Background Knowledge

Language, Culture, and Communication

Where we come from — our background culture: our country of origin and language, our heritage and religion (or lack there of), our family, our education, our friends, and where we live — has an enormous impact on our ability to communicate. What’s more, when people from different cultural backgrounds try to interact with each other, these differences can cause catastrophic failures. Direct versus Indirect Communication Styles Consider the following set of remarks about doing homework: Do your homework! Can you start doing your homework? Would you mind starting your homework now? Let’s clean the table so you can start your homework. Do you need help with homework? It’s getting late, do you have a lot of homework? Didn’t you say you have a lot of homework? Johnny’s mom said that he has a lot of homework today… Do you have everything ready for school tomorrow? Look how late it is — it’s almost time for bed. You have school tomorrow. Each of the statements above represents a progressively less direct command to do homework. In my family, I usually pick number 2 to communicate my desires for finished homework to my sons (although number 1 is perfectly acceptable, to…

Health and Human Rights

Healthcare is a Human Right

I have been collecting some background materials for Health and Human Rights and would like to share a few resources. United Nations Documents The Universal Declaration of Human Rights — Article 25 directly address health: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection. The right to the highest attainable standard of health : . 08/11/2000. Health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights. Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity. The realization of the right to health may be pursued through numerous, complementary approaches, such as the formulation of health policies, or the implementation of health programmes developed by the World Health Organization…

Do you remember Gardol?

Colgate Gardol Ad

Do you know what Gardol is? Unless you are close to retiring, probably not… So here’s a bit of background: Gardol is sodium lauroyl sarcosinate — not a very harmonious sounding chemical. I’m guessing Gardol was a clever marketing trick of combining the words “Guard” and “All”, relying on the phonetic combination to drive home the idea of protective quality of this chemical compound. In our society, chemicals don’t sell — we have an aversion to chemicals, we only want natural products! The common Western p-prim (or folksy wisdom) is that chemical are bad for us, and products created from natural ingredients are good for us … never mind arsenic! Gardol might have disappeared from the drug store ads, but the chemical sodium lauroyl sarcosinate didn’t — today it goes by the name “Advance White” and is part of a very well respected for its natural and health-consious products, Arm & Hammer toothpaste! Oh, and we don’t like the word “dental cream” — it’s toothpaste now…

How Do You Know When Contractors are Lying to You?

Do you sometimes get that sunken feeling that your contractors are flat out making up statistics about your users on the spot? I do get that a lot…but until just a few days ago, I didn’t have the indisputable evidence. Slide below is from a Russian contractor Power Point deck explaining the user demographic breakdown for different forms of payment awareness among the 18 to 45 year-olds. The logo of the company which made this slide is blurred… But for those of you who don’t speak Russian, let me walk you through the slide. Horizontal variables are: Knowledge of the type of payment and Usage. The columns are: Credit Card Payments; eMoney; Internet Banking; non-Internet Currency (aka cash); and payments via SMS. 79% of the population of Russian cities with population of over 800,000 people (really?) know about SMS payment systems and 22% use them. While only 93% heard of “offline” cash!

Culture, education, language, and thinking

How we think about problems depends in part of how we are taught to do so. And that education is seeped in our culture and language. Metaphors, mnemonics, analogies, riddles, word choice for explanations are tightly interwoven into our language. Just like it was probably impossible for Romans to invent calculus given their numeral system, it is difficult to think clearly about some problems in some languages. I’ve learned advanced physics and mathematics in English and find it very difficult to express thoughts in those domains in Russian (my native language). But when I first came to New York, I marveled at how poor my cohorts’ geometry proofs were — their presentations took a lot of space and too many steps to achieve what I was taught to do in minimal configuration. I was taught to jump and bound from concept to concept (in geometry), while the students in America were taught to crawl through ideas. I found that maddening! But it was a different math language, and as such it allowed for a different set of affordances… It is difficult to easily show the differences in thought process that language makes in this short blog. But here’s a bit…

Forgetting by Design

Why Mothers Scream email forward

I get a lot of email forwards…don’t we all? And just the other day I got one that I have seen many times already over the past few years… Usually, you look, you smirk, you move on. But this time, the photo got me thinking: that poor kid — he has no memory of this shot, but he will be remembered for it for the rest of his life! The shot has long ago slipped from the close circle of sharing that his parents intended it for and has been widely distributed through out the world. Someday, this kid might even get it as mail forward himself: an adult man looking at a silly embarrassing moment that got away… Information with Expiration Date Somehow, I don’t imagine that getting “an image that got away” of oneself would be a source of continuous pleasure. One might want to forget the whole thing… And it is not just images — although having images with expiration dates would be very valuable — there are loads of information that should be forgotten by design. When my generation was growing up, the silly and stupid things we did didn’t end up as data for public…