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.
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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 …
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch.
But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do.
Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’ However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female guest…
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here?
My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of those Liby…
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair.
For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew.
There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui…
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags across the cou…
The Creativity ImperativeBusinesses today consider creativity of their staff as a critical, possibly the most critical, factor for their ongoing survival. This is because the environment, political, social and commercial, has become so fluid; as Yogi Berra put it, “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Constant change, demanding and more aware customers and citizens, rapid information dissemination through new technologies of information and communication, and intense competitive and regulatory pressures, are pushing companies and people who work for them to innovate and adapt continuously.Set in this context, employee creativity has a whole new meaning. It is traditionally understood as people thinking about products and services, which did not exist before, or tweaking and improving the existing ones. Competitive pressures add to this creativity imperative. Information is fast and cheap, and communication technology is driving the costs of production and distribution constantly. Bes…
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 …