Month: April 2009

Of course!

I really like the concept of these zip earphones. Whenever I want to listen to my iPod, I spend far too many minutes trying to unravel my knotted earphones. This is something that is so simple and so useful. One of those ‘Of course!’ moments that makes me think why no one thought of it before. It even has volume controls!

Thinking about India, technology and originality

I attended a talk at the RSA this week on the Many Avatars of the Indian Creative Mind. Two things stayed in my mind. One, with regard to the influence of English in a multilingual country like India, Nandan Nilekani, Co-Chairman of Infosys said that it basically created a level playing field. Because there are so many dialects in addition to 22 official languages in India, for things like corporate jobs English is the levelling factor as opposed to, for example, one regional language that would give an unfair advantage to people who had that as their mother tongue. Made me think of how the internet is this huge leveller in our world, and how people who don’t know what Twitter or Facebook are, literally speak a different language from those that do. That in turn gives (fair or unfair) advantages to those who know the inside-out of things like social media. It’s the way the wind blows. And just as people who don’t know English are left behind in the race for those jobs, people who don’t really understand how the internet operates will be left behind in the race for technological progress.

The other point, mentioned by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, was that Sanskrit influences are very strong in Mandarin, but that doesn’t make Mandarin any less Chinese, or any less popular. That took me back to the idea of recombinant culture and a point that Dave Birss said about originality recently: we don’t need to necessarily be original in order to be innovative. I’m guilty of sometimes forcing myself to come up with an idea that is new, when I don’t really need to at all – a lesson that’s now sunk deep into my mind.

The Donation Game

I saw this at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park a while ago. It’s a donation box with a twist (or many twists, to be precise). Essentially, it’s like one of those hand-held games where you try and get tiny silver balls to the other end of a case or box by slowly shaking it in the right direction (I can’t remember what the game’s called – there are videogame versions of it too, or you may have played it in a games arcade). Here, you drop coins right at the top and watch them fall into one of the many crevices. I guess the fun aspect of it is supposed to make people more inclined to donate. Pretty creative, don’t you think?

The Mystery of This Canvas

This is a mystery someone has to help me solve. I saw this near Liverpool Street a couple of weeks ago and took a picture of it because it’s one of those things I chanced upon that adds charm to my urban life. But then curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to find out who the artist was. It’s not the only one of its kind, because there seem to be a few on Flickr. Doesn’t look like the artist is Banksy, because his name would have come up somewhere in my search. (The closest I got was a comment that asked ‘Is this a Banksy?’). And then I found this entire blog called This Is A Canvas that chronicles a whole series of pictures with the same words taken in different places across East London, each with a small paragraph forming a story told over September-December 2008 (so it’s not that old). The blog is defunct now. I’ve left a comment on the blog asking for more details – I’ll let you know if I get a response. But for now, I call it The Mystery of This Canvas.

Social capital and social media

Here’s an excerpt from the article I wrote for Connect! by the Project 100

“It isn’t surprising, given my background in sociology, that I often find parallels between sociology and what I observe online. From telegrams to Twitter, technology has completely taken over the way we communicate. The reason for the massive take-up of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is simple: they help people stay in touch. It isn’t any surprise that both Facebook and Twitter ask members to answer the same question as a starting point: ‘what are you doing?’. Of course, social networks are used for a range of other reasons as well, from seeking opinions (TripAdvisor, Tipped), to disseminating news (as Twitter was used for during the recent attacks in Mumbai). But the seed for the creation of most social networks is the basic idea that people want to be connected. No man is an island, as the saying goes.

 This has its foundation in the concept of social capital, as popularized by Robert D. Putnam – “the connections within and between social networks as well as connections among individuals”, as Wikipedia says. Nan Lin, a professor of sociology at Duke University, spoke of social capital in a different context:  he said people invest in social capital with an expectation of returns in the marketplace (emphasis mine). Most intelligent usage of social media in a marketing context should thus give users their ‘expected return’ by adding to their social capital. By doing this, a brand simultaneously strengthens their own social capital, thereby enabling economic benefits to accrue.”

I also recently wrote a post on social capital and agile ideas on the Made By Many blog, which expands on the same idea, so you may like to take a look at it if you’re interested in the subject.

Note: Facebook hadn’t changed its look at the time I wrote the article. We all know the question Facebook asks now is ‘What’s on your mind’? The relative merits or demerits of that move are a subject for a different discussion altogether! 

India Business Forum, London

Ever since Goldman Sachs’ famed BRIC report a few years ago, a lot of eyes have been on Brazil, Russia, India and China. Focussing specifically on India, students at the London Business School have been organising the India Business Forum for a few years now. This year’s event will take place on April 23rd, and features a roster of interesting speakers – to name just one or two wouldn’t be fair because all of them come from different backgrounds and are well-known in their respective fields of work. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Innovative India: Creating Value and Opportunities’. I think it’s quite timely, given the current situation of the global economy, to examine the role of innovation and efforts being made to change the status quo in various areas in the country. I hope I’ll be able to attend!