Monday, April 9, 2007


Maybe I have a distorted way of looking at things but, when I first saw this image, I had the impression that the red-haired angel was handling a roll of toilet paper. When you think about it, that would be a great question for Byzantine theologians: Do angels use toilet paper?

Sometimes, in the middle of a spirited conversation between several people, the talking stops abruptly, for no particular reason, and there's a gap of maybe ten seconds or so of spooky silence, up until somebody takes up the conversation once again. In French, there's a quaint expression to designate such an incident. They say: An angel just passed by.

You might be wondering why I've brought up the subject of angels. I hasten to add that this has nothing to do with Easter Monday or the alleged resurrection of Jesus. On the contrary, I wish to mention a down-to-earth affair: a white paper with a curious title, République 2.0, on the challenges of digital technology in French society.

A few weeks ago, the presidential candidate Ségolène Royal called upon a distinguished Socialist personality, Michel Rocard, to produce a report on this highly topical subject.

And angels in all this? In browsing through the report this afternoon, I was intrigued by the following recommendation, in the section of Rocard's report that deals with technological innovation in France:

Encourage logic of a "business angels" type.

Here, the abstract term "logic", which is highly popular in technocratic French, simply designates a way of doing things. The expression "business angels" appeared as such in Rocard's report, in English, and the inverted commas ("twitch twitch") were no doubt inserted to underline the author's awareness that he had switched momentarily into less than academic French. And what exactly does this recommendation mean, when translated into everyday language?

In case you didn't know, so-called business angels are wealthy individuals who get a kick out of operating as venture capitalists, using their personal cash. They're the sort of individuals who are capable of being so enthralled by the great ideas and ambitions of a talented innovator (who knows how to sell him/herself) that they're prepared to bury him in bags of money (like in a Dilbert cartoon) enabling him/her to set up a business. It goes without saying (but I'll say it all the same) that Michel Rocard is convinced that, in the domain of digital technology, there are many brilliant young French innovators who would be able to achieve marvels if only they had the financial resources enabling them to get into action. Who knows? Maybe he's right...

I've never thought of France as the kind of country where it's easy to start off with a brilliant idea and build it into a business. First, the competition's stiff, in the sense that, in a brilliant country such as France, there are hordes of bright individuals with brilliant ideas. But the real problem is that, in France, the concept known elsewhere as free enterprise turns out to be a terribly expensive affair. As soon as an individual decides to set up a business, to do anything at all (or even nothing in the immediate future), the entrepreneur is hit with a massive volume of charges of all kinds, and it's hard to survive. Either you have to make piles of money rapidly, or else the charges drag you into bankruptcy. That's France.

Years ago, I had a brilliant idea (in the course of a lifetime, this can happen), and I would have loved to be discovered by a business angel hovering in the skies of Paris. I remember writing down a neologism, wearware, on a piece of paper, and trying to explain to friends that it was a matter of designing exotic garments incorporating various kinds of digital devices, maybe coat pockets that flashed messages of a kinky kind with graphic and audio effects. Just imagine it. If only I had been able to develop the brilliant idea of wearware, I would have become filthy rich, and I wouldn't be here today in my modest Alpine abode typing this silly blog message. Retrospectively, I believe it's quite likely that my guardian angel stepped in, fortunately, and saved me from spending my life as a filthy rich developer of wearware.

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