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Posts Tagged ‘people

Yesterday I shared some simple and general things I learnt from my visit to Amsterdam. Today I share what I learnt about the people I met and even those I did not meet in person.

The Dutch seem to possess a dry wit. I know this from the way street artists and window dressers expressed themselves.

In the windows and walls of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

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In the windows, walls & bikes of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

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The people I dealt with — from the public transport ticket agent to the sandwich lady to the SIM card guy — were very direct. Their mindset could be represented by this sign I saw at a knick-knack shop: Be nice, or go away.

Sign: Be nice, or go away!

I was nice, so I did not go away. But in being nice, I used phrases that did not work. For example, I revisited a sandwich shop that I chanced upon and discovered that the friendly old man was replaced by a seemingly uptight lady.

As I was there at opening time, I asked, “Are you open for businesses?” The lady replied, “Well, the door is open.”

Me: I mean… Are you ready to serve?

She: Let me wash my hands.

Me: (Waiting silently, looking at all corners of the store)

She: (At the sink area) You can order. I am not facing you, but I can hear you.

I made conversation about meeting the old man who told me that they were going to sell piccante, a spicy meat. I ordered two piccante sandwiches and my wife wanted two small slabs to bring home.

While the sandwiches heated up, the lady cut a few slices of piccante for us to nibble on.

I not only learnt where the best sandwiches in Amsterdam were, I also learnt how to be more direct with the Dutch.

The Dutch in the service industry were also prompt. Very much so.

I only exchanged emails with the host of my apartment. He said that he only had a landline, but I suspect that my emails to him were rerouted through an app on his phone or computer. Our email exchanges quick that they felt more like being on WhatsApp.

Montage of some screenshots of a display at the #vangoghmuseum #amsterdam

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I also emailed the Van Gogh Museum because I wanted to get tickets in advance. I had an I Amsterdam card that allowed me to get into the museum for free. However I noticed that:

  • There was an online time slot booking system
  • People queued to get tickets in one line
  • The same people queued again in another line to get in
  • Some people used their phones to skip the first line

I wanted to know if I could get a mobile-based ticket by choosing time slot online with my I Amsterdam card. I emailed the museum and got a reply. The bad news was that I had to queue twice. The good news was that the reply arrived within an hour.

Some folks here take pride in being efficient or productive. I challenge that notion with the museum example. I also provide evidence of how slovenly we can be by comparison.

Upon returning to Singapore, I learnt that my telco had disabled access to my account information. This was true for the mobile app and the web-based portal.

StarHub app access denied.

I emailed my telco three days ago and have not received a reply. Not even an acknowledgement.

In learning about others, we learn about ourselves. When we look in that mirror, do we like what we see? Do we do something positive about it?

Recently I read Death by a thousand likes: How Facebook and Twitter are killing the open web. The article highlighted the tension between publishers of content and platforms that collect or curate content.

The platforms and publishers need each other, but the article paints a picture illustrating more threat than opportunity. The publishers worry that platforms take content without attribution or payment. The platforms worry about publishers putting up walls and start co-opting publishers and feeds.

In the realm of education, this problem has been felt most in content management systems (CMS). One reason why very few people know about CMS is because the threats became real and opportunities slipped by.

The providers of CMS thought they could control both publishing and platforms by creating content in-house and providing access via proprietary platforms. However, the rest of the world moved on to open and freely available content on platforms like YouTube and publishers like, well, anyone. CMS providers failed to reinvent themselves by taking advantage of a more open system.

Educators need to be aware of this tension and two more Ps: Pedagogy and people (I refrain from using “pupils” because our kids are people, not just studying machines).

Old school pedagogy that relies on published books is no longer enough. Content is now less stable, easily goes out of date, and publishers cannot keep up. Information is readily available online and changes every minute of every day, and students need to learn how to deal with this newer standard.

The pedagogy of content delivery is insufficient. Teaching that creates contexts and provides opportunities for problem-seeking and problem-solving are more important. This sort of teaching is more difficult because it is more just-in-time and just-for-me instead of just-in-case. It is focused more on the people that matter, the learners.

Teacher preparation programmes struggle to keep up with this change and they send new, semi-adventurous teachers to a very conservative system. The recruits are assimilated to the system, their energy diluted, and very little change results, if any.


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One way to break out of this pattern is for teachers to unlearn old behaviours and learn new ones. This group of parents and teachers offered these tips in the video above:

  • admit that what you do is losing relevance
  • adopt an open mind
  • learn to use new tools
  • learn from your kids and students
  • dialogue with them

These are what any good educator would do to be a learner first. They do not have to take selfies; they need to take a good, hard look at themselves.


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This is a viral video of people who pushed a train to free a man whose leg got stuck between the train and the platform.

The people could have waited for official help to arrive. They could have listened to the guidelines or obeyed the law about leaving things to the authorities.

Instead they collectively took matters into their own hands. They not only helped the official free the man, they also helped themselves by reducing the train delay.

There is the madness of mobs and there is the wisdom of crowds. The former tends to arise from fear, ignorance, and tight rules. The latter tend to come from places of openness, shared knowledge, and trust.

Leaders do not have to leave things to chance. You can create the conditions for madness or nurture a culture for wisdom. You can try to control people like a herd or you can learn to manage them as individuals.

The most effective modern leaders know this: To have people power, you must empower people. If you leave and the people cannot move forward on their own or find leaders in their ranks, you were never a leader in the first place.

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I reflected briefly on the Look Up video recently.

The Fine Bros got YouTubers to share their thoughts on the same video. The main and bonus videos are on this page.


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I thought that the first video leaned towards the populist view of technological determinism (e.g., phones make us less social). The second (and less viewed video) provided more critical analyses and opinions of Look Up.

The central tension is that mobile and social media might make it easier for us to ignore people, but they also make it easier for us to connect with people far away or with cultures that we would otherwise never reach. These technologies also enable us to communicate more richly (multimedia) and over a longer time (asynchronously, not just here and now). These, in turn, lead to communication that is potentially more meaningful and reflective. However, arguing along this line only brings you to a stalemate or the time-tested, middle ground “surely there must be a balance” answer.

I think we can do better. If you want to do more than just forward that video to someone, you might end up asking yourself: What should I do?

I think you should start by realizing that practically everything we do is a social-technical or behavioural-technical system. Pencils and paper-based letters are technologies created by people using other technologies. We use them to communicate with other people with the help of packaging, payment, and transport technologies.

No one oohs or ahhs, makes a video, or has international visitors observe each time a classroom teacher tells her/his students to complete a worksheet or have them write pen pal letters. But when students find their own teachers on YouTube or communicate with each other via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, adults worry.

Adults worry because kids do not have to be in class to do these things. They also do not have to look each other in the eye or need to sharpen any pencils. But are these worries warranted?

Perhaps we have forgotten how we all used to be (or might still be) socially awkward. We have forgotten what it is like to be a learner.

Perhaps we forget that people are social creatures and that is unlikely to change. We forget that is the essence of who we are and will continue to be unlike the dystopian futures that Hollywood movies paint.

Perhaps we do not realize how the human race finds new ways to communicate. We might not realize that is how we move forward and we worry because it seems so new.

Look at it this way. No one in the modern world really gives a shit about modern toilet bowls and plumbing simply because they are accepted, everyday technologies. Over time, some technologies become so transparent that there is no thought or judgement about using them. The technologies are not thought of as usual and are not labelled right or wrong.

So instead of asking you to look up from your device, I say you look in at yourself. You can choose to use or abuse. You can think about the why and how you use technology. What you should not do is judge and say look up without first looking in.


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I will let the video tell its story. It is a good one, but it is one-sided. How so? Within the first minute, it makes judgement that social media is not really social.

“Social” media is not the misnomer. Having hundreds or even thousand of “friends” on Facebook is. Those friends are not the traditionally defined ones. No one has that many no matter how popular you are. Even celebrities can probably count on their hands and feet how many real friends they have.

The larger issue is whether you let your technological servant become your master.

Let us not lay blame on the wrong thing. It is not the smart phone that is at fault. It is the dumb people who judge before listening, who assume before experiencing, or who do not know how to look up every now and then.


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