Thursday, November 7, 2013

What we can and should learn from the scientist who coined the term "continuous partial attention"

We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with whatever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be! 

I interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12 about this. They said things like “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.”

Kids learn empathy in part through eye contact and gaze. If kids are learning empathy through eye contact, and our eye contact is with devices, they will miss out on empathy.

Wise words indeed from LINDA STONE, who worked on emerging technologies at Apple and then Microsoft Research in the 1980s and ’90s. Stone was being interviewed by James Fallows for The Atlantic magazine. Read the full text of the interview here: "The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World".

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What is it like to learn English as an adult in order to practise your profession of... novelist?

I did everything I could to avoid Dunglish, the unintentional but often funny mistakes Dutch speakers make in English. I had to stop myself from saying nonsensical things such as “let’s fall with the door into the house,” which is what we say in Dutch when we mean “skip the non-essentials.”

Trying to write in English was even worse. It required more than knowing the correct words to name things, the right prepositions, the difference between “come” and “get.” Writing is about sending a message, with all the nuance I intend. I wondered about tone and voice, the landscape upon which readers and I need to find common ground. I struggled to express myself in a way that would establish a shared intimacy with my readers. I felt vulnerable and worried about being misunderstood.

That is Pia de Jong, a Dutch novelist expressing herself admirably in what, to her, is a foreign language. De Jong, who now lives in America, wrote this heart-felt piece in The Washington Post a week ago, attracting a variety of comments. Here are just a couple:

CURMUDGEON: "Excellent. And today in the paper, we also have a story about an English teacher in DC Schools trying to teach the 'best and the brightest' how to write a five-sentence paragraph. Many don't know what a 'subject' and a 'verb' is. And this all in their native language, allegedly." 

SEMARI1: "What a wonderful piece. Thanks so much for it. I speak, in varying abilities, English (native), French, Italian, German, some Japanese, modern Greek, Hebrew... and I find I tend to have something of a different personality in each of them as if the modalities and idiomatic aspects of them liberate, in each case, something new about myself that surprises me. Merely from reading your English it would appear your adopted language will certainly lead to continued marvellous results."

Read Pia de Jong's article in its entirety here: "A novelist learns to write".

And if you want an expert's views on what it means to write English as a second language, then check out "In one place, everything you need to know about writing in English".

Good news makes for plenty of views... and lots of positive reviews

There is no dearth of good news, really. Let me put it this way: How can there be a dearth of good news when there is no dearth of good people? People like the husband-wife team of Dhimant and Anuradha Parekh (pictured).

I learnt about the indefatigable Parekhs and their digital news website when I came across an article which they had written and which has been reproduced in the latest issue of Mint Lounge.

Anuradha and Dhimant, who live in Bangalore, are the founders and co-editors of The Better India, which, as they describe it, concentrates on positive news, happy stories, and unsung heroes.

Why did they set up The Better India? Dhimant explains:

It was a little over five years ago that my wife and I decided to start an alternative news medium. We were exasperated by reading the daily news in India that was largely negative and sensational in nature. It got us thinking: What should news do to you? Should it shake you up in horror? Should it leave you disgusted? Or should it also make you learn? Should it make you contribute? Should it enable you to bring about a change?

It was in an attempt to answer those questions that the couple decided to start their own news site, but "with a difference".

We decided to report only positive news. And by positive, we didn’t want it to be preachy or opinion-filled, we wanted to talk about ideas that have influenced communities, we wanted to showcase people who have brought about a change in their areas, we wanted to talk about the forgotten art forms of India, celebrate the successes of organisations that have improved the lives of many children —  the list continues to grow with every passing day.

It is fascinating to read how they went about popularising The Better India to the point where, five years on, they now have a 25-member team of writers and a fantastic archive of good news from all over the country.

Hats off to the Parekhs! May their tribe increase!
  • Check out The Better India today here. And if you want positive news in your mailbox every day, sign up for the e-newsletter.
  • Photograph of the Parekhs courtesy: Mint Lounge

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Six simple equations that have the power to change your life

If A = 1, B = 2... and so on, then...

L + U + C + K = 12 + 21 + 3 + 11 = 47%

H + E + A + L + T + H = 8 + 5 + 1 + 12 + 20 + 8 = 54%

M + O + N + E + Y = 13 + 15 + 14 + 5 + 25 = 72%

K + N + O + W + L + E + D + G + E = 11 + 14 + 15 + 23 + 12 + 5 + 4 + 7 + 5 = 96%

H + A + R + D + W + O + R + K = 8 + 1 + 18 + 4 + 23 + 15 + 18 + 11 = 98%

A + T + T + I + T + U + D + E =

1 + 20 + 20 + 9 + 20 + 21 + 4 + 5 = 100%
  • Also read: 
"You are your... attitude"

"Thou shalt follow these 10 commandments to be effective — and successful — at work"

"What's with the attitude, Gen-Y?"

A few inspirational quotes about journalism from a hugely inspiring book

“A journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns, a tutor of nations. Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”
— Napoleon Bonaparte

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
— Thomas Jefferson, one of America's founding fathers

“Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.”

— Horace Greeley, newspaper editor

“If you don’t have a sensation of apprehension when you set out to find a story and a swagger when you sit down to write it, you are in the wrong business.”
— A.M. Rosenthal, journalist

It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
— Wilbur F. Storey, newspaper owner

“I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not.
— Michael Pollan, journalist, author, and professor

“Bad news goes about in clogs, good news in stockinged feet.”

— Welsh proverb

“Journalism never admits that nothing much is happening.”

— Mason Cooley, professor

“The proper question isn’t what a journalist thinks is relevant but what his or her audience thinks is relevant.”
— Michael Kinsley, journalist and author

“Great questions make great reporting.”
— Diane Sawyer, journalist

“I really believe good journalism is good business.”
— Christiane Amanpour, journalist
  • In addition, you should check out the Heat & Light website, where you will not only get an explanation for the "heat" and "light" in the title, but, among other things, you will also be able to sort through a nifty "Journalists' Toolbox".
  • Naturally you will want to own a copy of Heat & Light. It is available on as well as on Flipkart. (Commits students: A copy has been placed in the college library.)

An excerpt from the final chapter of Heat & Light, titled "The Future: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists":
It can get awfully frustrating at times in journalism. It can be hard to get yourself noticed, hard to get promoted, and hard to get good assignments. In a bad economy, it can even be hard to get a job.

We’ve both had times in our careers when we did a job we didn’t particularly like, or found it difficult to move up the career ladder. It took Mike several decades to go from being an announcer at a small radio station … to being a star on CBS.

In the end, you need to focus on building experience and expertise, and trust that the knowledge you’re acquiring will ultimately pay off in your career.

A fascinating two-man debate on the future of news

In the blue corner: Bill Keller (pictured below), a former executive editor of The New York Times who is now an Op-Ed columnist for the newspaper.

In the red corner: Glenn Greenwald, who broke what is probably the year’s biggest international news story, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance apparatus constructed by America's National Security Agency.

If you are a journalist, or you aspire to become one; if you are a media student; or, if you are just what is now known as a "consumer" of news, you will want to clue yourself in: "Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Here is "an oasis of learning about what you don’t yet know you’re looking for but are glad you found"

My favourite blogger, Maria Popova, popped over this morning in the form of her weekly e-mail newsletter and I learnt something new again.

"Now I Know" was one of the treats Popova had lined up for me today. "'Lives are shaped by chance encounters and by discovering things that we don't know that we don't know,' a wise woman wrote; more than that, the discovery itself is one of life's great rewards and pleasures," Popova writes in the introduction to her post.

She continues:

Since 2010, Dan Lewis, director of new media communications at Sesame Workshop, has been hunting down and illuminating those infinitely fascinating unknown-unknowns and sharing them with the world via his delightful e-mail newsletter. Now, he has gathered the stories behind 100 of these curiosity-quenchers in Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World’s Most Interesting Facts — a mind-tickling encyclopaedia that does for little-known, unusual facts what The Secret Museum did for little-known, unusual artifacts.

Read the post in its entirety here. Then, as I did, head on over to the Now I Know website, check out the archives, and sign up for Dan Lewis's free daily newsletter. You'll learn something new every day, promises Lewis. And I believe him.