Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Questions on social media (1)

Yesterday, I found the following video on more than one channel of communication I maintain, including e-mail and social media timelines.

The video is a Fox News interview with Reza Aslan on his new book on Jesus. I find Fox's "critical" questioning of Aslan's work quite uncritical. I also find Aslan's defense graceful yet exactly the kind of critical that the discussion as a whole should have been. As Aslan points out, instead of targeting the 8 or so questions over 10 minutes towards the author's personal life, Fox should have targeted the questions towards the arguments put forth in the literature.

In any case, I think the discussion on social media has been lazily unfair. How many people who are cajoled into ridiculing Fox news as "ignorant", "bitchy", "low", "illiterate", etc. have actually read Aslan's book and genuinly understand him?

Further, how many people actually make informed judgments as Aslan is encouraging us all to do? I find that we tend to react to works like these exactly how Fox News did: By taking things at face value and repeating them for others as true, valid and coherent information.

We all inject our values when we perceive media. A coherent comment on any media should enhance its quality through questioning and/or critical revision. Otherwise, if it is being promoted or dismissed based on seemingly opinionated and subjective comment, how will we assess information in the future?

Monday, July 29, 2013

On cultivation

According to a rough search, the word "cultivation" yields two types of definitions. Bot relate to growth based on something.

One type concerns biological cultivation - that is growth of living things - particularly of plant life.

Another type concerns metaphysical cultivation - that is growth of a certain sense - particularly of human and communal life.

I was prompted to conduct this rough search after a conversation with MK last night. The conversation - as always - covered many topics, but one seemed to stick for some time. That topic was about cultivation. Though we didn't use the word, we spent some time contemplating what it is that we grow up to be. Growth is inevitable, it is something we cannot prevent or whose rate we cannot decrease. So what is the reason for which we grow?

Some options we discussed for answers to this question were: To make a living, to reproduce, to maintain the young or elderly, to search for new frontiers, to create from what is around us and to compete with one another.

While this discussion is far bigger than one blog post, my opinion is that we grow to reproduce. The process of reproduction comes with many other roles and responsibilities, such as to make a living and to maintain the young, which in turn come with further responsibilities. For instance, to make a good living, one needs to create something that is equally "good", and this sometimes also implies a certain degree of competition with fellow human beings.

But I also think that the answer lies in individual pursuits of life. I can already think of human lives whose stories have travelled through time, not because their growth was for reproduction, but because their growth was associated with something larger than themselves. People like the Prophets, Ibn Sina, Christopher Columbus and Mother Theresa did not necessarily live to reproduce, yet their acts of cultivation did something to our humanity as a whole.

See definitions:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Virtual estates

While real estate concerns space on land, virtual estates concern spaces in the media. "Media" here refers to broadcast media (radio, print, TV, etc.) as well as digital media (the Internet, mobile networks, satellite, etc.). Spaces in the media are not as scarce as spaces on land, particularly because more space can be created in the media than on land. Yet, because human beings have limited attention spans - much like we have limited needs for space on land - the media cannot possibly be consumed in its entirety by any one human being.

Therefore, securing virtual estates could mean that you secure your content for future generations to observe. How well these estates are secured could foretell how long they will last before they are taken over. And how long they will last could foretell how many future generations could observe this content. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Forms of work during school

Through historical accounts, we can find different forms of employment that required a special kind of education. This education did not only involve learning the theory from an institution, but also involved working with the institution in the very business it taught. Fields such as teaching, philosophy, exegisis and translation, vocational skills (building, cutting, refining, binding, etc.) were all fields in which you went to someone to learn something, and learned by doing.

Today, we may regard schools as being completely absent of paid work. In some cases, we may even go so far as justifying why paid work during school is a bad idea.

But I think we would be contradicting ourselves if we went into this justification. There are forms of work that exist in schools today. Examples such as apprenticeships, interships, externships, work-study schemes and co-ops all point to the existence of learning programs that call for practical experience. The practical experience compliments the theoretical learning. 

The complimentary relationship between work and study seems to be part of how we have always learned how to be productive. It seems, therefore, that any initiative that eliminates the practicality of learning from learning itself is training young minds for something else. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The education business

In this article from The Economist, some key concerns about the business of education are raised. Given the increasing use of massive open online courses, some have begun speculating on MOOC income streams and how they could affect the business of traditional universities.

Two main concerns intrigued me:

1) The possibility of advertising within education is raised, as a means to have degrees sponsored for people. One commentator says: "Ads propelled radio and TV, why not education? There is a lot of misplaced snobbery in education about advertising." At first thought, brands being infused within lectures sounds disastrous. But on second thought, can this be avoided if we want to provide free education that is not backed by Governments? Also, are there no brands in our current curriculum, such as inventors, popular designs and particular texts?

2) Several companies seem to have offered longer-term pay offs to students by betting on their learning systems now. One way is through direct job recruitment. Another way is through the offering of credit as a reward upon completion. The second option makes more sense to me than the first. Yet, in the background of both options is the risk that options are tailored by private actors with private interests. Should this not be backed by a public institution, such as the Ministry of Education, to ensure that learning is still imparted in as fair, global and pluralistic way it should?

In general, though the article offers excellent ways of thinking about the future business of education, the role of public learning interests is absent in the article. It only seems humane to regard education - learning, thinking, pondering - as a public good and service. If not, it is likely that massive numbers of youth will learn only what some rather than all interests want them to learn.

-- Update, 23rd July 2013:
Apart from needing government investment, it also seems like our society should be open to involving paid work within curricular programs. That is, embed an employment aspect into schooling. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Conflicts of opinion

Around this time last year, I contemplated the value of conflicting positions, using the example of how the status of a hero is reinforced by his enemy.

Can the same value be applied to conflicting opinions?

Here is a scenario: I am in a crowd of 200 people. All of us work at a construction site. One day we are told that we will no longer have a lunch break. I know for a fact that one of my coworkers disagrees with this. I have mixed feelings.

In this case, is it better to keep quite in order to keep my coworker quite in order to let the company run better so that the building can be completed? Or is it better for me to speak up with my coworker and express difference in hopes that the rule may somehow be dropped?

The first option benefits the building contractors, the building occupants, and perhaps a few others, but it brings trouble to us construction workers (no lunch!).

The second option brings trouble to the contractors, occupiers, etc. but benefits us.

Who counts? And does it have to do with how large the population with the differing opinion? Or does it have to do with economic power? Or with how noble, righteous or sustainable the cause?

In many ways, I think this challenge - of finding a resolution to conflicts of opinion - is part of this world. It is a challenge we can't get rid of but that we should rise toward. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why old tech matters

The most successful technologies throughout humanity have been ground in processes that actually assist people. Technologies that were introduced as new processes seldom lasted for long. It's no wonder that proceeding technologies are built on those very same processes.

Today I came across this article from The Economist, which contemplates whether the telegram is dead. It concludes by saying the telegram is not dead. Rather, new mediums have risen that emulate the telegram but in cheaper and faster ways than the telegram: "The 19th-century technology of the telegram lives on, in spirit at least, in our 21st-century devices."

In this respect, old technologies are worthy of attention for people who look forward to new technologies. Humans tend to go with default options, and the most default of options in everyday life are options that are ground in historical behavior and innovation.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

On public reasoning

On May 11 last year, I briefly discussed Amartya Sen's recommendations for how media could be more useful in the promotion of justice.

One of these recommendations was to use the media as a tool for public reasoning.

"Reasoning" can be defined here as the act of thinking logically, rationally and/or analytically. Public reasoning, then, can be understood as logically, rationally and/or analytically thinking as a group or as the citizenry.

For this to happen, two things need to be in place: There need to be people who are thinking, and there needs to be a way for them to deliberate on thoughts collectively.

Everybody has thoughts, so I will assume that there are thinking people wherever you look.

But not everybody has a way to deliberate their thoughts with other actors in the public sphere. Sure, they may be able to exchange thoughts with their neighbor, local storekeeper or family members. But will this really be "public" or private?

In order to have a public deliberation, a few more things seem to be needed:
  1. A space where all thoughts can be shared indiscriminately, save for constraints created by scarce resources, such as time.
  2. Free and open access to spectating this space by any citizen. 
  3. A form of expression that can be easily understood by any citizen.
  4. Free and open access to contribute to this space by any citizen.
  5. A mechanism to periodically draw up conclusions when deliberations reach stalemate status.
Given these five suggested needs for a public deliberation framework, which seems to give way to "public reasoning", here are a few tangible systems that I think may be useful:
  1. A physical space in every city; all spaces are somehow centrally coordinated.
  2. A space based on radio channels.
  3. A space created online. 
Out of all the spaces that already exist in this respect, why are they not seen as central, dependable systems of public reasoning? Herein lies the argument against public deliberation in general: That it may not be possible to achieve a space where the freedom of expression is perfect, ie: every citizens willingness to spectate and/or contribute to this system is ground in the same motivations and resources to do so. 

It seems futile, however, to end the investigation here. Motivations change, as do resources. The philosophical need for a system of public reasoning is important enough to warrant a continuous reflection on this goal and its implications for a more equitable, resilient and peaceful society. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Obama in town

Barack is in Dar today and tomorrow. The country has seen crazy amounts of media focusing on his visit. To me, this is awkward.

It's not awkward because it's overhyped. It's awkward because from what I know about leadership, security and communication today, a lot of it is engineered.

Imagine you're in Barack's shoes: Your trip to Tanzania was tentatively scheduled about a year ago. You have an adviser who has at least 10 arguments why the US is politically and economically invested in the East African region. You have an agent who is advising you on the method of your travel; everything from the suit you will wear to the wheels of your car. You also have a media analyst who has been studying the country's most common and least common media topics.

The set up can be further illustrated.

My point is this: Barack isn't the only guy visiting Tanzania. He comes with an entourage, indeed a country. This comes with a complex set of considerations for all Tanzanians. Instead, we seem to be awkwardly focusing our attention on the man himself. As cool as he may be, unfortunately I don't think this is a time to be jazzed by the guy.