I am in-between. I'm living in-between cities (London vs Leuven). I'm in-between jobs (journalist vs student). And I've always been in-between haircuts.
I'm taking a career break from my job as a fashion editor, to cultivate the wondrous state of 'being in-between'. This may sound very Amélie Poulain meets Alice in Wonderland, living in an interstitial world where anything can happen at any time. But the truth is more, let's say, urgent. A eureka moment hit me, about a year ago. A moment that caused a snowball effect of epiphanies.
The trigger for my aha-experience was a book that I bought at The School of Life, Cognitive Surplus, written by Clay Shirky. In short, the book is about how the world has never been so connected before, how together we've always known more, and how we should start using new technologies like YouTube and Facebook in their most efficient way.
Meaning: don't just share Lady Gaga's latest video, but share better, collaborate smarter. Think the Arab Spring, or Occupy this and that, as recent examples of people gathering together online to change something profoundly offline.
The examples given in the book were exciting, because - strangely - I hadn't realised the power of social networks before, in the accumulating way Shriky describes them. On a personal and local level, yes, cavemen also shared information and goods. But this was about taking it to the next level, the global power of the crowd, and seeing patterns.
Then the snowball did its thing, leading me to a world where everyone was thinking in a new way. We Think, explained in this beautiful video. What’s mine is yours, explained here. Malcolm Gladwell’s books, Professor Manuel Castells' research, and a dozen of TED talks and real life examples. Was there a mind shift happening in how we work, consume, think?
In the wonderful Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson describes the history of great ideas, and how it can take twenty years for society to be ready for an idea - isn't it always about perfect timing. Putting all these symptoms together, what exactly were we getting ready for?
American economist Jeremy Rifkin came into the picture and spoiled the party. After watching his YouTube hit, there was no way back. "I’ve never seen a moment in history like this before. We’re really asleep, all across the world.” Rifkin explains - terrifying clearly – the three crises that are threatening us today.
Then it hit me: the whole world is in-between. Banking crisis, Eurozone crisis, capitalism under attack, climate change, energy crisis, overpopulation, greying population. Old structures are crumbling, and new super structures are not clearly visible yet. No political or economic solution seems big enough. And yet, there is a communication revolution going on, and we never had more access to information. How will we name this period in history, looking back fifty years from now?
Not knowing what to do with all these urgent insights, I decided to move to London for a while, looking for perspective in the city that bursts with ideas and great universities. So I'm a visiting student here and there, reading more books, talking to very smart people, and having loads of coffee, in order to better understand *deep breath* the challenges of the 21st century. I call it 'Project In-Between'.
When The School of Life asked me to blog about my quest, I said yes, only in the name of research and because of the alarming bells that I could no longer ignore. Project In-Between will try to be a collage of projects and people illustrating the shift that's happening around us. Some people are doing really exciting things out there.
But I'm not a specialist. Little do I know, but I understand the power of networks. Together we know more. So let's play a game. This is how it works: free association. The following weeks I'll share symptoms of ‘being in-between’, and you can share related links or ideas to that topic. It’s what we call crowdsourcing in journalism, going from A to B. Testing hypothesis by trial and error, by wisdom of the crowd. It can be messy, but we'll take it from there.
Elke Lahousse is a journalist, currently living in London. She works for Knack Weekend, the leading lifestyle magazine in Belgium. Knack Weekend is part of the weekly magazine trilogy Knack + Knack Weekend + Knack Focus. www.knack.be, www.knackweekend.be, www.knackfocus.be
Illustration Sarah Vanbelle www.sarahvanbelle.be