“Smartphones and Pedagogy” – Seminar

In a rapidly changing technological age, educational institutions not only face the challenge of keeping pace with such changes, but also adapting themselves to changes in perception and cultural attitudes that arise as a consequence of technological innovations. In recent decades, revolutions in computing technologies and information technologies, in particular the wild spread of computers, internet and smartphones have posed formidable challenges for all those involved in the field of education.

Seminar Invite Final JPEG

The younger generations have quickly adapted to these innovations, changing the scape of information consumption, perception of knowledge and creative production in unexpected ways with all its twists and turns. The infinite scale and breadth of information has led to the consumption of information in bits and pieces, knowledge transformed to parcels, and creativity to quirks in viral reproduction.

The reaction to these changes in perceptions and actualization of information, knowledge, and creativity, from the citadels of conventional wisdom, and institutions of education in the first instance, is apprehension towards technology and aversion to its corollary culture. When it becomes evident that these upheavals have firmly established, and there is no point of return from these changes, the institutions’ strategy of adaptation to new technologies is incorporation of the hardware components of technologies. However, the aversion towards corollary cultures remains strongly entrenched in academic institutions.

One of the direct consequences of such aversion towards the accompanying cultures of new technologies, is negligence on the side of soft skills requisite of the hardware components of new technologies. Such negligence has a direct impact on imparting education using those technologies. The cumulative effect of such a lopsided approach towards new technologies ends up in a conservative reassertion of obsolete educational practices, in spite of incorporating new technologies, which in their essence force us to rethink existing educational practices.

The principal focus of this seminar is to raise fundamental questions on the relation between technology and educational practices, with specific reference to the confluence of technologies that has reached its pinnacle – for now – in smartphones. Smartphones, the mini-computers with high capacity processors, and access to internet, pose fundamental challenges to educational practices at all levels – primary, intermediate, and higher levels of education.

While primary and higher education institutions are catching up with the use of smartphones in imparting education, institutions that impart under graduate and post graduate levels of education, are still averse to explore its potentialities. The seminar wishes to initiate a dialogue on the prevailing attitudes in intermediate educational institutions on smartphones and their pedagogical potentials.

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Media Convergence – Some Concerns

(Notes for the lecture delivered at the seminar on “The Changing Media Landscape” organized by the Department of Visual Communication, Loyola College & St. Pauls Institute of Communication Education, Mumbai, at Loyola College, Chennai, on December 20, 2017.)

 

In preparing for this talk I happened to stumble upon a novel titled, “I lost my mobile at the mall – Teenager on the edge of technological breakdown” by Wendy Harmer. It claims to be a novel for teens, published in Australia in 2009.

The “novel” begins with the following words:

“My name is Elly Pickering. I’ve lost my mobile phone at the mall and am now facing certain death.”

The character Elly then goes on to list the reasons for her purported “certain death”. I am summarising them in my own words as follows:

 

  1. My mother will kill me by cursing.
  2. My father will kill me by falling silent and showing disappointment.
  3. My girl friend will kill me for the mobile has a photo of her and her boy friend sent to me by her BF by mistake on the first night they got together.
  4. My BF will kill me because I lost my handbag with the mobile, the first present he gave me.
  5. I will kill myself because, all my numbers, texts and photos of one year are lost with the mobile.

 

This is how the novel starts and captures the “mentality of the times” of the youngsters.

Evoking death immediately brings to our mind the innumerable tales of our times on the “selfie craze” of teenagers – the recklessness of youngsters who fell off from this or that spot attempting to take selfies.

Horror and aversion about the “selfie culture” is the widespread general reaction of almost all sections of the society, especially the media.

This also seems to be the general way of reaction, whenever a new invention or innovation becomes the craze of the youngsters. One can cite many such similar reactions from the annals of history, and one striking parallel was almost the same kind of alarm and aversion expressed when the photography camera became light and mobile – when the point and shoot camera flooded the market and became the craze of youngsters, women and the masses.

I will return to this parallel towards the end, but first I would like to mention three points I wish to bring to attention in this short note am sharing with the audience.

  1. Externalization
  2. Miniaturization and
  3. Internalization

-three phenomena that have risen as inevitable consequences of the digital age in general and the cultural rupture that we are witnessing with the arrival of smartphones.

These three phenomena are closely inter-woven and augment each other, and their effects on our societies have already drawn the attention of scholars from various disciplines.

For now, I shall limit with a few observations of mine here on these three points, though I wish to qualify that these observations are of an amateur, tinkering and playing with thoughts and observations drawn from scholars working with dedication in various disciplines.

  1. Externalization

By externalization, here I wish to draw attention to what I would like to call as “the “externalization of memory”.

Memory as such, is a function of biological organisms – the function of brain as we know it in simple terms. Evolutionary biologists and Universal Darwinists would say that our DNAs are also memory banks of generations past. Also, for the living organisms, memory is time – time past, which we fleetingly remember in moments of the present.

We humans, in particular were incapable of capturing and freezing memory in our living present. Memory has to pass. It can stay only for moments.

But it was so in the past, until the recent past.

With the onset of the digital age, with the coming of age of computers, memory has been externalized (writing as such is an externalization of memory about which vast philosophical exegeses exist since Plato).

We now have memory banks, ROMs, RAMs, hard disks in our computers, in external hard disks, cds, dvds, pen drives, and now tiny memory cards which mention their capacities in terms of “internal memory” and “external memory” in our mobiles in our pockets.

We can read – recollect memory now. We measure memory now, in terms of giga bytes.

Digital age has enabled us humans to externalize memory, measure memory and spatialize memory – memory is now available in spatial dimensions – in hard disks and memory cards. More than the spatialization or memory, the point we have to take note of is the “measure” of memory – huge volumes in tiny containers – the consequences of which needs further rumination.

As a consequence, we can recall memory at our wish. But, more “radical” than this, we see “memories” appear before our eyes without even asking for.

Am referring to the “See your memories” that appear on-screen and grab our attention when we open our facebook accounts. We “see our memories” without us wishing for it, and we share those memories most of the times gleefully, surprisingly and sometimes sorrowfully.

The effect of this externalization of memory, and spatialization of memory, I wonder, can we say as “objectification of memory”?  And how we are to grasp with the move towards “measuring memory”?

Our memory is thrust upon us by some odd algorithm of facebook, and we sharing “our memories” with our friends, friends of friends, and public options in the worldwide network of facebook is something unprecedented in human history.

One drastic consequence of this “objectification of memory” is what some observers have termed “augmented reality” – reality out of bound, out of proportions.

We all know, how we imagine that the posts and updates we write in our facebook accounts is being watched, taken note of by our known friends, friends of friends, unknown facebook friends, and by the “public” with no face.

The result is the augmentation of the culture of narcissism, the consequences of which are unknown yet.

 

  1. Miniaturization

Miniaturization – to be precise, the quest for miniaturization has been a recurring feature of almost every single invention, at least we can say with the advent of the modern age.

This quest for miniaturization is nothing but the desire for mobility, to the carry the cherished new object – the new invention with oneself most of the time. To carry it, when we are on the move and to display it to our peers, friends, and elders as a symbol of pride.

This happened to the radio which morphed into the transistor and then the walkman with radio, and now into our pockets the FM radio in our mobile phones.

This happened to the wall clock – the pendulum clock hanging on the walls of our living rooms morphed into the pocket watch, wrist watch, electronic wrist-watch with digitization, and now into our pockets in our mobile phones.

This happened to the photographic camera which was huge, with cumbersome to carry accessories – the early flash bulbs, the mounts etc., which morphed into the light weight point and shoot and cameras and later hot shot cameras.

This happened to the telephone – the big black weighty phone on a high table by the corner of the staircase which you might have seen in old Tamil movies. The lighter telephones that sat on the tables of executives in every office space, the wireless telephones which teared away the telephone from its fixity in the homes of the rich. Now, with the advent of the mobile phones and the more and more cheaper smart phones – the miniaturized version of telephone in our pockets.

The same with movie cameras – with the onset of digitization, we had the digital cameras of various sizes, yet bulky and still the possession of privileged few. And then came the tiny, cheap hand held digital cameras that proliferated film making by youngsters in good numbers.

The process of miniaturization has enabled two things: 1. Amateur production or to put in differently diversification and 2. Communication at both ends.

The FM Radio and the Television are still the points of broadcasting but have diversified into a number of private broadcasters and now almost always interact with audience through some channel – telephone calls, sms or whatsapp messages. The monopoly of one – way communication giving way to two – way communication is the significant change that happens with miniaturization.

There is a long list of inventions which have gone through this process of miniaturization, which some academics have listed, and called “the archaeology of inventions”.

Our concern here is not go into such an archaeological expedition, but to point to some cultural reactions accompanying such miniaturization of technical inventions, which brings us to the final point of my sharing here – internalization.

 

  1. Internalization

Miniaturization’s corelate is internalization.

Internalization occurs in two principal ways: 1. The miniaturized gadget is owned – possessed by the individual. Earlier it was owned by the family – the big black telephone in the corner of the living room, the pendulum clock that hung on the wall, the radio set on the shelf, the big television set in the hall were all possessions of the family. The walkman, the wrist watch, and the mobile phones are all cherished, stylized possessions of pride of the individual, of youngsters, and professionals. It is carried in the pockets of young men, handbags of women, often checked and touched with care and possessive instinct. It becomes a possession of us – internalized in that sense.

  1. It becomes internalized in another radical sense, especially in the case of mobile phones and smart phones. A comparison with the miniaturized point and shoot camera will drive the point.

With the point and shoot camera, photography was so simplified that anyone can shoot whatever she/he wished to. But the camera lens was always pointed to some external object. With the advent of smartphones, for the first time, the camera lens has turned inwards (the front camera) – towards oneself. A simple turn of the wrist and a high raise of the hand turns the camera lens onto oneself which is a radical turn that was still cumbersome with the point and shoot or even the much light weight hot shot photographic camera.

What made the difference?

With the light weight hot shot camera one had to take a snap by pressing one’s index finger. Turning the camera lens onto oneself and snapping the button with the index finger will inevitably be shaky.

Whereas, the smartphones’ design which enables it to be held firmly within the palm of the hand, the wrist which can turn with ease onto oneself, enabling triggering of the “click” with the much versatile thumb, the possibility of the camera lens turning towards the face of the holder of the camera flashed as a lightning. Hence the proliferation of selfies which was not there before its advent.

Whether this was a cunning design of the long study of ergonomics or an accident of design might surface later.

This internalization – a corollary of miniaturization has also created its own issues of radical concern.

  1. The aversion towards dissemination of an object that was once the possession of the privilege. Such reaction was the norm when the photographic camera morphed into point and shoot. That is what we are witnessing with the proliferation of selfies.
  2. With specific reference to the smartphone, the surveillance of big brothers – Big Data Business are spying into your emotions to sell their products. Ongoing researches on fine tuning smartphones are concentrated on reading your emotions, your finger touches on the touch screen.

Aishwarya Dhanush: A performance of privileged mediocrity in the capacity of ineligible candidacy for UN Mission

The much hyped news about Ms. Aishwarya’s “performance at UN” on the International Women’s Day has finally turned out to be a disgrace, since a 1.22 – minute video of the performance was released in youtube. The social media is abuzz with scorn pouring on her pathetic performance, including a scathing comment from the famed barathanatyam dancer Ms. Anita Ratnam.

Though the 1.22 – minute video released is but a fragment of her one – hour long performance, it appears that the instant “reviews” were not off the mark. The short sequence, seems to have been choreographed in the vein of dance sequences performed to the tune of movie songs – haphazard moves lacking graceful movements and transitions. She is literally enacting the verses, as in a screen performance, in utter disregard to the semiotic nuances of the “traditional” genre.

Leaving aside her disgraceful performance, and gleaning through the media reports last week, it comes as a surprise to note that, even some “prestigious” media outlets have reported blindly that she was to perform at the “UN Headquarters at New York”. The fact that she was invited by the office of India’s Permanent Representative to UN, in collaboration with the “America Tamil Sangam”- a New York based NGO was conveniently ignored by these “prestigious” media outlets.

The program schedule announced officially by the women’s organization of the UN (unwomen.org) has no mention of her performance, which simply means that Ms. Aishwarya’s performance was one organized by the Indian diplomats to UN, along with a NGO of Tamil NRIs. In spite of this plain fact, these media outlets were boasting “Performance at UN Headquarters” without any sense of propriety and responsibility, which obviously led people to assume that she performed at the “UN General Assembly”.

Anita Ratnam Tweet

Disregard to facts, disinclination to inquire into details, and lack of sustained interest in pursuing a matter to its depths have become the norms of Indian media outlets. If one pursues the case of Ms. Aishwarya further, the readers will remember that she was announced as the “UN Women’s Advocate for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in India” recently in August 2016. However, the media, sang the chorus that she was appointed as “UN Goodwill Ambassador” to India back in August and September. Again if one can do a simple fact check at the UN Women’s organization’s official website  there is no such announcement on Ms. Aishwarya. One can only find the names of Mr. Farhan Akhtar and Ms. Sania Mirza as Goodwill Ambassadors from South Asia (India).

UN’s romance with celebrity figures was systematized during the stewardship of Mr. Kofi Annan, in the hope that they would serve to propagate the organization’s alleviative missions. Over the course of time these “Goodwill Ambassador and Messengers of Peace” designations were extended to various grades – International, National, and at times, Regional. And the General Assembly has issued definitive guidelines for the selection of such Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace.

The first two basic criteria as formulated by these guidelines are as follows:

Individuals invited to serve as Goodwill Ambassadors or Messengers of Peace shall: (a) Possess widely recognized talent in the arts, sciences, literature, entertainment, sport or other fields of public life: (b) Be persons of integrity who demonstrate a strong desire to help mobilize public interest in, and support for, the purposes and principles of the United Nations, and who demonstrate the commitment and proven potential to reach out to significant audiences, including decision makers.

Does Ms. Aishwarya fall in line with the above mentioned criteria?

Even as per Kollywood box office standards, one can say an emphatic “NO”! She is neither a talented director – not to mention an accomplished one, nor has been recognized so, either by the industry or by the public at large. The movies she had directed are artistically mediocre and box office flops. She is not a celebrity, who rose to prominence in accord to her own achievements. She is a celetoid – a person thrust to prominence by the tabloid media, poaching on gossips and celebrity fanfare. (For a nuanced distinction between “celebrity” and “celetoid” refer to Chris Rojek’s work “Celebrity” available at reaktionbooks.co.uk).

And she has demonstrated nothing of a desire to help mobilize any cause of public interest. To the contrary, her sentiments are close to the likes of Cho. Ramasamy, one of the most vehement right wing ideologues in Tamil Nadu. When her sister Ms. Soundarya Rajinikanth was announced as the “co – opted member of Animal Welfare Board of India”, in addition to serve as “a Member of its Performing Animals Sub Committee (PASC)” and as the “Ambassador of AWBI to the film fraternity”, she acquiesced quietly without any qualms.  One has to remember that AWBI is one of the key players in forestalling Jallikkattu, precipitating the massive uprising in Tamil Nadu. To top it all, the “America Tamil Sangam” which co – sponsored Ms. Aishwarya’s program, had conferred “Tamil Rathna” award on Mr. Subramanian Swamy, a right wing politician infamous for his tirade in Twitter, calling Tamils as “porukkis” (meaning scoundrels or goons in Tamil according to context).

So, on both counts – celebrity status and public spirit – she is an ineligible candidate for being an “UN Ambassador” or a “Messenger” for its missions.

This raises the question, whether Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Women Deputy Executive Director, had given proper thought and consideration in selecting her to the aforementioned designation. Obviously it does not seem so, and heaven knows what transpired in her selection, which further raises the question whether Ms. Lakshmi Puri had adhered to the “Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service” as prescribed by UN. (In particular, note paragraphs 23 & 24 on conflict of interest and preferential treatment respectively).

Did the media ever probe into such basic questions required of ethical journalism? Did any “public intellectual” of any persuasion dared to raise such questions? How pathetic is the state of our public debates and discussions? Can we say, just in tune with the pathetic performance of our pitiable “Goodwill Ambassador” at the “UN Headquarters”?

Pearls and Perils of Post Ideological Political Activism in Tamilnadu

Right on the heels of the massive uprising in January demanding the lifting of ban on Jallikkattu, Tamilnadu is weathering through another storm in its political cauldron. Now cudgels have been raised against the hydro – carbon project in Pudukkottai district, the eye of the storm gaining momentum at a tiny village Neduvasal. Neduvasal neatly rhymes with the central slogan of the Jallikkattu struggle – “Vadivasal”, but in fact is an antonym (in Tamil, Vadivasal means a narrow entrance and Neduvasal a long entrance).

In spite of being antonyms, the parallels are quite starking, not to go unnoticed even by an indifferent observer. The locals sit in a “dharna”, activists of small organizations and youngsters with no political affiliation rush to the spot, and the eye gathers strength following which celebrities from Kollywood lend their support, and the late arrivals are politicians like the police personnel arriving at the climax in Kollywood flicks. But there are more rhye to catch up with the eye.

To surmise, the five points that set these struggles apart from those of the previous decades are as follows:

  1. These struggles express a new kind of dynamism in activism, which came out of blue since the anti – Koodankulam struggle in 2001. The usual mode of activism of all hues, was fixed at a point – born and buried at the point of strife. Solidarity was expressed at other points by other actors statically. In other words, there was no movement and interaction between actors. At the most, forms like “yatra” were performed to garner support, whose primary function was propaganda. In contrast, this new generation of “apolitical” actors move towards the point of strife garnering strength and support networks. A new kind of dynamism has evolved in political action.
  2. Local protestors, students and activists rallying around the issue are oblivious to any ideology or political thought. The focus is exclusively on the issue at hand based on information, data, and experience. Information is gathered from the demi-god of the times – internet, and disseminated through its social media avatars. Government policy decisions, statistics on the current phase of operations and fragmentary scientific data are collected and collated with disastrous consequences on the ground. Old schools of thought like Marxism and Dravidian ideology are virtually absent in this mode of activism much to the chagrin of the ideologues.
  3. Outright rejection of all political parties, including the minor ones along with the two major players, DMK and AIADMK. The widespread opinion that the major parties are embroiled in corruption and do not take any meaningful measures for the welfare of the people is deeply entrenched. The fact that the minor parties which mushroomed to give vent to such frustration ended up in aligning alternately with the two major parties have furthered this wholesome rejection of political parties. Recurring incidents of protestors refusing to allow politicians to take the dais in their protests and meetings is a visible sign of this apathy.
  4. The mode of organization is lateral, diverging from the established vertical mode of political organization. In fact, there is no organization, in the usual sense of an organization. No hierarchical leadership – not to mention a “charismatic” leader, no centralization in decision making and initiating an action. This does not mean, that this new mode of activism is “spontaneous”, without any deliberation, or meanders without any direction. To the contrary, deliberations are made on the spot, out in the open, collectively, and concretely appraising differing points of view among the participants. This process was discernible in the Jallikkattu uprising at Alanganallur, Madurai and Chennai and now at Neduvasal.
  5. The ongoing struggles are distinct from those of the previous decades in their firm anti – corporate stance, and rejection of the developmental model pursued by the central government. Tamilnadu has a long history of resisting unilateral policy thrusts of the North. In the mid – 1930s, imposition of Hindi by the tactful and powerful patriarch C. Rajagopalachari was forestalled by a mass movement lead by Periyar. The mid – 60s again saw the eruption of a massive anti – Hindi struggle which installed the DMK in power. With the Dravidian movement stalwarts firmly entrenched in power, the struggle took a “diplomatic turn” into the realms of power sharing expressed in terms of devolution of powers to State governments. After a lull of nearly five decades, in the emerging post globalization scenario, Tamilnadu is once again in the forefront of struggles, now against predatory corporate interests and a developmental model blind to the destruction of environment and deaf to long term sustainable growth models.

The Jallikkattu uprising and the anti – hydro carbon struggle, have issued their statement point blank to multi – national corporates. In response to the vociferous call issued by the youngsters during the Jallikkattu uprising, the Tamilnadu trader’s association (TNVS) a federal body of around 6000 trader’s association with a membership of around 15 lakh traders, has announced a boycott on the sale of Coke and Pepsi from 1st of March throughout the state. This is certainly a political statement from the South, again setting a precedent for other states to pick up sooner or later, like the anti – Hindi struggle of the 1960s.

While these new manifestations are worth mentioning, a few downsides also need be taken into cognizance. These struggles based exclusively on information and its dissemination through internet and its social media avatars lack incisive analysis necessary for translating them into a dialogue with power. Unless a discursive formation effective enough to alter the “ways of seeing” of the policy makers and think tanks of the state, no decisive change is ever possible.

The disillusionment with the existing parties has a long way to go to create meaningful alternatives in electoral politics. Ultimately, all these energies need to be channelized through some political formation, that could effect change through participation in democratic legislation and governance. But, no visible alternative is yet on the horizon.

The ideology that dominated the political discourse – Dravidian politics was the dominant discourse in Tamilnadu – though stifled effective political action in the later decades, was perceptive enough to mount a critique on the evil of caste. It’s inadequacies in turn, were countered and surpassed by the radical critique of Dalit politics. The younger generation robustly active in the present struggles is mostly oblivious to the hard won achievements and the enduring relevance of such anti – caste movements and political thought. In a positive vein, the sprouting struggles can be seen as garnering forces cross – cutting caste, but it remains to be seen what transpires when the ugly face of caste prejudice and discrimination stares straight into their eyes.

These observations notwithstanding, the present stirrings have much to do with disenchantment not only towards the outworn Dravidian political discourse, but also has a strong sense of disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction towards the policy thrusts of the government at the center. One could only hope that sagacious minds prevail to dissipate them through positive measures, before they transform into resentment.

 

Media and Tamil Civil Society – Seminar

Media and Tamil Civil Society

Seminar organized by

Department of Visual Communication, Loyola College

&

New Tamil Studies

One of the principal functions of News Media which defines itself as the “Fourth Estate” is to facilitate discussion and debate on government policies among various sections of the society. It is also supposed to perform the role of “watch dog” and warn the public of corruption, exploitation or inaction on the part of government and private actors. Further, News Media often plays a pedagogical role in the propagation of basic rights enshrined in the Constitution such as the right to free speech, freedom of expression and social justice.

Media institutions that perform these three roles effectively, live up to their self-definition as the pillar of democracy. However, to realize their democratic role in its full potential, the media institutions themselves should be constituted democratically in their internal organization. News persons from different sections of the society must be recruited proportionately within these institutions to ensure that the democratic aspirations and demands of different sections are adequately represented.

The seminar has been organized as an initial attempt at exploring such crucial questions of representation and effective realization of democratic ideals by the news media, especially in the past twenty years which has seen an enormous growth in the number of media institutions. We are happy to invite working journalists, freelancers and other news media persons, to reflect, rethink, and resurrect the democratic spirit of their profession.

Valarmathi

(for New Tamil Studies)

 

Welcome Address

Professor Suresh Paul, HOD, Dept. of Visual Communication, Loyola College

 

Civil society / space delineated by the Media

Valarmathi, Independent Researcher

 

Women as custodians of Culture – Media Representations

Kiruba Munusamy, Advocate

 

Portrayal of Transgenders by the Media

Grace Banu, Trans – Activist

 

Why Tamil issues get short-changed in TN Media

Babu Jayakumar, Senior Journalist

 

Media (mis)presentations of Muslims

Thiru. Jawahirullah, Manitha Neya Makkal Katchi

 

Victim / Oppressor Relationship Upturned: Perceptions of Dalits in the Media

Thiru. Thol. Thirumavalavan, Vidudhalai Siruthaigal Katchi

 

 

Venue: Lawrence Sundaram Hall, Loyola College

20-12-2016

9.00 am to 1.00 pm