Monday, December 31, 2012

Reminder for 2013

Nothing that is written down was meant for elimination.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The clash of becomings

Young people have an edge on knowledge in the same way that adults claim to know more than them (and for a longer time). Due to their education/orientation being displaced at a newer time, in newer spaces and with newer languages, young people need a balance of lecturing and listening - an emphasis on either one can lead to a clash of becomings. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rhyming dictionaries

On one hand I think this could dangerously erode consciousness around language. But on the other (much stronger) hand, I am delighted to see the work that has been invested in giving people a free, easy way to learn words for the sake of rhyme! Check out Alcor's Swahili Rhyming Dictionary

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Marxwashing

A: Spirit
B: Human
C: Action

If all A = B,
and every B = C,
then all C = A. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weeknd

"You don't know what's in store,
But you know what you're here for."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Iterative design

Iterative design acknowledges that the world is constantly changing and so are its people. Shifting preferences, lifestyles and work ethics mean that initiatives relying on people need to be designed to accommodate changes. They need to suck up their pride and understand that sometimes, some things will fail. This type of design prescribes a curiosity for the unknown at all times and involves lots of questions on an hourly basis. It also calls for the embodiment and ownership of the design as changing in and of itself.

(Thanks, Twaweza!)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Less is better than more

When designing communication systems - or any system for that matter - it seems better to start with less rather than more. Adding more than what is seen as a basic requirement risks overestimating the value of what is actually needed. It also seems easier to build on something based on new needs, rather than taking out stuff that is never used (humans seems to like hoarding). 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Isaac and Law # 3

"The third law states that all forces exist in pairs: If one object A exerts a force FA on a second object B, then B simultaneously exerts a force FB on A, and the two forces are equal and opposite: FA = −FB." (Source)

Could this be applied to intangible forces as well? I was reminded of Newton's 3rd law as I was reading about how the M23 rebels seized Goma in DRC, which was previously controlled by the ruling government with support from the United Nations. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On risk III

See On risk I and On risk II.

So far I've discussed 4 different parts/characters of risk:
  • The resulting condition/situation causing risk.
  • The risky "stuff" itself, that is danger or harm.
  • The initiator(s) that causes the condition/situation (aka the risk initiator).
  • The other constituents affected by the risky condition.

The responsibility of the other constituents dealing with the risk rests on the initiator. 

Risk entails an awareness of causing danger or harm. You cannot cause risk without knowing what kind of danger or harm is involved because in that case you would not call it a risk, but something else. To call something "risk" is to be aware of what danger or harm it brings. 

Now, what happens in a situation where the risk initiator is now aware - but the constituents are - of the danger or harm at hand?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Media analysis and critique

I'm trying to brainstorm what kinds of analyses people want from news media and how these analyses can be useful to them.

Some points of data for media analysis might be:
  • Most frequent word in headlines
  • Most frequent subject/topic in headlines
  • Most frequent personality appearing in headlines
  • Number of articles per day
  • Diversity of topic areas covered per day
  • Total number of people affected by each day's news

Some factors influencing media critique might be:
  • Truth: To what level can facts be verified?
  • Setting: What is the geographic spread of reporting?
  • Process: How was the information collected?
  • Sources: Who or what was consulted to gather information?

To my seemingly (and possibly intentionally) non-existent audience: Your feedback is welcome! Otherwise, more on this soon. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Is traditional medicine not a science?

On Vijana FM's poll this week, we asked whether traditional healers can work with doctors. So far, most people say "in some ways, sure". Coincidentally, I came across this article today titled Traditional Medicine Excels Where Science Fails. Here is an extract:

"Traditional medicine is popular in rural and urban communities due to beliefs. High cost of living, which has made medical treatment unaffordable to many people, is another reason for the popularity of the customary medicines. Other factors notwithstanding, long distance to a local health facility has also pushed many people towards traditional medicine, which to most rural people, is more readily available.  
"It is estimated that over 80 per cent of rural people in Tanzania depend on traditional healers for their primary health care needs. Since the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in the country allowed treatment through traditional medicines, clinics and shops, which give that service are increasing daily. Healing is done through a balanced diet like eating a good meal, fruits, plants and roots medicine, and drinking a large amount of water." 

I find that the juxtaposition of the two - traditional medicine and science - is too harsh. Can't traditional medicine be considered a science of its own? On a broad level, it involves making a hypothesis, testing these hypothesis with a method and is open to being proven wrong. There may be differences at a particular, practical level, but I would argue that the overall motivation to learn about curing based on certain metaphysical assumptions is consistent. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Twitter and lexical innovation

In recent years I have been interested in how media and learning are related. Language has a lot to do with this; not just particular world languages, but all lexical forms through which we express our ideas.

Today I came across an interesting BBC article about language studies on Twitter:

"The question of how language changes and evolves has occupied linguistic anthropologists for several decades. What determines whether an innovation will propagate throughout a culture, remain just a local variant, or be stillborn? Such questions decide the grain and texture of all our languages – why we might tweet “I’m bored af” rather than “I’m bored, forsooth.”

Nice! Full article and links here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Resources and ideas

One is likely to be implementing someone else's ideas until the day when one is able to have free reign over resources; original ideas can be implemented from that day onward.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On voice and hearing

We all have some kind of voice. Even for those of us who cannot speak, we have ways of expressing ourselves. A certain contradiction arises when we want to achieve a state of being where everyone can exercise their voice, because certain voices need to reign louder than others. This subdues the voice of those who are deemed to be less loud. However, the contradiction can be elevated by spaces. Certain voices can have certain spaces, as long as they are heard and are translated through the channels that are created for a particular state of being. Without hearing and translation, voice can lose its purpose.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Two ideas about mobile money

At work, my colleagues and I have recently been trying to figure out how to use mobile money transfers for the purpose of sending productive messages to citizens. Two ideas came to mind when thinking of MMTs:

1. Provide customers with a statement of account when they demand it. The statement, similar to a bank statement, would clearly show all transactions, including money out and money in.

2. Provide customers with the ability to create a savings account, where money left in a certain "box" would recieve interest if left alone over a given period of time.

Through both these services - providing statements and allowing for savings - many more innovative message techniques could be devised.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comradeship

About 2 weeks ago I picked up a book on al-Ghazali by one of my professors, and in his (my professor's) acknowledgements, he refers to one of his good friends as a "comrade". This is not so odd in the grand scheme of things, but for an esteemed scholar and such a prolific literary enthusiast, it struck me as odd that he would be so casual.

But since then, the word has stuck. And it is as if I am re-learning the word. I have found myself dropping it in different correspondences and writings.

Officially, the Oxford mini dictionary (7th ed) tells me "comrade" means "a fellow member or soldier". When I use it, I seem to think of the unity the word expresses a lot more than the person who embodies it. That is, "comrade" reminds me of a sense of belonging and a sense of duty a member of a large group inherently carries.

And since it is a name bestowed onto someone, they don't really have a choice in how it is applied. It is applied because of the perception the caller has of the called.

Maybe I will write on this more later. But for now, this will suffice to enter it into memory.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The future of comments

The UJK library held its first "Round Table of Critical Thought" discussion yesterday and Omar and I discussed many things relating to language in the media. One interesting question that came up was "What will the future of commenting look like?" This is particularly important to the digital social media and blogging spaces, since we can imagine a future where everyone has a voice online.

But does everyone saying something at one go (say, in response to a particularly popular blogpost) help to decipher the overall sentiment? If they are all displayed in a chronological string, not really. But if they are grouped together somehow - given keyword categorization or user voting as two examples - it would probably make the message much more friendly to understand. (Thanks OA!)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Open book experiment


I met an interesting man from Manila on the news today. One day he decided to give away his books in honor of promoting the act of reading. After leaving his less-than-100-book collection outside his house, he found that people not only borrowed books, but brought more books back. He's now running an open library that spreads across and inside his house where, in his own words, "there are no rules".

Meet Nanie Guanlao here on BBC's website.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mediated audio production

"...it would seem that today’s worldwide web of musical interaction might be best interpreted and expressed through the very tools and technologies that artists and audiences are using to create and engage their music..."

- Wayne Marshall on Musically Expressed Ideas About Music

(Thanks SS and TZHH!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Designing multiple instruction modes

There is a lot of deliberation at the moment on the language of instruction in Tanzanian schools. Public schools teach in Swahili, with a small minority of public secondary schools teaching in English. The popular perception among people is that English = quality global education. Yet, some argue that Swahili helps to maintain a cultural identity.

What if we designed a system of instruction that combined both, local language and international languages? The core curriculum would be taught in the local language of Swahili - as is the practice in most countries - but if students and teachers wanted to talk or listen in English there would be ways to do so; either through extra overtime classes, or through a dedicated course on the English language, or through the use of subtitled text on screens (and other translation technologies).

In order to even entertain the idea of this kind of system, resources would need to be invested. Teachers in particular would need to be prepared (and willing) to have an instructional command in both languages and institutions in general would need to be prepared (and willing) to invest in extra time and technology spent on exploring both.

At the end of the day however, when it comes to learning, people should have the capability to learn in whatever language they are most suited at using. Otherwise, the process of education becomes trancedental; it is brought from an unknown place and imposed on a population. If people speak, listen, interact in a medium of instruction that they are brought up with, they are better able to understand and react to concepts, even when they are translated into local vernacular.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Meu Caro Amigo

"My dear friend, please forgive me, if I can’t pay you a visit, but since I found someone to carry a message, I’m sending you news on this tape. Here we play football, there’s lots of samba, lots of choro and rock’n'roll. Some days it rains, some days it’s sunny but I want to tell you that things here are pretty dark. Here, we’re wheeling and dealing for survival, and we’re only surviving because we’re stubborn. And everyone’s drinking because without cacha├ža, nobody survives this squeeze."

From a song, Meu Caro Amigo, by Chico Buarque. Lyrics found when reading about Augusto Boal and Theatre of the Oppressed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dala dala innovation

Anson Stewart is doing some really cool work with urban transportation systems. I recently came across this map he made of dala dala routes in Dar-es-Salaam. A few years ago I had talked to my friend about how we needed a map like this so that public transport systems in Tanzanian cities could innovate further.


Maps provide locational data that is important for many reasons. A few of them are: Being able to also map out specific stops (and other travel-related spots) along routes; timing route/journey durations; providing distance/time information to travellers; and eventually even providing such information to city planners who can then dedicate specific space on roads just for public transport.

Exciting stuff! Thanks Anson.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Capabilities in education III

In open-source environments in education, people would like to think they have increased the freedoms of end-users (students and teachers). But once again, under institutional arrangements, freedoms are not ever-free. There are constraints. Some are more noticeable than others. Yet, capabilities with learning technology are more open in their sources and their applications than they were in the past, and they look like they will continue (albeit slowly) to open up more.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Capabilities in education II

People at universities who directly manage learning - teachers, support staff, learning technologists, librarians, etc. - appear to be of the opinion that ideally, institutional arrangements should restrict learning as little as possible.

But there is only so much time in one day, only so much money to go around one university, and only so much one person can think about in terms of how their job relates to their ideals.

So, considering the scarcity of resources, institutions cannot help but restrict learning. At least, this is true for resources directly handled by those who manage learning.

When, then, can be said about resources that are seemingly and willingly abundant, uncontrollable and left up to the learner to handle? Such as those that live in open-source environments?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How do post offices work?

Contemporary e-mail systems - and many other systems that piggyback off them - were originally designed to model postal mail. There may be cool lessons to learn, therefore, from observing how post offices function.

Side note: Patrick Clifton - or Postman Pat - always had his cat, Jess, with him. While Jess could never speak to Postman Pat in his human language, Postman Pat could understand Jess' motions and reactions. This helped them work as a team; more importantly, a team that Postman Pat's customers/clients would probably not understand. If e-mail service providers play the part of Postman Pat today, who plays the part of Jess?

Thanks Brink of Bedlam for the nostalgic image!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Capabilities in education I

With the help of their five senses, humans appear capable to learn indefinately. However, under institutional arrangements, some of these capabilities are - by definition of the institution - restricted. What kinds of new institutional arrangements can support rather than restrict learning capabilities?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Understanding the accusation "You're crazy!"

The accusation "You're crazy!" could mean at least two different things.

It could mean "You're crazy!" in the sense that what you are saying or doing is impossible. It is impossible because it is at odds with the laws of nature.

Or, it could mean "You're crazy!" in the sense that what you are saying or doing is not something conceivable. It is not conceivable because it does not readily appear to fit in the state of affairs around you.

In the first case, well, you're probably crazy. In the second case, you aren't crazy, but you need to try and express  yourself a bit more, and where this proves impossible, you need to try and do and see for yourself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Curiosity on Mars

Here is an epic panoramic view of Mars, with love from Curiosity.













Thanks Engadget!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gmail HTML view

If you're like me and appreciate minimalist HTML-only views on slow connections, you might have struggled to view your Gmail this way (ie: clicking relentlessly on the bottom-right link after logging in). To my relief, I just found that if you use this link after you've signed in, it should point right to the HTML template.

No more frantic double, triple, seemingly-infinite clicking. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Desires vs. Actions

In different areas of work - whether they be private or public - we tend to chase measurements of demand. That is, what do people want?

But we are growing increasingly aware that peoples' actions do not always reflect their ideal desires (thanks UK and Nudge). In light of this awareness, it appears that the question we should be asking is, rather than what do people want, what do people do? 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lamenting with Ludwig

Metaphysical subjects cannot be clearly discussed through words, regardless of language (Thanks, LW). They might be able to be felt - in some way or the other - through other forms of expression (sight, sound, touch, etc.) but even through these other forms, the subject is obscure, vague, not exact and interpretable in different ways.

Does this mean we should shy away from expressing our metaphysical beliefs through our actions in life?

And when instinct speaks loud from within, is this even an option?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Preferences

What influences our preferences? Sure, there are prevailing conditions that influence our economic interests (thanks, BK). But what about preferences of luxury goods, such as extra food, extra clothing, music, visual art, conversation, etc?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cold woodwinds


















"Saxoman". Taken in Central Park, NYC. Circa March 2007.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Religious education and the knowledge society

Three years ago in London, I met Adil Mamodaly, who happened to be living in the room next door to me at our student residence near Kings Cross. At the time, Adil was pursuing a double Masters program (in Muslim Civilizations and Education respectively), jointly run by the Institute of Education and the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Though we no longer live in the same city and can no longer enjoy a game of Monopoly together as easily, I am lucky to still be in touch with Adil. He is now working as a teacher and scholar with the Ismaili community in Canada and recently published a paper titled Rethinking the role of religious education in a knowledge society: A Shia Ismaili Muslim perspective.

Yesterday I caught up with Adil over e-mail and asked him five questions on the paper. He was kind enough to respond. Here is what he said:

1. This knowledge society; does it just have to do with the physical production of knowledge or are there intangible aspects to it? 
Knowledge societies do not just have to do with the physical production of knowledge but they also ought to consider how to use that knowledge towards the greater good of its society, and from a global standpoint, the entirety of the human race. 
2. Compared to teachers from Dar al Hikma, why do you think we've arrived to a state in the world where we specialize in particular subjects, rather than having broad "encyclopaedic" knowledge? 
I think it has to do with how knowledge itself has been understood in certain parts of the world. What has happened is that societies whose sole focus was to achieve greater economic gain saw knowledge not as a whole but in parts and therefore many fields of knowledge became specialized. Focusing in one subject area would make you an expert in your field but what we are seeing now is a knowledge gap where various fields of study have become overly specialized and are therefore alienated from each other. This again begs the question, what is our purpose behind the pursuit of knowledge? and to what end? 
3. Secular and Religious Education; need they be separate? Why so? 
Some would argue yes, presumably as an extension to the belief in the separation between Church and State. Though this is not the case all around the world, some societies do not see them as binaries, politically or educationally speaking. In terms of Education I would recommend that they be taught in harmony with each other because religions have existed throughout our history and in many facets of human life. Omitting this convergence in the education system suggests to our younger generations that we can pick and choose what we (in the present) want to say about the world which I believe distorts a real and meaningful understanding of our world to our students. If we distort history then students will have difficulty in understanding how the world has come to be the way it is. Dichotomizing secular and religious education within our learning system inadvertently says to the student that these two do not belong together nor have they ever belonged together, of which the opposite is true.

 This is but one argument in a very large discussion but I would be remiss if I did not say that we should evaluate how religious education is taught amidst the influences of secularism, both from a curricular and pedagogical standpoint. What we, as educators, should be asking is: "how can I teach and inspire my students to live their lives by contributing to the betterment of society through ethical principles and actions while pursuing economic betterment?" 
4. You mention Paolo Freire while discussing cosmopolitanism (p. 10). Is a transformation in the way young people are educated needed? If so, what would this transformation look like, and how would it help? 
I think I addressed some of this in the previous question but what I will say is that in addition to changes in how we educate young people we should seek to achieve a transformation within the student. In other words, developing their potential to contribute to the world in which we live in meaningful ways and with greater purpose is what Freire reflects upon. In connection with cosmopolitanism, diversity of peoples in our countries, cities and neighborhoods is a well known fact but how we develop individuals that will see this diversity as a strength and build upon it is of primary concern to educators as it ensures the safety and interactive growth of our species. 
5. If you had the chance to be heard by all the teachers in the world, what would you say? 
In addition to the question I posed in question 3, I would ask "how are you creating a space wherein students can look at the world through multiple lenses be it philosophical, scientific, religious, artistic or otherwise? And, how do you ensure that these multiple ways of understanding become a source of strength in your classroom rather than a burden?" 
Adil can be emailed at adil(dot)mamodaly(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks chief!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Serving up the fix

Originally published on Vijana FM | 22nd July 2012

On a recent album release by Nas called Life is Good, Anthony Hamilton sings “The world is an addiction / serving up a fix”. The track goes on to discuss the dangers of selling out in pursuit of irrational dreams; indeed, “you gain your life just to lose your soul”.

Sometimes I wonder if Tanzania is losing her soul. Perhaps – as time passes – it is me growing more conscious, or media becoming more pervasive to drama. But it seems like this country is chasing grandeur that is alien to her history and at odds with what she needs today.

Her history and her needs; what do these mean? For the purpose of this post, I am pointing to Tanzania’s historical pursuit to be an independent nation-state, free of international dues and reliance on help. I am also referring to her current state of affairs, mainly consisting of an inefficient system of education coupled with an unbalanced system of trade.

There are a few examples which seem to show that Tanzania is not independent at all and is ignoring her own real needs. I will highlight five here.

1. Defense and policing
Under the pretense of training, the Tanzania People’s Defense Force (TPDF) is taking lessons from foreign interests. It is great to exchange strategy and know-how (TPDF has trained African National Congress and Congolese armies in the past), but knowledge should also be customized to local needs.  Yet, the TPDF hardly has its own website, and most of its news flows through AFRICOM and Wikipedia pages. Do we not have our own platforms from which the Tanzanian people can learn and engage with their own defense apparatus? As for civil policing, it is getting eery. A recent op-ed raised alarming questions about the fluctuating loyalty of our police forces. The op-ed was prompted by selective actions pursued by officers during the recent doctors strike, many actions of which people find difficult to trust.

2. Mining
The security and environmental policies around Geita and North Mara mines have mirrored the selective action by civil police forces. Directives appear to come from high-level authorities, far removed from the interests of ordinary citizens. There have been numerous stories about the irony of Geita’s awkwardly benevolent slogans and North Mara’s shooting of “trespassers”. Yet, to the rest of the world, what matters is the “efficient” allocation of resources such that share prices increase; and it appears Tanzania wants to satisfy this allocation. Uh, which Tanzania do we mean here? The ordinary citizens’ Tanzania, or the rest of the world’s Tanzania? Are these the same?

3. Agriculture
You might be thinking “Well, of course, a country belongs to its citizens!”. Sure, I would like to believe that. But even for Tanzania’s state of agriculture, it is not so easy to tell. In the 1970s, Tanzania provided land to refugees who escaped war and genocide in Burundi. A few years ago, this land was agreed to be used by a US-based company to advance Tanzania-based Kilimo Kwanza initiatives. The agreement was reached by multiple parties, and arrangements had been made to relocate the refugees who had settled in this land over the years. Whether this has been done in the interest of farmers, the refugees and/or Tanzania is still not clear, but this lack of clarity is glaring proof that the agreement was simply not reached in consultation with citizens. What is strange is that this year citizens of Iowa, a state in the US, meet their local authorities to discuss Tanzanian human rights (even though the reallocation of the refugees from Burundi had been planned sometime in 2011). What happened to us sitting down with our local authorities? What does this one case mean for Kilimo Kwanza as a whole?

4. Fishing, wildlife and tourism
The fix appears to be served beyond land, into the deep blue as well. Last year, Tanzania exported about $173 million worth of fish products. What was her revenue from these exports? About $3.7 million (less than 3%). A government website states that fisheries is a source of “employment, livelihood” to people and constitutes about 30% of protein intake in the population, but still we are trying to combat illegal leaks in the system (which begs the question, where is it all leaking to?). Meanwhile, back on firm land, some of Tanzania’s wildlife are being exported under the table, while she sets up large boundaries called “reserves” (some of the largest in the world) where animals are supposed to live freely so she can make a bit of change from tourism. It’s not like Tanzania does not make money from tourism – the numbers show potential – but who is benefiting?

5. Education
Mwalimu Nyerere once said “our education must counteract the temptation to intellectual-arrogance”. I interpret intellectual-arrogance to mean serving up the fix; being high on an illusion that is distant from reality. Previous reports about whether Tanzania is learning are sobering. But whether or not we choose to improve the state of education within this country, the knowledge the world has about her is distorted, and we seem to encourage it. Perhaps it is time Tanzania made room for more traditional ways of learning.

Whatever we decide to do, Nas sums it all up for everyone with a fix: “We all need faith cause the world keep changing / Let go of the illusion, start some restraining”. Tanzania was never founded on an illusion; rather she was borne from a liberating reality. But whether she sells this reality in pursuit of some quick relief at the expense of her own health or whether she stays grounded with her people is up to those who make the decisions for her.

This post was inspired by Solo Thang’s Miss Tanzania and Bahati’s UtandaRhymes series.

Selected links in this article:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reaching out to remember

Sampling Nas feat. Mary J. Blige: Reach out....

[Verse 1 extracts]
When you’re too hood to be in them Hollywood circles
And you’re too rich to be in that hood that birthed you
And you become better than legends you thought were the greatest
And out grow women you love and thought you could stay with
Life become clearer when you wipe down your mirror
And leave notes around for yourself to remember...

...Nasty the nicest, I’m somewhat of a psychic
Just one minute after it’s heard
You all excited, you all repeat it
So call me a genius, if you didn’t
Now that I said it I force you to think it

[Chorus extract]
This kind of love is a once in a lifetime cruise
Reach out and touch the love that I have for you...
From Life is Good. Photo and lyrics credits go to KillerHiphop.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feedback

Information that is fed out needs feedback; that is, it needs to be fed right back with further information about whether the original stuff was relevant/useful/worthy. Otherwise there is no movement from the original source. And where there is no movement, how is change defined?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shortening experience

A friend of mine pointed out something tonight that has loosely been on my mind lately: We look at, hear and feel life through a lot of screens and even more interfaces today, and increasingly we seem to rely on these very screens and interfaces to give us the whole picture.

Doesn't this run the risk of shortening the experience of life itself? Is this even a risk at all? (Thanks, Ender.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's a hero without a villian?

Not so long ago, I listed several binary oppositions; the purpose was to remember them as having come up many times in my studies.

Here's one more: Heros and Villians. 


The other day at work (feels good to be back at home doing this thing called 'work') my coworkers were discussing the show Heros. It got me thinking about every hero I had come to admire in my life, from the fictional ones like Jerry, Liono and He-Man, to the real ones like Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Mandela. The list is pretty long, but what stood out is that these heros championed causes, fought obstacles and stood their ground... against other actors.

In the case of Jerry, his opponent was Tom. For Liono it was any ally of Mumra, while for He-Man it was any ally of Skeletor. In real life, Mother Theresa fought poverty; Gandhi and Mandela both made substantial moves against inequality and injustice.

Can there be hereos without villians? If so, what would justify their existence, knowledge, and identity?

Generalizing these questions to wider binary oppositions, can one exist (at least as an independent idea) without the other? If the answer is yes, then why do the opposites still exist as ideas? If the answer is no - that is, binary oppositions cannot exist without one another - then what implications does this have on everyday actions? 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wearing, being and doing

What we wear is what we are. And what we are is what we do. So, I suggest that what we wear is what we do. Clothing can be stylish and purposeful at the same time. 

Thinking and acting

Sometimes, we argue about how far we have acted out our thoughts. Other times, we decide we cannot act as much as we can think.

Insofar as thinking and acting are seen as two departments, two worlds, two states of being, their combination seems difficult. Insofar as they are thought of as one seamless process, one world, one way of being, their interdependency becomes clearer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Synths and Google

Google had a synthesizer up as their search logo today. The record function is a seriously dangerous passtime!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Revision rinsed IV

The problem with contemporary information systems for the public sector is that they rely on older models of "new public management" that rose around the turn of the century.

New public management was a field where the affordances of technology were combined with the objectives of public administration.

Two concerns follow from this  theoretical combination: First, how has the distribution, production and consumption of new media and information technology systems evolved since the year 2000? Second, how are public values  translated into technology rules?

The challenge of contemporary information systems for the public sector lies in these two concerns.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Binary oppositions

Physical - Metaphysical
Subjective - Objective
Realized - Trancended
Dark - Light
War - Peace
Gemeinschaft - Gesellschaft
Exogenous - Endogenous
Public - Private
Open-source - Propietary
Us - Them

Friday, May 11, 2012

Revision rinsed III

If we can accept that different communication systems are embedded in different cultural arrangements, then the social relations which make the arrangements up become a central concern. We may borrow from concepts explored in political economy as well as community development literature.

Amartya Sen [1] outlines five critical functions of the media in society:
  1. To enable direction contribution from the public;
  2. To enable information to be disseminated to the public;
  3. To protect public voice;
  4. To facilitate the formation of public value; and
  5. To enable public reasoning.
Here, Sen does not attempt to theorize communication. He assumes much of it: That it is increasingly 2-way, that sometimes the public talks and other time the public is talked to, and that values are inherent in these relations. By these assumptions, he makes a strong argument of the media in support of democratic, just societies. 

Similarly, Paolo Friere [2] assumes that modes of communication - and their respective values - change, but some stuff remains in the public. This stuff is grounded in very few but common values we all come to the world with. As with Sen's focus on justice, Friere's focus is on the pedagogy we need to interact to realize these few common values.

In both cases, a strong assumption needs to be made about values being embedded with the production, distribution and consumption of media. Once those values are assumed, the structure of power becomes clear. 

And from here, one can evaluate whether any communication system is participatory or superficially-revised diffusion.

Even here, however, we need to check ourselves. Let us consider an example of a "truly" participatory approach. In this case, is it possible to envision systems of communication where factors such as agenda-setting, management, technical-knowhow, etc. are perfectly available in the public sphere? Habermasian [3] derivations of the Public Sphere define three characteristics:
  1. All participants have equal access to the sphere;
  2. All participants have the right to question activities and discussions in the sphere;
  3. All participants have a right to suggest modifications to activites and discussions.
It's that last characteristic we need to consider. Will a "truly" or perfectly participatory system of communication make available to every producer and consumer of information on the system the right to suggest modifications? And if this right was granted, is it realistic to think that their suggested modifications would be followed through, thus enabling public reasoning as Sen suggests?

Notes:
[1] Sen, Amartya (2009). The idea of justice, Alan Lane Publishing.
[2] Friere, Paolo (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed, Penguin.
[3] Habermas, Jurgen (various years). On wikipedia\. Also see interpretations by Chantal Mouffe.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Revision rinsed II

When discussing communication for development, we tend to argue against the models based only on diffusion of media technologies. That is, in pursuing a critical approach to development practices, we tend to support participatory approaches to technology use and engagement.

Yet, we leave development practice in the abstract. We stop short at revised theory, and consult with practice initiators who attempt to materialize the abstract. Even there, we treat attempts as cases, and recriticize to align with still revised theory.

It's time the field of communication for development confessed its efforts to change market-based activities. It's also time that it confessed that power in the market is strong, and at most times, stronger than the power of discourse.

Instead, the field of communication for development should hold strong to the assumptions that structuralist development practice has not worked. That's that. Why go further to assume that a new theory is needed, or what a new theory would mean for people's quality of life? Some of this is readily documented in market research on the use of mobile phones, radio broadcast interaction, broadband usage, etc.

The pursuit of how communication helps development becomes much simpler with just one assumption. From there, a world of activities come into view. And yes, while these activities are mixed - some are formal businesses, some are public initiatives, some are in between and some are mysteriously everywhere and nowhere - they are embedded in culture.

The pursuit for participatory, community-based approaches to communication for development encourages this as well - to seek culture as a means to understand modes and structures of communication. But it tends to revolve around conceptual arguments made by an academic community, not the community using and engaging with the communication system.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Going virtual

If the artifacts we used in our social networks were the rules of behavior we live by, how would you act?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Revision rinsed

Power is exercised between people and in their production of subsistence. In mediated contexts, people and their production are still important sources of power, but the systems through which their interactions are mediated are in turn founded in their respective perceptions of, interests in, and structures around power. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Young blood


Caption from source: "GRRR: A young boy flexed his muscles during a regional bodybuilding competition in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday. Bodybuilding is one of the country’s most popular sports. (Johannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)"

More photos of the day at Wall Street Journal.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Before April absconds

Time seems to be on a rough schedule these days. A few quick observations from various encounters with people, texts and situations over the last several weeks:

- Media technologies and the social contexts they flow through are inextricably linked.

- You learn when you feel and say that you have learned.

- Instinct is usually the most reliable source of verification for decisions. There may be two levels of instinct - one that is akin to short-term realities, and another that is longer-term. TBC.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Human beings and ideas



What determines a change in history: Human beings or their ideas?

(Image courtesy of this page)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mumford on the future

"We will have to re-write the music in the act of playing it."
- Lewis Mumford on technological change and social imaginaries, 1934

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lines of communication: One outlook or many?

Let's consider lines of communication as the forms in which we send and receive messages to one another. So mobile phones is one line of communication. Postal mail is another. Computers could be considered a line of communication as well. As well as each individual social media outlets, including YouTube, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Now, let's consider that these lines of communication are different in nature from one another. The way in which I use my Facebook account may not reflect the same motives or activities as the way in which I use my mobile phone. Nor my postal service. This is probably because I communicate with different people depending on the line I'm using.

With these two considerations, one question current bugs me: Why would we still want to maintain one outlook on the ways in which we communicate?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Time and knowledge



Time and knowledge are like pools into which we are born. How much time we save or how much knowledge we gain are not necessarily races, yet we treat them as such. I am taught to assume that my ancestors knew less then I do today, and time has moved forward. Yet, I find that my ancestors' values went deeper than mine today, to a level that I can only try and imagine.

In short, we move within time and knowledge at different instances, not along it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What are "ways of learning"?

How do we understand the ways in which we learn? Where do decisions about the ways come from? To what extent are these ways changing, if at all? And if they are, how is this influencing decisions made on them?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Time and the Sublime

By coincidence, I got a copy of The Guardian on Sunday and a small booklet titled "Time" fell out of it. It was a complimentary copy of a guidebook bringing to the forefront the question of why we race through time in our physical world.

The timing of this coincidence could not have been any better (no pun intended).

An extract of one of my favorite articles within this guidebook:

"What is striking about this arrangement is how much it differs from the vision of time put forward by all the major religions. They have always pictured free time differently. For them, there is nothing inherently wrong with having an appointment. It does not, by itself, spoil time. The key detail is that we should have an appointment with something important – which for them means something related to the needs of our souls. Here, in particular, religons differ from the secular world. Most people today picture an appointment as something they might have in an office with a few people around a table talking about a spreadsheet. It is working life, and the capitalist version of it, that dominates this thinking about appointments. For religious people, however, appointments are occasions when they can reconnect with the divine; something they feel the need to do about as often as others think of watching the news."

Read the rest of Alain de Botton's article Scheduling in the Sublime here. The entire guide was put together by The School of Life.

Whose time matters most? If not now, when? If not us, who?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Economic complexity

Via CNN (19 Jan 2012), by Dayo Olopade:

What is economic complexity? The authors explain that "society functions because its members form webs that allow them to specialize and share their knowledge with others." The Atlas focuses on exported goods (not services), tracking how easy it is for an economy to leap from the simple (growing cotton, or making steel) to the complex (manufacturing garments, or building cars). The easier it is for a nation to diversify exports and, in turn, produce skilled workers and pricy exports, the more complex it is. Thus economic complexity, per Hausmann and Hidalgo, "reflects the structures that emerge to hold and combine knowledge." Notably, this includes demographic trends and social networks -- the webs and serendipities often lost in pure GDP analysis.

One question this article made me think about is the following: Is it perfect information which is one aspect of Economics, or is Economics itself evolving based on how much information people have access to today?

Thanks, Taha!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012!


















Here is to peace, prosperity and happiness in the world. Photo taken shortly after midnight at one section of the River Thames in London, January 1 2012.