Bye 19, hi 20.

by Dries De Roeck on May 30, 2020

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me

Feeling Good (Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, 1964)

Although I can fully recall me writing my 2019 in review post last year, another year came and went. As I’ve been writing these yearly reports since 2011, I just needed to get this belated one out … it had been catching dust for way too long. And although the report is not where I would like it to be at, I’ll just push it out anyway.

Looking back, 2019 a lot changed. Not so much on the visible side of things, but more on the internal side – both personally and in my close family. I’ll try to unwrap some aspects of this further down, the short version is that I’ve developed a better sense of taking care of myself and caring less about external factors. It’s all very much in development, and I hope to keep up a healthy consciousness of my personal agency throughout the years to come.

Things that stuck with me looking back at 2019


At the beginning of 2019 our family moved to Senegal, Africa, for 3 months. I took 50% parental leave and worked on my PhD writing for the other 50% (as well as some small projects I could follow up from abroad). It was the first time anyone of my household spent time in Africa, and looking back I’m so glad we did it.
Our three months stay allowed us to truly get to know the local culture and develop a little less-than-superficial relationships with people. The worldview of our family has changed rather dramatically afterwards, which has once again taught is that life is all about social contacts with people close to you. All the rest is replaceable and, when put into perspective, extremely irrelevant.
There is so much more to be said about this, our full diary is still up at – the visual diary has been taken offline for now, but I’m more than happy to share pictures on request.

Draw the internet

Early last year, I got children aged 6 tot 12 in both Belgium and Senegal to make drawings of the internet. The goal was to have the future generation draw the internet in order to ultimately broaden views on what the future of the internet is or could be. I submitted a proposal to do this project in a rather impulsive way, and was really excited I managed to get some funding for it from NESTA. I very much enjoy the result and perhaps I’ll continue the project in a second iteration or other incarnation of the subject matter. What I liked about it most is that it made me realise people in Senegal relate to digital connectivity in a totally different way. These insights (which I mention in the full report) made me want to explore this topic more at some point in the future.


In August I spent about 5 days in a parallel world. It’s hard to describe what CCCamp actually is, but it includes technology, technology, nerds, science, Rob leds, education, community and broad spectrum exploration. Together with 6000 other people, I stayed on a massive campground north of Berlin with some of the Open Garage Hackerspace / Fri3d Camp crew. I’ve never seen anything like it, I learned a lot and genuinely had a good time amongst people who respect each other. I even got the chance to give a short talk during the lightning talks section, still rather psyched about that little feat.

DIS2019 & academia

During my stay in Senegal, I did manage to successfully submit a work in progress paper to the DIS conference. As an outsider it might not feel like much, but after the often harsh comments I got on my research, getting some confirmation from peers was very heartwarming. The DIS crowd was great, and I somehow hope to be back at a future occasion.


I never thought I’d be writing something about religion, but it has been something that has keeping me more busy than before. The seed for this was laid in Senegal, where religion is a part of life. Most interesting, Muslims and Christians live together in harmony, they participate in each other’s religious feasts and share burial grounds. When we returned home after three months, our oldest daughter decided for herself she had been learning about Jesus and the Christian bible for a while now. She now wanted to explore Islam.
After some talking and considering, my wife and I decided it only made sense to explore different religions at school. Also, at our school in Belgium, parents are asked to reconfirm which religion their children get taught at school. So, to everyone’s surprise, our daughter switched to Islam at the beginning of the school year. It was, and still is, very controversial when talking to people. Then again, our children are not baptised or ‘linked’ to any religion.
As parents, we hereby made the conscious choice to offer various religions. All this together led to being more involved with and interested in religion all together. Not that much from a personal belief, but more from a cultural and social perspective. For instance, I never knew there were so many similarities between the Bible and the Koran. Exploring these stories from a distance and being able to put them in another perspective is super interesting, it is often a basis for good discussion in our family which I hope to keep doing.

Things that worked out differently in 2019

That PhD

I had initially set out to finish the PhD work in Q4 of 2019. While I really tried to get myself motivated to do so, it turned out to be really hard to do so. To this date, I still don’t know the real reason why I didn’t manage to push myself forward … I have for sure been going through a mental battle with myself when we returned from Senegal. I had planned, and hoped, to do way more writing over there – but I only managed to crunch on one (crucial and difficult) chapter and write one work-in-progress paper. In the final months of 2019 I did manage to put together a very clear overview of what I wanted to write and how all elements would fit together.
But combining that with commercial projects ongoing and refusing to give up on family time did seem to take much longer than I thought/hoped. The relationship with my supervisors didn’t exactly get better either, but I take full responsibility for setting false expectations – something I shouldn’t have done in the first place. Right now I have most text which I want to submit, but the whole process of reviewing and re-reviewing the review is drawing so much mental energy. Every week I have moments that I’d rather just quit everything and go work in my local supermarket where I could at least make myself useful. I think it was on my list as well last year, but the little voice inside my head just needs to go. My mind gets salty very quickly these days, and I suspect the PhD and all aspects surrounding it is the main source of salt. Whatever happens, I will publish whatever text I have in the months to come. If they lead to a PhD it’s for the better, if not, at least I’ll have filled up a GitHub repository with text.

Meaningful xmas lights 2.0

Ah my old friend, meaningful xmas lights! I wanted to make a version in which I’d give out tokens to people living in my street so they could all control their own set of lights through a web interface (eg. chosing colours, animation pattern,…). All pieces of the puzzle were in place to make this happen, I even got some help from someone who lives nearby in setting up a database to store colour values and assign
But, then December came … and no lights were there. My energy level was super low and I didn’t manage to put in the hours I should have been putting in. I could also blame myself for investing too much time in World of Warcraft Classic, which launched in August 2019 – it for sure had a role to play in all this. Still, one day I’ll make these lights, maybe sooner than later!

Things I want to do in 2020

Do meaningful & personal work

I want to start paving a path which focuses more on what I want to do myself, independent from external sources. This is totally triggered by the work I was able to do on the ‘draw the internet’ project, which allowed me to do paid work in an area I find super interesting. And however short, this little project showed me how ‘business’ can be done differently – where personal learning is high and all people involved were constructive and supportive. No need to constantly justify and explain myself and each action I take towards others, which is what really drains me from all kinds of energy.

Care less & care more #degrowth

Very much linked to the above, I want to figure out how I can make the ideas behing degrowth work for me and embed them in what I do. In my current thinking it means I need to figure out how to keep having a steady source of income to pay monthly costs, whilst being able to secure enough time to do explorative work that keeps my mind ticking.
Or maybe I just want to learn more about degrowth, but I do feel it hold so much value which fully aligns with the way my own personal values have been evolving.

Revisit Africa

I really hope we can revisit our friends in Senegal later this year. Our plan is, still, to leave around November and stay for at least four months. Ideally, this will be after I completed, in whatever way, my phd work. I hope I can still find a project to focus on during my time there, I have some ideas brewing … but nothing defined yet. Keywords are learning, unlearning, making, internet connected, computing, decolonisation.

But but covid?

When I initially wrote the draft for this post, the covid pandemic wasn’t on the horizon yet. But since I’m only posting this now, almost 6 months into the year, it makes sense to at least say something about it. There are three tings I currently heavily react to, things which I have a different idea about or strike a nerve. I wrote some other things about covid on this blog, fwiw find them here and here.

There is no normal

Whenever I hear the word “normalisation” I tend to get very nervous. I really wonder why many people around me want to go back to what they were used to before covid. Things will never be the same, it’s time to construct a new frame of reference, no-one knows what there is to come … so craving how things were is just useless. Please stop using the word ’normal’ or ’normalisation’.


I’d be lying if I were to say my family had no issues in making the switch to ‘covidlife’. We had some issues finding our balance, but once found I find it super nice to just live in harmony with each other. I must say I was a little sad when I heard my daughters would need to go back to school. I’ve been enjoying working side by side every morning. My daughters doing their schoolwork and myself catching up with smaller work things. Being present and responsible while remaining respectful, it’s a challenge … just like parenting is a challenge or keeping a relationship afloat is.


Covid pushed everyone into uncertainty. It made me realise I actually like uncertainty … not being able to plan ahead forces you to live from day to day. There are no rules to follow, and everyone is doing the best they can to help out wherever they can. Today I listened to the p/reflections podcast, in which coping with uncertainty was highlighted as one of the main challenges to tackle. I think ever since I became a parent, I started being conscious about uncertainty … raising a child might be the most uncertain thing I’ve ever done. Maybe foster parenting even upped my level of coping with uncertainty whilst trying to remain present at the same time.

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