Friday, February 03, 2012

Demise of Tradition?

“I’m not interested in selling a bowl. That’s not the business I’m going to be in,” Heather Reisman told the Globe and Mail in November. “I am interested in creating an experience around the table for the customer.” As MacLean's article recently argues, that Indigo Chapters “experience” paradoxically relies on the cultural patina of books—and their ability to provide product adjacencies, especially around cookbooks and children’s books, two categories predicted to defy digitization. As the article asserts,
"The new product mix is wisely skewed to women, the primary book buyers, and exudes comfort, warmth and well-being: teapots, wine decanters, yoga socks, lavender-camomile bubble bath, pretty notepaper and $28 olive oil."
What's happened to the Blockbusters (or Rogers Video, in Canada) is slowly happening to bookstores.   What's happening to Virgin Records and HMV is slowly happening to bookstores.   The method for how one purchases CD's and DVD's has been completely transformed; the way for how consumers borrow a movie is also completely reversed.    Venerable old Yellow Pages which for decades has been the point of destination when it came to finding names and businesses has also lost its market.  People have moved away from the product experience to the "digital experience," and it's really interesting seeing the dramatic change in the way publishing, bookstores, and libraries are transitioning.

In a way, these three businesses - publishing, book selling, and librarianship - have been the last to be revolutionized by the digital world although the tensions are there and the changes are coming swiftly.  With all these changes in business, it is fair to say that it seems libraries and publishing have been the late in the game to be hit with changes.  Two reports indicate more changes to come with print.  The bookstore model has been altered with less demand for books: but how will publishing and libraries fare?

In a recent study released by the Education Advisory Board, Redefining the Academic Library: Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services, it proposes for wholesale changes to how academic libraries are run: workflow efficiency, relationships with journal publishers, patron-driven acquisitions model, repurposing library spaces, and organizational cultures.   In a report prepared for the Association of Canadian Publishers called The Impact of Digitization on the Book Industry, proposes that Canadian publishers should brace themselves in digital rights management, copyright, and e-books.   Is this the death of the book?   (A popular question nowadays). 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How To Build

Srinivas Rao is the author of The Skool of Life and is a blogging expert.  I came across this excellent presentation created by Rao.   How to "Build An Insanely Loyal Tribe."  I am intrigued.  I hope you are to.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Affordances of the $100 Laptop

The XO-1, previously known as the $100 Laptop, is an inexpensive computer intentionally to be distributed to children in developing countries around the world, to allow for access to knowledge, and opportunities to "explore, experiment and express themselves.”   Soon the the third-generation XO-3 will be release in 2012.  By constructivist standards, the One Laptop Per Child program is a dream come true.  It certainly allows for students to construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.  What better way than to permit a child in the slums of India to use Google to search the world of its wonders?

MIT’s One Laptop per Child Project is indeed a compelling, contemporary design for a learning environment, as it aims to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.  As MIT’s OLCP asserts, “To this end, we have designed hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.” 

I’d like to take a closer look at the structures of affordances, particularly how Donald Norman believes design is of the utmost priority, particularly the affordances construct where properties of the objects that set up a relationship between those objects, possibilities for action in the design, and users who encounter them.  When does glass become useful for windows; when does it become an eating utensil?   As Norman puts it, “Anything we can interact with is an affordance.”  The same lenses should be gazed upon educational technologies.

As much as a technologist as Steve Jobs was, he certainly prioritized the practicalities of design.  As he puts it, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”  Contextualized as a piece of “educational design,” I wonder then how the pieces of the $100 Laptop puzzle works.  For example, who teaches the digital literacy?  What lessons are planned in advance?  Are students simply allowed to surf aimlessly or are there specific learning resources used?   Will e-Books be provided?    While its website provides multitude of success stories, how are children really instructed?  It is a courageous novelty to provide luxuries to children (of any socioeconomic structure) for education, I just wonder how these digital literacies are being nurtured?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

UnLibrary Service Model

Gene Tan is one those rare individuals that is making a difference in the profession of librarians, one innovation at a time. A creator of Ask Stupid Questions, Aspiration PathfinderTM and Bear FruitTM. Ask Stupid Questions is a reference inquiry gameshow that is based on a concoction of brainstorming, gameshow format, relays, music and play. The intention is to have staff get off their comfy seats, break out of their inhibitions and start rattling off "stupid questions" to develop creative ideas for key projects. So successful has the programme been that it caught the eye of the private sector -- Sun Microsystems became the first private sector organisation to include the workshop as part of its drive to generate new marketing ideas for the following year, and several more rounds in the private sector, including companies like SingTel, as well as non-profit bodies such as the Association of Diabetes Educators, and a core training programme for the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC). Ask Stupid Question's popularity has grown almost exponentially, as it has been conducted at more than 50 organisations for over 2,000 participants. 

In addition to the Aspiration Pathfinder, an experience-driven subject discovery programme, experiments with combining the travel experience with library services and Bear Fruit do-good, a creativity programme conducted for the benefit of institutions such as the Institute of Mental Health, Tan also developed programmes, conferences and exhibitions to bring libraries into the mainstream of businesses, institutions and communities in Singapore. Tan also directed Singapore Memory, a national digital project to collect, preserve and access Singapore’s knowledge assets to tell the Singapore Story.

Certainly both pioneering and controversial, Tan calls this unconventional method the "UnLibrary Service." Arguing that the traditional model of library service has been bounded by time, place and transaction, the UnLibrary service model seeks to free library services from these constraints in order to deliver these services on the premise that time, place and transaction are not constrained or pre-determined. Instead, services are treated to a new platform for the delivery of these services: the human experience. Sounds nice, but what are the mechanisms for this? Tan coins this the "three experiences" - Experience by Straying; Experience by Mystery; and Experience by Subversion. Catchy, but does it work everywhere? It'll be interesting to replicate it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Future of Shift

In 1970, Alvin Toffler's Future Shock altered the world's thinking by arguing that society was facing a "future shock," a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies -- namely that the world had "too much change in too short a period of time."   Toffler popularized new concepts such as "information overload" and the "third wave." His insights resulted in a US president to commission a special report, inspired cultural and artistic creations, and gave a powerful new concept to the social sciences.

Could Lynda Gratton's Shift: The Future Work is Already Here have a similar influence in the way we perceive the world and work?   It's certainly too early to see, but from judging the arguments made and the quality of thought put into the book, there is great potential.

A faculty at the University of London's Business School, Gratton looks at current developments of the world, and predicts what it would look like in 2025. A workbook created is available for download that offers readers an opportunity to think more deeply about how to go about crafting one's working future. Follow the three steps and ten questions to make the Shift yourself - Download The Shift workbook. Free of business jargon or economic models, the book is offers refreshing look at what might be, not what the world should be.  This book is an excellent companion for any librarian and information worker who is truly interested in how information, data, and the web is altering our work and our lives

1.  Force of Technology - Ten pieces of this technological puzzle includes: technological capability increases exponentially; five billion become connected; the Cloud becomes ubiquitous; continuous productivity gains; social participation increases; the world's knowledge becomes digitalized; mega-companies and micro-entrepreneurs emerge; avatars and virtual worlds; the rise of cognitive assistants; technology replaces jobs.

2.  Force of Globalization - Eight storylines that emerge: 24/7 and the global world; the emerging economies; China and India's decades of growth; frugal innovation; the global educational powerhouses; the world becomes urban; continued bubbles and crashes; the regional underclass emerge

3.  Force of Demography and Longevity - Four trends will emerge: the ascendance of Generation Y; increasing longevity; some baby boomers grow old and poor; global migration increases

4.  Force of Society - Seven developments will reshape our way of living: families become re-arranged; the rise of reflexivity; the role of powerful women; the balanced man; growing distrust of institutions; the decline of happiness; passive leisure increases

5.   Force of Energy and Resources - Three emerging trends in energy that will affect the way we work: energy prices increase; environmental catastrophes displace people; a culture of sustainability begins to emerge

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Fall of Faculty?

Benjamin Ginsberg's latest book, The Fall of the Faculty, is a scathing yet insightful analysis into the increasing tensions between university faculty and its administration.    A polarizing book to say the least -- verging on the edges of controversy -- Ginsberg asserts that since the turn of the century, universities have increasingly added layers of administrators and staffers to their payrolls every year even while laying off full-time faculty in increasing numbers -- all in the name of budget cuts.

While many of these non-academic--administrators are merely "career managers" who not only reduce the importance of teaching and research, they also manipulate the legitimate grievances of minority groups and liberal activists to "chess pieces" in a game of power politics. By championing initiatives such as affirmation action, social justice, and gender rights, the administration has gained favor with these groups, while boosting their own powers over the faculty.  Intensely fascinating, heavily cloaked with sarcasm and wit, this work is definitely going to be a polemical force in years to come in the academic world.

The danger of Ginsberg's arguments -- though cogently displayed -- is that it potentially creates more problems than solutions.   (In fact, Ginsberg offers very few).   Ginsberg's confidence that the university is the nurturer of society's ideas and hotbed of political and industrial movements -- where the Silicon Valley's and the Civil Rights movements had its origins -- has been the discord of many who dispute that the university is out of touch with that very society that Ginsberg's university seeks to salvage.  In somewhat patriarchal fashion, the notion that faculty is the central raison d'etre of the university place perhaps not only distances the university from society, but places its students as almost an afterthought.   While one cannot fault Ginsberg's hesitations about the rise of managerialism and bureaucracy at the expense of efficiency and mandate of teaching and learning so central for higher education, the idea that increasing the leverage of faculty alone can be the solution potentially further deepens the view that the university is sheltered behind the ivory walls of academia.  Is it irony or is it a paradox?   

Monday, October 31, 2011

Great By Choice

Jim Collins' Great by Choice is another classic in the making.  After Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall, Collins' latest book examines what defines greatness in times of turmoil and instability.   10Xers are those that lead organizations to greatness.   Yet these traits and skills are also habits that can be learned and possessed over time.   Through rigorous research into companies, Collins and his research team reveals three concepts which distinguishes performers that excel above the rest.   Collins' findings correlate closely with his earlier research.  Hard work, persistence, low maintenance, and high quality work all pervade heavily in the ingredients to success.
1.  20 Mile March - Requiring great consistency and discipline over a long period of time, delivering high performance in difficult times, and holding back in good times.  Much more than philosophy, the march is about having concrete, clear, intelligent and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keeps one on track.  Think of climbing a mountain every day at 20 mile intervals, despite the weather, despite the conditions.  The maxim "never too high, never too low" is concisely the point here.

2.  Fire Bullets, Then Cannon Balls - Success is never a single-step creative breakthrough when in fact, it comes about as a multistep iterative process based more upon empirical validation than visionary genius.  The idea of bullets is to make small ventures -- small steps -- and learn from potential mistakes, before firing the "cannon balls."  

3.  Productive Paranoia - Success is never complacent.   As a result, 10x'ers prepare obsessively ahead of time, all the time, for what they cannot possibly predict.  They assume that a series of bad events can happen at anytime; it's what one does before a storm hits that matters most.  While one cannot predict more than 1% of when a disaster will strike, one can comfortably be assured with 100% certainty that disaster will strike at any time.  Therefore, one must be ready at all times.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Libraries in a Digital Frontier: Preserving Chinese Canadian Cultural Heritage

I'm really pleased to present to you my latest publication.   With my terrific colleague at the University of British Columbia Library, Yu Li and and I, we co-published, Libraries in a Digital Frontier: Preserving Chinese Canadian Cultural Heritage.  As a three-year community-based research project at the University of British Columbia, Chinese Canadian Stories: Uncommon Histories from a Common Past is government grant-funded project by the Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) that brings together the expertise and resources of a wide range of UBC Library units and off-campus partners: from the digitization of archival material of UBC Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections; to the digital storage infrastructure of UBC’s Digital Initiatives; to the community outreach and digital technology of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre; to the Chinese language online resources and community historical preservation expertise of the Asian Library. 

A labour of our love these past three years, Lilly and I presented our project to an audience in Beijing, China at the International Conference on Asia-Pacific Digital Libraries (ICADL 2011) "Digital Libraries -- for Culture Heritage, Knowledge Dissemination, and Future Creation" in Beijing, China, Oct 24-27, 2011.  Through this project, a number of partnerships with community and civic institutions nationwide were formed.  This UBC-library led project focuses on three initiatives: a one-stop web portal, a series of community workshops, and digital interactive cultural game using cutting edge technologies. This paper is a progress report of the project.  For more information about this unique project, there are a couple of websites you should visit:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Digital Humanities for Librarianship

Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) has been a rising force in the digital humanities (affectionately known simply as “DH” in the field).  Having been hosted at the University of Victoria campus for more than 10 years now, DHSI has provided an ideal environment for discussing and learning about new computing technologies and how they are influencing teaching, research, dissemination, and preservation in different disciplines.  Every year, faculty, staff, and students from the Arts, Humanities, Library, and Archives communities as well as independent scholars and participants from industry and government sectors participate in the DHSI.    Digital Humanists can no longer be classified as a “fringe group” or sub-discipline; it’s grown to encompass its own set of theories, best practices, industry standards, and scholarly publications.     What is DH and why should we care?   Simply put, it touches on so much, as
an area of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Sometimes called humanities computing, the field has focused on the digitization and analysis of materials related to the traditional disciplines of the humanities. Digital Humanities currently incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials and combines the methodologies from the traditional humanities disciplines (such as historyphilosophylinguisticsliteratureartarchaeologymusic, and cultural studies) with tools provided by computing (such as data visualisationdata retrieval, computational analysis) and digital publishing.
One of this year’s themes of DHSI 2011 is Editing Modernism in Canada, or better known as EMiC.    Bridging academia, technology, and industry, EMiC has slowly risen as the hub for training and networking graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, professors, publishers, and technologists.  Where traditional disciplines shun digital technologies, EMiC fills in by providing the resources necessary for researchers to conduct literary projects using cutting edge technologies, be it digitization, text-encoding initiative markups, or social media fluencies.   Although it aims primarily at preserving Canadian modernist literature, it serves as a the gold standard in innovation for the digital humanities field.
It seems an opportune time for academic libraries to take note.  To a certain extent, academic libraries have slowly shifted in that direction, with such positions as Digital Humanities Librarian at Brown University’s Center for Digital Scholarship.    University of Toronto Library has its own digital scholarship librarian, and in the process of creating its own Digital Scholarship Unit.  The University of British Columbia Library forged ahead in creating a brand new division called Digital Initiatives.   It seems quite clear: academic libraries have an important voice in DH.   For humanists, who only recently had been questioned whether it will survive the 21st century, it’s only logical to collaborate with one of academia’s oldest partner: the library.  So let’s move forward.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Teaching Generation M

Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators is an important piece of work in the librarian’s toolkit.   In bringing together writings by 26 librarians and educators at colleges and universities across the United States to facilitate thoughtful planning for teaching Generation M in the college library, the book is separated into three sections, the volume begins with chapters defining Generation M and the meaning of the term literacy. The second section defines the culture of Generation M and the technologies it encounters. The final section focuses on best educational practices, theories, and applications to assist the librarian or other educator in serving this new population of “Generation M” students.
Patricia Dawson and Diane Campbell’s Driving Fast to Nowhere on the Information Highway: A Look at Shifting Paradigms of Literacy in the Twenty-First Century examines the history of librarianship and information literacy.   In it, they point out that librarians have been concerned about teaching people how to access and use library collections since the 1800′s.  In fact, library instruction had been taught in universities as far back as the Civil War.  Indeed, academic Lamar Johnson is credited with laying the foundations of bibliographic instruction when he offered tours of the library with instruction in the use of basic reference tools, point-of-use instruction, individualized instruction, and course-related instruction in the mid-20th century.  With online web technologies, bibliographic instruction evolved into “information literacy.”   The advent of the computer in the “information society” shifted from finding information in a physical library to searching for information using virtual online databases.
Yet, despite raving reviews of Generation M’s computer skills and constant connectivity and social networks, there continues to be (perhaps even more so) criticisms by academics and especially by employers that new graduates lack basic writing, communicating, and higher order information skills such as analyzing and evaluating content.    While Generation M might be tech-savvy, and used to 24/7 ubiquitous “anytime, anywhere” technologies, they are not necessarily so sophisticated in using this technology, especially in cases where information literacy skills that require critical evaluation of their found materials.
Digital literacy, in many ways, is the new paradigm of librarianship, perhaps an evolution of information literacy of the necessary for the early Web.  What a librarian was once a specialist in a subject area, be it a bibliographer of reference sources, drawing on his deep knowledge of books and creating finding aids for their patrons in the physical library, new generations of librarians must adapt to social media technologies, electronic books, e-Readers, providing grey materials, forging pathways in open access publishing, synthesizing thoughts into pithy blog entries, connecting with fellow colleagues across the world through social networks, delving into legal topics such as the Google Books court case, not to mention integrating existing cataloguing rules into the new web frontier.   Indeed, the librarian of the 21st century has evolved to the point where the profession is ready to have its voice heard in a new “digital strategy” movement.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Michio Kaku and the Future of the World

Michio Kaku is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York of City University of New York, the co-founder of string field theory, and a "communicator" and "popularizer" of science. He has written several books on physics and related topics, he has made frequent appearances on radio, television, and film, and he writes extensive online blogs and articles.  Kaku's new book is an extension of his previous book, Physics of the Impossible.  Rather than talkin about walking through walls, telekinesis, or time travel, Kaku tackles more salient topics: the future of science and humanity.     In particular, through his interviews with numerous scientists and futurists, Kaku is able to paint a picture of what is in store for us in the next 100 years.

 What really struck me is the end of Moore's Law.  According to the laws of physics, the evolution of technology will eventually come to a halt, thus ending the concept of Moore's Law's exponential growth of computer technologies.  Moore's Law depends on miniaturizing transistors; and at the heart of the revolution is the tiny computer chips, which get cheaper and cheaper with each generation.   At some point, it will be physically impossible to etch transistors smaller than the size of an atom.  Moore's Law will stop when the transistor finally hits the size of individual atoms.  In fact, Kaku predicts Silicon Valley could rust away by 2020 unless a replacement comes along.  Some food for thought -- Physics of the Future is definitely a book worth reading.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Internet of Things

The basic idea of the IOT is that virtually every physical thing in this world can also become a computer that is connected to the Internet . . .  things do not turn into computers, but they can feature tiny computers. When they do so, they are often called smart things, because they can act smarter than things that have not been tagged.
Imagine a world where cars can "talk" to each other to prevent accidents, or a door that opens based on its recognition of the person in front of it.  Elgar Fleisch is one of the innovators of the future of such technology. His research focuses on the economic impacts and infrastructures of ubiquitous computing.  At the Auto-ID Lab where he and his team develops their work with a global network of universities, an infrastructure for the “Internet of Things” is currently being formulated.   In many ways, there is still a competition between the "internet of things" and the "web of things," and where this is going will be largely determined by experts like Fleish.   In the white paper, The Internet of Things, some important pieces of this vision is already laid out:

1. "Embeddability" - There is a sense that while the internet is based on flashy software, the IOT is invisible.  Whereas the nerve ends of the Internet are fullblown computers that require regular access to the power grid, the nerve ends in the IOT are very small, in many cases even invisible, low-end and low energy consumption computers.  The IOT is about sensing, storing and communicating only a limited amount of information, and often does not even interact directly with human beings.

2.  Networks & Nodes - Although we think we're all "connected," the fact is, we're really not.  While there are about five billion devices such as mobile phones, personal computers, MP3 players, digital cameras, web cams, PDAs, and data servers that serve a world of 6.7 billion people, the reality is that only 1.5 billion are currently using the Internet.   The number of items created each day, consumer products, far exceed anything Internet-related. With an estaimated 84 billion products created each year gives us an indication of just what is not "connected."   With the IOT, think how computer-enabled "things" around us that requires a vastly different and much larger new network infrastructure that is required.

3. Bandwidth - Think the current Internet as a "mile bottleneck" while the IOT as a bandwidth "highway."  Like the early pioneers of the railway, the Internet has been increasing tremendously over recent years with its ability in transporting us on the information highway, with an average household in many countries with a cable-based Internet access with a bandwidth of at least 1 MBit/s.   However, with the IOT, the implementation of emerging technologies such as fiber optics to the home, the bandwidth will soon become as high as 50 - 100 MBit/s.

4. Standards - The academic and industrial communities are currently searching for alternative technologies and standards (e.g. EPC, ucode, IPv6, 6LoWPAN, Handle System, or Internet0) to number and address the "smartening physical world."   There needs to be the identification and addressing of the nerve endings. Because Internet-based identification and addressing schemes require too much capacity to become part of low-end smart things, the IOT's architecture would have to make sure that any tagged object could in principle be accessed by any computer.

5. Machine-centric Universe -  If you think Jeopardy's Watson is a sign of things to come, then IOT would not be far off.  While current Internet-based services are targeted towards human beings as users, (the World Wide Web (WWW), email, file sharing, video, online chat, file transfer, telephony, shopping, or rating), IOT almost completely exclude humans from direct intervention, as the smart things communicate amongst each other and with computers in the Internet in a machine-to-machine way.

6.  Sensing -   Like the economic success story of the Internet, which allowed companies and individuals virtually for the first time to reach out to a global customer base at ridiculously low cost, Web 2.0-based services include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Wikipedia, only made it even richer. The IOT adds another data dimension, as it allows the  physical world, things and places, to generate data automatically -- where the IOT is all about sensing the physical world.  It provides the infrastructure that for the first time enables us to not only measure the world, but to do it in a cost-efficient means of growing a very finely granulated nerve system of nerve endings.  This is hopefully, what the IOT becomes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Seven Principles to Happiness

Everyone faces some stress at work and in life.  Regardless of how happy one may be.   Shawn Achor is at the cutting edge of positive psychology, a new branch of psychology that finds and nurtures genius and talent,  while striving to make normal life more fulfilling.  Rather than not simply to treating mental illness, the emerging field of positive psychology is intended to complement, not to replace traditional psychology.   Although librarianship and academia are spaces of social networks, they are also nodes of critical inquiry and draconian debates -- not often ingredients for pleasantries, let alone, goodwill.

In his new book, the Happiness Advantage, Achor looks at the seven basic principles that we can all use to boost our happiness level.  Why do we need this?   Well, simply because it also supports our well being as well as effectiveness at work.   By scientifically studying what has gone right, rather than wrong in both individuals and societies, positive psychology is actually an interesting starting point in examining our work lives as well as personal lives.  Happiness leads to success in almost every domain of our lives: marriage, health, friendships, community participation, creativity, jobs, careers, businesses.   So how do we do it?  
Happiness Advantage -  Giving quick "jolts" of happiness is important.  Find something to look forward to each day - each little item counts one more bit towards that goal of happiness.  Infuse positivity into your surroundings.  Exercise more.  Spend money on experiences.  Commit conscious acts of kindess.  Give positive feedback.  Engage in activities you enjoy while working.  What we want to do is reach the critical mass of happiness that will snowball into long-term content.

The Fulcrum and the Lever - Archimedes once said, "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world."  What this metaphorically means is that our minds are our realities.  Einstein's relativity doesn't end with just physics: we can actually use our relative experiences of the workday to the best of our advantages.  Our realities are how we view it. Make meaning in your job.  Rewrite your job description into something meaningful for you: make it your calling.  This can work with those around us, for Achor dubs this the "pygmalion" effect, that our belief in a person's potential can actually bring that potential to life.  The heart of this challenge is to cease interpreting the world as fixed when reality is relative.

The Tetris Effect - Just like the game of tetris, a psychology experiment proved that people tend to perceive their world in mere tetris blocks after playing the game for hours on end.  Similarly, people can also be unable to break a pattern of thinking or behaving after a while of being conditioned to it.   This can have detrimental effects when our selective perception warps us into actively searching for something when it's not even there.  The trick is then to turn this into a "positive tetris effect" in which we infuse our minds with gratitude and optimism.  Psychology experiment after experiment have shown that positive people tend to solve puzzles more quickly and spot errors more accurately.  By listing all the good things we have in life, getting stuck in the positive tetris effect can be productive.

Falling Up - Being able to battle through adversity is all the difference to leading a happy life. Helplessness is a learned behaviour and the sooner we can rebound from failures the sooner we can pave the way for happiness. Crises are in fact, a catalyst for happiness.  Rather than seeing life as a series of successes and setbacks, there is a third path: falling upwards.  Success is much more than mere resilience; rather, it is about  redirecting downward spirals to propel ourselves in the opposite direction so that we can capitalize on setbacks and adversity to become even happier. 

Zorro Circle - This is a beautiful metaphor: Zorro became an expert, swashbuckling hero after his aging master Don Diego instructed the young man to learn his craft inside a small circle until he could expand his repertoire to hanging off chandeliers and handling five enemies with one swoosh of his sword.  The same goes for our lives: we simply can't expect to reverse our lives in one day, neither can we run a marathon in under an hour.  The trick is to regain control aspect of our lives one circle at a time, making it so manageable that it is almost effortless, and gradually expanding it until we reach our goal.  Small successes can add up over time.  But it takes drawing that first small circle.

The 20 Second Rule - Sure, we are probably thinking this already: this is common sense, right?   But as Achor puts it, common sense is not common action. As we are mere bundles of habits (and bad ones usually), we don't consciously work towards good habits.  Willpower usually takes us only so far; much of the time, it doesn't take us anywhere at all.  Rather than using willpower, we need to create the path of least resistance so that our lazy minds won't need to consciously use willpower. The key is to create habits as ritual, repeated practice, until the actions become ingrained in our brain's natural chemistry.  If it means hiding the email icon to stop us from consciously looking to email in order to improve our productivity at work, then do it.  By as little as 20 seconds at a time, it means an investment where forming one today will automatically give out returns for years to come.

Social Investment - The best investment we can make is our support networks.  In times of crises, experiments have shown that those who lack support are those most prone to continuing the downward spiral.  Surrounded by our support networks, whether at home or at work, big challenges feel more manageable and small challenges don't even registar on the radar.  Our social support prevents stress from knocking us down and getting in the way of our achieving our goals.   The most innovative artists and scientists worked as part of a group.  Social connections motivate.  As a result, social relationships are the greatest predictors of both happiness and high performance. So it's time to make that investment.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Social Media and Clay Shirky's View of World Politics

 One complaint about the idea of new media as a political force is that most people simply use these tools for commerce, social life, or self-distraction, but this is common to all forms of media. Far more people in the 1500s were reading erotic novels than Martin Luther's "Ninety-five Theses," and far more people before the American Revolution were reading Poor Richard's Almanack than the work of the Committees of Correspondence. But those political works still had an enormous political effect. (Shirky, Foreign Affairs, 2011)
Clay Shirky has finally made it.  Often championed as one of the modern thinkers of technology and society, but also maligned as a mere naval-gazing pop intellectual who talks the talk, Shirky's recent article The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change in the long-renowned journal, Foreign Affairs, has penned some thought provoking gems about the changing political order thanks the effects of ordinary citizens' use of social media technologies.
Social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world's political movements, just as most of the world's authoritarian governments (and, alarmingly, an increasing number of democratic ones) are trying to limit access to it.In response,the U.S. State Department has committed itself to "Internet freedom" as a specific policy aim. Arguing for the right of people to use the Internet freely is an appropriate policy for the United States, both because it aligns with the strategic goal of strengthening civil society worldwide and because it resonates with American beliefs about freedom of expression. But attempts to yoke the idea of Internet freedom to short-term goals-particularly ones that are country-specific or are intended to help particular dissident groups or encourage regime change-are likely to be ineffective on average. And when they fail, the consequences can be serious.

1.  A New Political Science? -  What social media has done is essentially re-write the rules of political science and even the social sciences.  It would be impossible to describe the recent political crises in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Moldova, or Thailand (among the many) without discussing the use of mobile media and online tools by those resisting against authoritarian governments.  Such social technologies have mobilized grassroots citizenry and civic grassroots journalism to not only effecting change in the political landscapes in countries, but ultimately bringing down regimes.

2.   What Is Civil Society? -  What social media has down is ultimately breaking down the state's ability to use violence and oppression, truly allowing for a degree of civil society unheard of before the age of the internet.   Shirky views this as a shift in the balance of power between the state and civil society that has ultimately led to a largely peaceful collapse of communist control.  As such, when civil society triumphs, many of the people who had articulated opposition to the communist regimes-such as Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Poland and Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia- became the new political leaders of those countries.  Communications tools during the Cold War did not cause governments to collapse, but they helped the people take power from the state when it was weak. The same should be seen from the power of social media -- perhaps even in a more intensified process.  And we're witnessing that as we speak.

3.  The "New" Public Sphere - The famed social philosopher Jurgen Haberman's concept of the public sphere is being challenged and perhaps will soon be thrown right out the window in this age of intensive social media.   Developed during the Renaissance in Western Europe and the United States, Habermas viewed a vibrant public sphere acting as a positive force keeping authorities within bounds lest their rulings be ridiculed.  As such, the public sphere is a place between private individuals and government authorities in which people could meet and have debates about public matters.  With such critical discussions taking place, they anchor as a counterweight to political authority.  The "public spheres" more importantly, happened physically in face-to-face meetings in coffee houses and cafes and public squares as well as in the media in letters, books, drama, and art. Forward three hundred years, and we’re seeing the physical public sphere turn digital: in the blogosphere, twittersphere, Facebook, and viral video sharing sites.

4.  Communications -  Although mass media alone do not change people's minds, the process does.  As Opinions and ideas are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. Eventually, it is the social network that influences and forms political opinions.  This is the step in which the internet in general, and social media in particular, effects change. As with the printing press, the internet spreads not only media aconsumption, but also media production.  As Shirky argues, "It ultimately allows people to privately and publicly articulate and debate a welter of conflicting views."   How's that for social change?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Have You Been Screw-gled Lately?

Greg sighed. He knew Google too well: Every time you visited a page with Google ads on it, or used Google maps or Google mail -- even if you sent mail to a Gmail account -- the company diligently collected your info. Recently, the site's search optimization software had begun using the data to tailor Web searches to individual users. It proved to be a revolutionary tool for advertisers. An authoritarian government would have other purposes in mind. (Scroogled, 2007).
Canadian writer Cory Doctorow is best known as the proponent of copyright laws that should be liberalized and allowed for free sharing of all digital media. Arguing that copyright holders should have a monopoly on selling their own digital media, he proposes that copyright laws need only come into play when someone attempts to sell a product currently under someone else's copyright.  How's that for digital democracy?

Doctorow is also a science-fiction writer, and a futurist.   In 2007, Doctorow penned a fascinating, but eerily nihilistic view of the Google-dominated universe.  Like the panopticon, Doctorow's short story, Scroogled, is about a world gone terribly astray, where every action parsed directly or indirectly by Google is effectively used to monitor our every action. 

Not surprisingly, there is a search engine that goes by this very title that  Scroogle, a site designed for those who don’t want Google tracking their searches back to them.  Disguising the Internet address of users who want to run Google searches anonymously, Scroogle is a web service that gives users the option of having all communication between their computer and the search page be SSL encrypted.

Think about it: Google can keep your searches on record for up to a year and a half.  It's said that if you do not want a record of all your searches in storage, then using Scroogle's "scrapper" might be an effective method.

Are we living in a paranoid dimension here?   The librarian in me says that freedom of privacy and information is of course central to a democratic society.   Think about it: Google does have an enormous influence on us, although we are only subtly aware of it:

1.  Societal Influence - It has been a mental influence on people that if your search is not found on google it does not exist.  In fact, if it's not ranked highly, it isn't important.  And if one Google yourself (which a lot probably do), it's a reflection of one's "importance" virtually and physically, too.  Think of all the resources that companies are exercising in raising their Google ranking. Think of all times you search for meaning and answers to life, all coming from Google search results.  If Google isn't a convenient magic eight ball, then what is?

2.  Street View - I must admit, I am an admirer of Google Street View, especially when I want to see places I haven't been before.  However, it has also been accused of taking pictures and coming too close inside people's private homes and people who walk down the street not knowing they are being watched on Google's service.   While they were at it, Google collected about 600 gigabytes of data from users of public WiFi stations (which are not owned by Google) during 2006-2010, including snippets of emails. 

3.  Politics - Being the world's largest company ultimately drags it into the political sphere, too.  Case in point: although Mainland China had already enforced by filters colloquially known as "The Great Firewall of China," search results were further filtered so as not to bring up any results concerning the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, or websites supporting the independence movements of Tibet and Taiwan, or the Falun Gong movement.  It wasn't until only recently after a clash with China that Google stepped out of placating the world power.   But is Google tempting fate as a multinational corporation?   I guess while we wait for the answer, we should at least give Scroogle a try.