diverses aptitudes. Mais j’avais énormément de difficulté à me faire des amis. Retour sur le fauteuil: je me suis toujours senti rejeté par mes contemporains. Traité de «maudit Français» à cause de mon accent semi-européen. Mis à l’écart dans le contexte des «sacrements» religieux, puisque contrairement à la quasi-totalité des élèves de mon école primaire, je n’avais jamais été baptisé. Seul «enfant du divorce» à mon école, j’étais une curiosité pour plusieurs, y compris certains membres du personnel. Pacifiste au milieu de bagarreurs, j’avais de la difficulté à me faire respecter. Écrivant «aussi mal qu’un médecin», j’étais la cible d’une attention très particulière. Peu séduisant, je n’avais aucun succès auprès des filles. Bavard, je fatiguais mes congénères. Mes aptitudes scolaires étant bien plus grandes que mes aptitudes sportives, j’avais tout pour me faire détester.

Bref, j’étais seul avec mon moi-même à moi tout seul. Ça te me forme un gars, ça, madame!

Faut dire que, même à la maison, j’étais souvent seul. Entre autres parce que ma mère travaillait à temps plein. Dès l’âge de 9 ans, j’ai commencé à cuisiner et à manger seul, tous les midis de semaine. Puis la maison était vide quand j’y retournais après une journée d’école. Mon frère Christian (qui avait dix-huit ans lors de mon entrée à l’école) ayant quitté la maison familiale assez tôt et mon frère Pierre étant mon ainé de huit ans, je n’avais pas de compagnon de jeu à portée de main. Je passais donc de longues heures seul, dans une immense chambre à coucher, à jouer ou à lire tout en réfléchissant.

Oh, j’ai bien eu des amis. Y compris Frédéric Fortin, avec qui je maintiens de très forts liens d’amitié. Mais j’étais, malgré tout, seul.

«J’écris pas pour me plaindre, j’avais juste le goût de parler

D’ailleurs, ce dont je me rends le plus compte, c’est que j’ai pu bénéficier de tout ça. Non seulement ma solitude m’a «fait les pieds» et je suis désormais heureux d’être seul, mais ça a contribué à me faire vivre des moments fort agréables qui se répètent souvent.

Ce qui a probablement changé le plus, depuis mon enfance, c’est que je n’ai plus le désir d’être populaire. Je veux voir les gens, discuter avec eux. Mais je ne tiens pas à ce qu’ils soient admiratifs à mon égard. Oh, bien évidemment, je veux être apprécié, comme tout le monde. Mais j’aime tout le monde et j’aime simplement rendre le monde heureux.

Le plus mieux de l’affaire, c’est que ça marche assez souvent. Quand on est heureux soi-même, c’est facile de rendre les autres heureux. Et quand on se sent bien dans sa peau, c’est facile d’être heureux soi-même. Et quand on aime les gens, c’est facile de se sentir bien dans sa peau. Et quand on apprend à connaître les gens, c’est facile de les aimer.