Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for September, 2011

When did TV become something negative?

Recently I’ve been wondering when and how TVs became a negative thing. While I was not alive when it was first introduced to the public, I doubt people saw the television as something negative. Instead, it was probably a sign of progress and prosperity, and when it was incredibly expensive, a status symbol and a family dream.

I have not found the answers to this question, but I discovered today a wonderful TED talk on the history of people’s perception of American television shows.

This is social science at its best.


How do you make your language more understandable?

When you talk to a French person and you didn’t understand what he or she said, he or she will often simply repeat the sentence (or sometimes simplify the sentence) but will rarely speak more slowly. I always thought that this was unfriendly, but when I discussed this with one of my students, he told me that it’s because French is weird when spoken slowly; it sounds unnatural and not quite right. French people would rather restructure the sentence to be more clear.

In the US, when someone doesn’t understand what one said, he or she will often speak more slowly and enunciate more clearly. Many English speakers are used to this and expect other cultures to do this as well (which may be why I thought the French were being unfriendly).

Japanese people also slow down their speech to be more clearly understood, but rather than to slow down every syllable, they put pauses in between words. Enunciation is rarely a problem in Japanese but because the concept of spaces does not exist in Japanese, sometimes it could be difficult to grasp where a word begins and ends.

Three different cultures, three different ways of speaking more clearly.


Education in the twenty first century

Figure A is a graphical representation of how we tend to see our lives: you’re born, you get educated for so many years (when you’re ready), you work for so many years, then you retire and someday move on. This was true for most of human history where we each learned one thing and worked on that one thing until we died (retirement is a fairly new institution). However, this is rarely the case anymore; people change jobs and careers all the time, and new fields of study are constantly emerging as older ones become irrelevant. Figure B is much more like how our lives happen in our current age of accelerated change.

If that is the case, we need a new paradigm for education, one that matches our lives better. No clear separation of work and study but a system where the two are more intertwined throughout our lives, as shown in figure C.

I would also argue that the shift is already happening. More and more people are returning to graduate schools as a way to initiate career change. Graduate schools are increasing their offerings for certificate programs and continuing studies. Professors are getting more involved in workshops for companies and professional organizations.  Nevertheless, most people still hold the mental model depicted in Figure A.

I’m not suggesting that the traditional model of higher education will suddenly go away, but there are some big implications for universities and educators going into the future. While the idea may seem somewhat outlandish now, once that change is fully engrained in society, it will look completely normal and obvious.