My thoughts on the French Government’s attempt at a “digital workshop” #loi20

Last night, the President of the right-wing French political party UMP, Jean-François Copé, inaugurated what was supposed to be an atélier numérique participatif or a participative digital workshop. The menu of topics to be covered included a variety of issues on web 2.0 and internet regulation. I attempted to live-tweet most of the event in English with the event hashtag: #loi20.

Shut up and participate.

First things first, I realize we’re talking about the French government** but the fancy shmancy suit-and-tie atmosphere didn’t really put the “participative” in “atelier numérique participatif”. I vote that the next digital workshop attempt to adopt a more start-up feel by introducing the Google dresscode. Ah, but let’s not be ridiculous, perhaps the “participative” aspect can be casually overlooked.

How about some technology with that digital workshop?

Worse that the stuffy atmosphere was that there seemed to be a clear absence of “digital”. Aside from there being a lone iPad in the entire room (no, it was not mine – and I’m aware that the number of iPads doesn’t really prove anything), there seemed to be a really obvious lack of technological support. The TV screens, traditionally known for their motion picture capabilities, displayed a static subject of debate for over 2 hours. I’m faily certain that a good portion of people in that room wrote a thing or two on Twitter, yet none of it was displayed anywhere in the room. I highly encourage the government to consider adopting the model of tech conferences in the future – or at least to visit one just for a bit of inspiration.

Once upon a time there was a big, bad Internet.

Another thing that kind of struck me as odd was the way some of the topics were addressed, as if the Internet and all these web 2.0 companies were really out there to get us. *Insert an evil Zuckerberg laugh here* Oh, and apparently someone in the room thought that Linkedin and Amazon were in some kind of an evil partnership to distribute information regarding your sexual orientation. Hmmm…there were definitely remarkable differences between last night’s crowd and the more internet savvy gang that I’m used to. Dare I say generational gap? My favorite part was the elementary, 2-minute course on tagging Facebook photos.

Excuse me, you seem to have dropped your objective.

I had to leave early so I didn’t get to hear all the brilliant things that were surely said about net neutrality and the Hadopi law. But then again, I definitely didn’t grasp the whole point of the event. Was it to simply answer questions about tagging Facebook photos and “revealing” your sexual preferences to Amazon and Linkedin (pretty sure neither companies have any information on this, by the way)? Was it for the government to get “a general consensus” (based on the 50 or so people in the room, of which only 7 spoke) on certain topics? What? I thought there was going to be some kind of presentation, some kind of information or a game-plan to be distributed. But no. Well, whatever the objective, if the government wants to get an idea of where the Internet community stands on certain issues, they’re going to have to try a little harder.

#nocomment

Plus, did I mention that Copé left early to go “take care of” the whole banning the burka deal?

**For everyone that is going to get on my tail about using the word “government”, please note that the French translation of this word is “administration”.

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l’Académie française: Has Micro-blogging Killed le Vouvoiement?

Disclaimer: this post is probably more for myself than anyone else. 🙂

Remember that terrible 80’s song by The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”?

Well, if video killed the radio star, I’m pretty sure that the evolution of web 2.0 – with my figer pointing at micro-blogging in particular – has killed le vouvoiement.

French 101

For anyone that doesn’t know, vouvoiement refers to the French use of a formal “you” to address someone with respect. It is often the default “you” when meeting someone for the first time, in business relationships and when in doubt. Vouvoiement naturally creates a distance and establishes a hierarchy between two people – which isn’t found in English.

Micro-blogging: guilty as charged.

I don’t think web 2.0 as a whole is to blame. I highly doubt many people on Linkedin are going to dare to immidiately bypass vouvoiement when initiating contact, for example. Generally, the closer we get to an email-type format, the more traditional the language gets. But Twitter and the integration of micro-blogging on various platforms (Facebook, Linkedin…) has dramatically changed the hierarchical communications patterns.

@vous?

What I can’t seem to figure out is why. Is it because, with the 140 character restriction on Twitter, “vous” is simply illogical (4 letters versus 2)? Is it the combination of realtime web and the @whoever function, which creates a more chat-like and casual environment? What?

Yo, Monsieur le Président.

Part of reason may be a result of the current French demographic currently using social media and various micro-blogging platforms. At the end of the day there may be certain people – like, oh, Sarkozy – that will never shake off their protective layer of respect, even on Twitter. Or maybe they will, who knows (we’ll need to get him on Twitter to figure this one out, perhaps).

L’Académie franglaise.

In a way, I think it could be beneficial to shake off the hierarchical power structure. At the same time, we are talking about messing with a linguistic tradition. What’s funny to me is that the Académie française (which some jokingly call the “French language police”) sits around making up a French version for the word for “email” (“courriel”, which nobody uses) but has turned a blind eye to the lack of vouvoiement on micro-blogging platforms.

For any French companies that use Yammer, on the other hand, I’d be interested to know if the same phenomenon is observed.