My postcard from Yerevan: “Banana cake” - As if we needed an excuse to eat some more. Now that we are stuck at home we even started baking stuff…
“What are you doing in life?”
I try to contribute to my family by choosing problems and attempting to solve them. I guess for some that’d make me an entrepreneur. Most recently I’ve been involved with map-making and open GIS. By training I am an engineer (studied automation, robotics and AI), by vocation, I feel, I’ve always been a traveller. I was born in Italy and have lived in four different countries since 2007. Current home is Yerevan, Armenia. I’ve been here a while.
I got interested in making maps sometime in 2016. I’ve always liked them, as a young child one of my favourite pastimes was daydreaming over atlases (I still do that) and copying maps on semi-transparent paper, colouring them up with pencils and pens. I now like to think of that as travelling before I actually could.
Fast forward to now, through the luck of meeting a like-minded partner, Cartisan was formed, and our first public result was a successful crowdfunding campaign, in November 2018, to put out into the world our first product, which also happened to be the very first modern topo map of Armenia since Soviet times. It was a lot of work, and also so rewarding! And we haven’t stopped since, we kept providing GIS services to (mostly) trail-building organisations in Armenia, and making new products for hikers, maps and now working on guides too, along the way.
Our products and services became my source of livelihood, or rather, my contribution towards it, as it is frankly not enough to support my and my co-founder’s families yet. But we were slowly, steadily, growing towards that, before the pandemic hit…
“What worries you the most about your situation now?”
These are quite stressful times, but I consider myself lucky, relatively speaking. Our work has always been remote (my co-founder lives in Germany) so we could simply carry on, Personally speaking, I’ve gone through radical shifts in both my professional and personal life before, quite a few times. Some were positively driven, other ones not so much. In any event, I don’t know if it was intentional or just thanks to my curiosity, but change and re-invention are becoming somewhat normal, like turning the pages of a book, that’s simply how I kept moving from one chapter to the next.
That, I believe, will become more and more relevant in the future. Whether we like it or not.
I also understand that previous experience will not make changes any less painful to live through, but having had some practice with them, and having seen the other side of that pain a few times, at least I know there is hope.
Combine all that with the fact that my wife still has a salary, for now at least, and that some of our backlog projects will probably still get funded at some point, and you’d be right to ask: so what are you so worried about, exactly?
Well, yes, things are not as bad as they could be. We are not going to sell many maps this year, but we can still make the new products for 2021, while personally still having a way to put food on the table. I am very grateful for that.
And yet, anxiety mounts. because as I said elsewhere, I have this feeling the world is just not going back to business as usual, which could be a good thing in the end; I think this global transition, and it’s economic fallout, are going to last longer than we think, and we are going to struggle. I really hope I’m wrong here.
And I get anxious because I don’t quite know what to do with that, how to deal with it. It’s going to take a toll on our collective mental health, myself included, it’s going to be exhausting at best to keep up with it. I so hope I am overestimating this…
“What makes you hopeful about the future?”
The vast amount of time I used to have for free thinking and experimentation has shrunk significantly with a growing family, so risks are more risky now. That could, in theory, make me more focused and persistent, but I am not so sure about that yet. I hope it will.
I am also hopeful because this global crisis is exposing, yet again, how the global economical and political systems are not really serving the majority of people all that well (I am aware of my privileged position). In this I hope for a collective chance to stir changes towards a more …“healthy direction”. One must hope we won’t botch it again! *
I have no recipes for how to do so though. I perhaps just don’t know enough to be sure of what I personally think either, so I am implicitly hoping for some guidance here, mentoring even, that could help direct our tiny efforts to a right-ish target, so to speak.
Finally, I think most of us are going to publicly grow our appreciation for community, at various scales, and towards the people that serve such communities too. Again, I really hope this lesson could be widely learned, and deeply rooted. Enough for societal rewards to be adjusted accordingly. If it sounds naive, it’s because I am a little, most “entrepreneurs” are, or we’ll never even try to do what we do.
* even if…
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” - Douglas Adams.
The rapid fire questions now
- a lesson that life is teaching you: I should have acted more decisively while we had time, and build our semi-off-grid dream house in the countryside already, with a lovely community to share the space. We’d be better prepared now to ride this storm, and in a much happier state by now. I knew something was coming, I just thought we had more time…
- a book recommendation: The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions - by Jason Hickel. I haven’t finished it yet, so I didn’t get to those solutions, but it’s definitely being illuminating when it comes to understanding how the structural inequality works, and how that made our society much less resilient to situations like the one we are currently living in 2020; it also shone a light to who’s been benefiting from those choices the most. I somehow feel this is the book one should read after also reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, and/or Factfulness by Hans Rosling, to have a more complete and sobering view. Okay, those are three books.