Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
The App Generation: A Review
I have followed Howard Gardner's work ever since I started studying the science and art of adult learning, because of his intuitive insights and penchant to address issues relevant to modern life and work. These were precisely my expectations when I picked up his latest, The App Generation, co-authored with Katie Davis, and I was not disappointed.
The book is an attempt to portray 'Today's Youth' in the context of their digital habits and its implication for life, love and learning. This seeks middle ground between the enthusiasm that Marc Prensky had for 'Digital Natives' and the bleak vision of The Shallows. Putting things in perspective through personal reflections of Professor Gardner, Ms Davis (twenty years his junior) and Ms Davis' sister Molly, another generation apart, this work is an imaginative exploration of technologies shaping consciousness and habits.
One of the most entertaining parts of the book is its 'unpacking' of the concept of generations. We have had several characterisations to deal with: The usual concepts linked to familial generations, each 20 years or so apart (and rising, as people live longer and have children later in life), the socio-economic ones (the GI generation, the Baby boomers, Generation X and Y) and those linked to historical events, such as the Watergate generation. Professor Gardner correctly points out that we are increasingly viewing generations in media/ technology terms, so a generation of newspapers, followed by a generation of radio, then of television and of Internet, each dominant media affording certain form of society, certain values and certain personal habits. This is indeed the commonly held view of media historians, after Marshall McLuhan's 'Medium is the Message'. Tom Standage's entertaining Writing on the Wall, which I also recently read, chronicles the history of consciousness shaped by the media too. And, indeed, this view is shared by the Digital Enthusiasts and Digital Pessimists: Mr Prensky's Digital Native is indeed the same fidgeting person documented in Mr Carr's 'The Shallows'.
What is special about Professor Gardner's work though is to see the 'Apps', downloadable software applications designed to perform specific tasks, as a distinct development, significant enough to shape habits and culture differently from media and computer usage. This is indeed worth pondering about. By focusing on the App culture, the authors somewhat under-emphasize the social nature of the Internet, what some of the digital enthusiasts see as a pivotal aspect and defining possibility of the new media (for example, Clay Shirky's 'Cognitive Surplus'). However, this is not an isolated dystopian vision, but in the vain of the warnings from Tim Barnes Lee about the emergence of 'Digital Walled Gardens' or Siva Vaidhynathan's Googlization of Everything visions which warn about cognitive and social shrinking through managed filters of the Internet, rather than the promised expansion of the possibilities.
The message of The App Generation centers around three aspects of today's youth: Identity, Intimacy and Imagination. The author's warn of each of these things being somewhat preordained, rather than achieved through exploration and engagement. If someone is uncomfortable about digital algorithm's ability to find true love, one would perhaps understand the issue. As the authors put it:
(I)dentities will be more superficial, packaged less interestingly, idiosyncratically, less meaningfully consolidated; intimacy - even it proves more robust than privacy - will be more superficial, more tenuous, less likely to evolve over time; and imagination will be enhanced chiefly for evident problems with evident routes toward their solution. Or, extending beyond our individual young subjects, it may seem that, in spheres ranging from religion to education, the plurality of apps, and the uses to which they are currently put, lean strongly in the direction of dependence, not enablement.
This is a powerful message. The authors are not dystopian, because they do discuss the possibilities of resistance, individuals resisting the consciousness shaped by technology, though, the authors concede, it may be much easier to disconnect for a while (Arianna Huffington recently asked people to 'disconnect to reconnect') than to resist consciousness determined by technology. The message of App Generation is therefore one of stark warning, and a plea in the lineage of Anthony Burgess, we would rather be bad and imperfect in our own way than be good with scientifically programmed consciousness. This is one message that every educator should at least seriously consider.
Watch Howard Gardner talk about 'The App Generation' at the RSA
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared …
Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something).
The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive season, is …
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.
Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.
Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.
Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …
Since October, as I walked out of my job, I have been looking to fine-tune my ideas about Education-to-Employment transition.
The first step of this was to look at the experiences of last six years, which I spent developing, first, an online competency-based education programme and then on building employer-engaged online project-based education. These were all good ideas, and the reason that I am not doing these any more are partially operational: The first business was underfunded, and the second one was poorly conceived and implemented. But those are discussions for a different day. I am focusing currently on understanding the key conceptual elements - what works and what doesn't work - of a successful education-to-employment transition.
Indeed, the claim that we can make a student employable with a few months of training is apparently pretentious. The years of schooling, family background and the students' dispensation, and luck, plays a much bigger role than any traini…
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
I wrote about the origin story of the Indian Education system (See An 'Indian' Education) to argue that 'Indianness' of Education does not necessarily have to be regressive, ritualistic or religious. The current tendency of relegating any discussion about an Indian Education to obscurantism cedes the space to Hindu Fundamentalists, who are left free to promote their particular, limited and historically inaccurate ideas. However, a culturally congruent education is much needed at a time when Indian society is at a crossroad, the pains of globalisation is hurting and the crisis of identity is real and urgent.
This post is a rejoinder to the earlier one. Here, I intend to expand my argument that the Indian system of education did not break out from its earlier, imperial, mode. This is a familiar argument that the cultural nationalists make all the time, but, since I didn't think that British imperial education was necessarily English-only (rather, it promoted the mod…
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind, which echo the pessimism somewhat.
I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope.
However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right inside …
I just heard Michael Ignatieff hope that when some of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students studying in the United States choose to go home, and confront the authoritarian society at home, a democratic change will come. His source of hope was the Russian experience, and the belief that the Russians educated abroad challenged the Soviet regime and brought about the change: The same may happen to China.
But will it?
All the answers to this would be speculative. But this assertion has an implicit claim about Western Higher Education that I would like to contest. Indeed, the big idea here is the idea of Liberty - the magic wand that transforms people and makes them the agents of change - but the usage of word has so changed over time that it needs to be interrogated again. Liberty in the current Western sense is the liberty to consume, to live a life of unrestrained economic possibility. This makes a difference: The Chinese government doesn't restrict economic possibility in…
One of the foundational industrial age belief is 'what gets measured, gets done'. This is indeed at the heart of scientific management and all the business models that we so love. The progresses in Information Technology came out of, primarily, our quest for measurements, so much so that we got used to the shorthand - 'Information Age' - when measuring and decision-making based on such measurements are the key organising principle of the whole society.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the conversations in Education also revolves around measurement. Much of educational research is about what can be measured and how, driven primarily, but not exclusively, by the politics of public funding, to establish the 'worth' of one thing or another to be eligible for taxpayers' money. The private sector engagement in Education, either through large scale philanthropic engagements by people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, or in the commercial ventures backed by …
I didn't write for almost three weeks as I was in India. The essence of my work there is to deal with employment creation. Part of my work is pro-bono - a city initiative focused on Industry 4.0 - and the other part is commercial, advising a large Indian corporation on the development of next-generation Skills training programmes. But the sense of crisis regarding unemployment cuts across scale and scope of my work and is a recurrent theme that pops up everywhere.
India has a really big challenge. About 2 million people reach working age every month in India, and even if only half of them are actively seeking employment, the few thousand jobs that the organised sector creates are woefully inadequate. India may be the fastest growing large economy in the world, but demonetisation of 2016 and poorly implemented General Sales Tax (GST) have hit businesses hard and froze up recruitment in many sectors. The widely promoted 'Make in India' initiative - the government's atte…