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 …
This has been the best and worst of the times for Higher and Professional Education. While people pursuing Higher and Professional Education has attained a new peak globally, new questions about its relevance and cost have arisen too. The expansion of formal education has crowded out the ecosystems of informal learning, in effect depriving societies with one of the tried-and-tested coping mechanisms for social and technical change (see my earlier post on this), but it has offered little in its space. Its claims on the territory, in various avatars of Lifelong Learning or Massive Open Online Courses, have underachieved, being too structured, too bureaucratic, too content driven and too top-down. Finally, its claims of being able to assess everything overshot its capability, and created dissonance with employers as they struggled to work out hard measures of the 'soft' skills.
However, among all these debates and questions, one that attracts maximum attention is the one about …
I remember this awkward dinner conversation. I was with my colleague in Northern Ireland, and a friend of his joined our table. After we were introduced, he wondered at my name and asked me what religion I belong to. I went for the simpler answer and kept my doubts aside: "I am Hindu", I said. That made him even more confused. "What's a Hindu?" he said, "Is that some kind of Muslim?"
When I tell this story to my friends in India, they are usually outraged. What an ignorant person, they would say. Particularly treating Hinduism as a branch of Islam, when Hindus love to believe that everyone was originally a Hindu, upsets them. I have also reflected upon this conversation later. It may indeed be that he did not know. He was particularly ignorant, just as ignorant as the lady, who, standing inside the Irish Bar at Mumbai's ITC Grand Central hotel, asked my colleague - the same person as it happened to be - where Ireland was. But the confusion about …
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 …
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…
It is possible to see the recent history as an interplay between Politics and Economics, and 2016 as some kind of inflection point that made politics interesting again.
Allowing for a broad generalisation, my point is that the narrative of harmonised economic interest keeping the status quo, which effectively meant a professional political class indulging in risk-free politics, is no longer the only story in town after 2016. The broad consensus that kept emotions out and interests predominant in public affairs has taken a serious beating in Brexit, Trump and myriad other political changes around the world. This includes the failed bids too, as Marine Le Pen reaching second round or AfD entering Parliament make politics something that all intelligent people should be engaged into.
And, yet, if the 2016 was only the beginning, the events in Catalonia yesterday mark a political turn that all the preceding events pointed to. Whether or not this really leads to a Catalan secession, this …
Earlier, I claimed Ed-Tech is over-rated: It promises too much and delivers too little. Worse, the noise of EdTech obscures Education Innovation, which encompasses lot more than gadgets and apps. My point was that the Education Innovation happening away from the limelight of twenty-somethings, venture capital and conference circuits deserve attention. (See here)
The question is what innovation is really there in Education. Raphael's School of Athens makes a popular slide in Conferences, as the speakers often claim that the classrooms today look exactly as they were in Ancient Greece. That statement is symptomatic: It is instructive to pause at School of Athens and reflect on the claim - what counts and does not count as Innovation in the Conference Circuit.
Surely the classrooms do not look anything like Raphael had painted them. Raphael's school is an Open Portal, and don't have rows of chairs and tables, people seating in neat rows. There were no black, white or smart …
The inspiration behind this post comes from several conversations with my colleague Pratik Dattani, the former UK Director of FICCI, an Indian trade body. Pratik, in a regular column he writes for Dainik Bhaskar, pointed out India's meagre tally of 30,000 odd foreign students, against 450,000 in China (which is growing at 10% annually), is a huge missed opportunity, in terms of foreign currency earnings, 'soft power' and diffusion of foreign cultures and ideas. And, besides, number of foreign students in India may be going down rather than up, and several factors, not least anti-African sentiments in some Indian cities, are contributing to it.
Pratik and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the years and I have been closely involved in a Conference, now in its fifth edition, that he organises on Education Innovation in London and in India. We both agreed that India's continuing weaknesses in attracting foreign students is something we want to put on the a…