Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Mobile Etiquette

I was surprised during my recent visit to India to see how ubiquitous mobiles have become. I am not talking about mobile telephony penetration but how many people are constantly talking, chatting, browsing on a mobile phone:

  • People on two wheelers and cars in heavy traffic are regularly seen talking on the phone. They are not even on handsfree mode, either managing the motorbike with one hand or keeping the phone pressed between sholder and ear. 
  • My friends, family, aquaintances regularly answer the phone even though we are in a middle of a conversation or a meal. 
  • In public places people watch whatsapp or facebook videos without headphones, sometimes while listening to something else such as public announcement, flight security presentation, or television program.  

I will be shocked if I see any of this in USA, at least on the east coast where I have lived and worked. Some of these behaviors will be considered extremly rude.

While talking with a family friend, I realized that he finds answering mobile phone at all times obvious and American custom of not answering the phone immediately when it rings, rude and perplexing. What makes technology related customs develop in certain ways in certain places? Is it about the core cultural values or phase in technology life cycle? In India mobile phones were used as a means for urgent or emergency communication. Keeping a voice mail was unheard of. Even today few people think of leaving a voice mail or know how to.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Women in workplace: office housework

That time when:
- a visitor asks if the coffee cabinet is open or locked and nobody except me, the only other woman in the room gets up to check and bring the key. Others (men) completely ignore the question as if it is not their speciality thus not their responsibility.  Interestingly I am the only one in the room that does not drink coffee.
- one of the men in the meeting leaves their coffee cup and spilled coffee on the table after the meeting. The only attendees who think about the mess and how to clean it are two women in the meeting, one of them higher in the institutional hierarchy than all the men who attended.
- in a meeting about collaboration possibilities with another group on campus, my male colleague is asked about his opinions about the plan while I am asked to book a meeting room.

There is a term for these kind of tasks 'office housework'. Tasks such as taking meeting notes, making sure that office supplies are stocked up, a late request for service is fulfilled, gatherings to bring the team together are arranged, are necessary for the healthy functioning of the team. However, men and women do not share these tasks equally in the workplace. Disproportionately more women take on or are expected to do the office housework but do not get credit for it. It doesn't count when it comes to promotions.

A woman voluntarily taking notes in every meeting looses opportunity to contribute fully. It is not just the woman who looses opportunities but the team suffers as it does not get the unique perspective of one of their team members.

What can we do about this?
  • Women and men as allies: Now that you know this happens, observe what is happening in your team or organization. When you see a woman in the team being burdened with these tasks consistently, point that out and suggest taking turns so that the all members of the team pitch in.    
  • Supervisors (male or female) need to create processes that do not burden one person with such tasks. They can also create clear categories in yearly appraisals for tasks that helped keep the team together. 
Many people have researched this topic and written about it. If you want to read more here are some

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gudhipadva and the Hindu New Year

Now that we have Whatsapp in addition to Facebook and a growing number of people back home using it, we don't need Kaalnirnay. As any important festival or religious day dawns in India earlier than in US, we start getting whatsapp messages the previous night.

It was Gudhipadva on March 28. I received pleny of images of gudhi and wishes for the new year. What surprised me this year was the number of messages that said Hindu Navavarshachya Shubheccha. When did Gudhipadva become Hindu newyear? At best it is Marathi new year.
Hindu Nav Varsh Ani Gudi Padwachya Hardik Shubhechha  
Gudhipadva is the first day of the first month (Chaitra) of the year, making it the new year's day. But this calendar is not The calendar of India or Hindus. To start with there are regions that follow the amant system and others that follow pournimant system. In north india the month ends with a pournima or a full moon day while is the south it ends with amavasya ie no moon day. This clearly makes the first day of month 15 days apart so how can we have the same new year's day?

Secondly, there are regions that follow a completely different calendar system other than the lunisolar calendar that we use in Kalanirnay for example. The Malyalam calendar is a solar calendar. First of each month is based on the movement of sun through the zodiac. When I started digging more I realized that there are other regions that follow a similar method. Read more details about different calendars in India here. I have not even started digging into conventions in different communities that start the year on different months.

People calling Gudhi Padva, hindu navavarsha or Hindu new year wipes out all these differences. These are not nuances. These are completely different practices.

I wondered where the 'Hindu nava varsha' nomenclature came from suddenly as I had not seen it before. Seems that RSS always referred to Gudhi Padva as Hindu nava varsha. I wonder if the copy paste and forward system of whatsapp made it so ubiquitous that it finally reached me. The question is whose new year is it then? Mostly Marathi upperclass hindus pretending that their practices are the practices of Hindus of all shapes and sizes.

You might think it is a small thing, it is just wording but for me it showcases homogenization of hinduism and what it means to be hindu. It is disturbing. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

MOOCs: Time flexible but no longer massive

MOOCs, specifically Coursera and edX are moving away from the cohort based model to self paced model. The numbers according to both organizations prove that the strategy has been 'succesful'. The primary reason for the shift is to move away from the traditional higher education semester based structure which does not work for a life long learner who might be at a stage of life where they cannot spend couple of months on a course and do not like to wait for the start date.

The flexibility of start anytime and work at any pace is fantastic but getting away from the
Cohort based model also has its problems. Cohort based model pushed people through the course and learning activities such that massive number of people were at a similar place with respect to the content at any given point. From the learning experience design perspective there are implications of  not having a cohort.

It has been four years since the MOOCs exploded in popular media but the platforms that are the basis for the instructional design have not changed drastically. They were less desirable versions of LMSs then and still are in spite of add ons/apps such as Talkabouts. The most important aspect of the MOOCs for learning which is different than the online courses is the massive number of people from all over the world, bringing their varied life experiences, attitudes, opinionsm and beliefs.
With the self paced model gaining currency, there is less possibility of having other learners at the same place as you are. That makes the most important aspect of the MOOC a moot point, reducing it to a less desirable online course.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Random thoughts about Pokemon Go

Pokemon go and its eminent arrival was not on my radar. I am not a big video game, pokemon, or mobile games fan. My colleague mnetioned how his students were so distracted the day Pokemon was unveiled and I got curious.

Got the app. Signing in process wasn't so smooth. App crashing I guess makes it more alluring as it alludes to millions of users who are trying to get in at the same time. More alarming was the app asking access to email, camera, photos, and many other things that I did not feel comfortable with. I always feel uneasy in the begining and then aquiesce depending on how badly I want the app.

The avatar options wwere the next frustrating thing. Man/woman? woman. Pink or purple? curvy body  or .... Nope just that. So now I am a voluptuous pink wearing woman/girl that I do not identify with.

The other struggle when I finally got in was that I remembered about the game only when I had a minute free at my table rather than when I went out for a walk. I quickly learned without  anybody teaching me that the poke stops when flicked give pokeballs. Throw pokeballs at different creatures appearing to catch them. Figured out about the egg incubator after I caught 3 eggs. Had to keep telling myself to be careful about dialogues like - my eggs haven't hatched yet or I have 2 eggs in the incubator. Then heard a male colleague saying the exact same thing. How wonderful it must be to not worry about that sounding weird or creepy.

My colleague's kid explained the rest of the game mechanics what to do with the pokemons after you catch them, the candy, the fairy dust, powering up etc. The game still doesn't make much sense to me. People keep talking about the social experience. I reached level 5 just now so the in app social experience has elluded me till now. Some of my friends shared their experience playing pokemon go with their colleagues, knowing them better, finding landmarks in the neighborhood or on campus that they were not aware about. My experience has been limited to a nod or smile or look of acknolwedgement from strangers on the sidewalk who were playing Pokemon go and clearly identified that I was playing too. I know the pokemons my colleagues caught, the level they are on, the type of mobile phone they have but not much else has come out of those interactions. Except of course the disconcerting exchange with a colleague during a work related conversation, "Devayani don't move I am trying to catch a zubat on your face". 

More fulfilling has been the experience of the Pokemon Syllabus google doc shared on AIR listserv. The doc was created by Adrienne Massanari this morning and already has about 11 pages of relevant literature shared by 40+ people on topics such as location-based mobile gaming, AR & Public Spaces, apps, wearable tech, legalities/policy, and links to news articles on pokemon go. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where are you from?

Where are you from?

I am always stumped by that question. What does it really mean? where was I born? where was I before being here right now? What is my 'ethnicity'? What is my nationality?

Some part of why I am stumped, comes from the fact that I myself do not know where I fit. What label most fits me or who do I talk for when I say 'we'. It also comes from a place where I do not like people to try and place me as an X without really knowing me or wanting to know me.

In India my mother was always asked the question, what is your maiden last name. Our family name did not clearly carry any cast connotation. The query for maiden last name was actually asking which cast/sub-cast she was. I find the question, where are you from, similar to such questions. It is basically asking the question, 'are you of us or that other grouping?' or 'I can hear in your accent or see in your coloring that you are not of us so where can I fit you so that I know who you are.'

I have always liked to be eclectic and the question where are you from forces me to side with one or the other of the many places, people, 'cultures', traditions, schools of thought that I like to associate with, feel comfortable with or take pride in being part of. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

My history, Your history

Among other things, participating in Gallery Night Providence was one of the 'things to do' I have been planning for quite a long time to know more about my new city of residence and meet new people. As meeting people and knowing about the city were two important objectives, I decided to go for the theme based guided walks/tours offered last month rather than visiting the participating venues myself. Read more about the tour itself in the previous post.

Everybody at the information desk was happy to talk and give more information. The most interesting conversation of the evening however was with an older lady. We were talking about Myanmar, a word she could not place. I described it as Burma, the country to the east of Bangaldesh. We had a lot of more confusing back and forth as she thought it was next to Pakistan and I could not understand how she could miss the whole big chunk of India in the middle.

After some back and forth we realized that the vissual of the map in her head was fine, facts from history was the problem. She was in school when it was bangladesh was still part of Pakistan and was not aware of its formation in 1971. Part of history that I took for granted as part of world history was not an obvious nugget of information to her.

Some of it is also about geography and how we see things as near-far, relevant-irrelevant, or in size big-small based on where we currently live. More on perception of geography and how we see maps some other time.