Journal – Why I left San Francisco

Publié le 11 Janvier 2012

Winch 5, my global tour of innovation, is actually the natural continuation of the 16 years I spent in Mexico, and the 14 years in California after that. In each case I was looking for things that could change the world. Maybe I got stuck in a May ’68 mentality… even if I realize that people’s hopes, and the means and tools to achieve them, have changed.
 
I chose Mexico in 1980 so I could follow the ruptures in Central America started by the insurrection in Nicaragua (when the Sandinistas were still somewhat democratic). I moved to San Francisco in 1996 to cover the digital revolution.
 
Then, after 30 years, I returned to France without even really realizing it, and not at all how it happens in books. It was time to close out a personal and professional cycle. And then – it took me time to realize this – to start another. In the same vein, but with a different horizon. It was a difficult transition.
 
For years, mainly between 1990 and 2007, every time I went back to France I felt “like a foreigner in a country whose language I spoke well.” At least, that’s what I used to say jokingly to my friends … but also because that’s how I felt having to do a double-take at a new currency that I didn’t recognize, or when I had to ask newspaper sellers the price of the Le Monde or Libération – looking at me like I was making fun of them.
 
All of this greatly amused me, and I had no real intention to return (from Mexico where I was still young, from San Francisco where I envisioned myself crossing the Rio Bravo rather than the Atlantic). I didn’t see the evolution as it was occurring.
 
Food should have been a sign. I found myself eating more and more Mediterranean.  Tomatoes with dill and oregano for breakfast, fresh goat cheese or Greek yogurt, olive oil. Without realizing it, I started accepting – and searching out – more invitations to come speak at conferences between Paris and Madrid, with a big weakness for Seville and Malaga, where I direct the program in Digital Praxis and Cultures (translation of digital literacy).
 
Then, in 2010, Vincent Giret, who was the editor at that time, asked me to do a show on France 24. I worked with Jean Bernard Cadier, who came up with the title: Technophile (in English and French). After starting at 4 minutes (one Tuesday in March they told me we were going live Friday – that was my first TV experience), we bumped the length up to 9 minutes. We lasted until December when we fell victim to the war between bosses and the Stalinian purges.
 
I really enjoyed working with Jean Bernard – a real pro, the kind you never stop learning from. It’s thanks to his curiosity and desire to always serve the public that I initially got interested in the development of technologies in Africa. A real step for me who, from San Francisco, had a tendency to dismiss even what was going on in Europe.
 
I rediscovered the joy of covering ITC, and the perspective of a new angle.  The adventure was sufficiently inspiring  and the return to Paris positive enough that one day I realized that “my butt refused to move,” to rejoin the still-official bosom of my family in Silicon Valley. Far from a rational and premeditated decision, I was undergoing some sort of subconscious decision-making. 
 
I was in the middle of a separation. It was cordial and civilized, tender even. It corresponded with the mutual recognition that the phase of our lives spent together was ending. It unfolded without any yelling, not even the smallest argument. No doubt this why I found myself, without realizing it, in a hole I hadn’t seen myself slide into. A depression (in the literal sense) over the loss of the family unit, and of the perspectives gained through a life with Xochitl Castañeda, an extraordinary woman dedicated to
migrant health in the United States– regardless of their legal status. But the hardest thing to overcome was, as always, a question of survival. The idea of spending old-age alone, or, in any case, being alone as my 70th birthday approached.
 
Finding myself familyless in San Francisco where, really, I don’t have tons of friends, seemed impossible to me. So the reflex was a strange return to origins, as I never really saw myself moving permanently back to Paris, convinced as I was that my life was somewhere else. There I was one day, without really having decided, without a house, without retirement. With life-long family and a few old friends.
 
On the job side, I was starting to bet bored in the San Francisco Bay Area (it’s possible!), while I found more dynamic geeks and entrepreneurs than I’d ever imagined in Paris and Madrid.
 
To be continued…

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