Cultural Differences

Dating by blood type in Japan

Buerk, R. (2010). “Dating by blood type in Japan.” BBC News. Retrieved on 3 October, 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8646236.stm People in most parts of the world do not think about their blood group much, unless they have an operation or an accident and need a transfusion. But in Japan, whether someone is A, B, O or AB is a topic of everyday conversation. There is a widespread belief that blood type determines personality, with implications for life, work and love. Interest in blood type is widespread in Japan, particularly which combinations are best for romance. Women’s magazines run scores of articles on the subject, which has also inspired best-selling self-help books. There are employers who are discriminating against prospective candidates by asking about their blood type. A term for such behavior in Japan is burahara, which translates as blood group harassment. The preoccupation with blood ultimately dates back to theories of eugenics during the inter-war years. Stripped of its racial overtones, the idea emerged again in the 1970s. Now, blood typecasting is as common as horoscopes in the West, with the whiff of science—although dubious—giving it added credibility. Scientists regularly debunk the blood group theory but it retains its hold—some believe because,…

Language and thought in user-centered design

Deutscher, G. (2010). “Does language shape the way you think?”  New York Times Online Edition. Retrieved on October 4, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html This article summarizes the history and the current status of the linguistic relativity hypothesis or the idea that “language shapes thought.” This idea comes in several different formulations. The version on which Deutscher’s review focuses is a cross-linguistic claim that speakers of different languages use different mental representations or processes as a result of having learned different languages as children. A particularly strong version of the cross-linguistic hypothesis suggests that our native language provides us with a basic toolbox of conceptual representation, so if a concept or a mode of thought is not encoded in a given language, its monolingual speakers would be incapable of thinking about such a concept or thinking in such a mode.  For instance, linguistic relativity led to the prediction that people’s perception of differences in color should reflect the way their language encodes color.  This prediction was spectacularly disproven by the discovery that people whose language only has two color terms in its vocabulary perceive and categorize colors similarly to speakers of English, which has 11 basic color terms, plus many non-basic ones (Berlin…

Branding & Emotional Design: The Culture of Sneakers

How do we spend our money? Well, the first cut goes to survival: essential goods and services that are absolutely necessary to our survival. Food, housing, medical care are all part of the basic necessities of life. Some, of course, are more necessary than others (we might postpone going to a dentist…but not for long), but there’s a core of stuff that we need to live. The next tier up from survival is comfort. This is a very large tier—what’s comfort to some is a necessity to others and visa versa. People use their income to increase their general comfort level. This might mean a large house, more comfortable beds, larger selection of clothing. But generally, when we talk of comfort, we don’t include jet setting to Paris for a nice date out on the town. Comfort is about everyday life needs, but more comfortable. The top tier of our income is the disposable income and it is spent on luxury—the money we have left over from dealing with our needs and comforts; the money we can chose to spend in an extravagant and even wasteful manner. When economists make predictions about the average size of the available disposable income,…

Chinese companies ‘rent’ white foreigners

Farrar, L. (2010). “Chinese companies ‘rent’ white foreigners.” CNN. Retrieved on 3 October, 2010: http://www.cnn.com/2010/BUSINESS/06/29/china.rent.white.people/index.html In China, white people can be rented. Chinese companies are willing to pay high prices for fair-faced foreigners to join them as fake employees or business partners. To have a few foreigners hanging around means a company has prestige, money and the increasingly crucial connections — real or not — to businesses abroad. The requirements for these jobs are simple: Be white. Do not speak any Chinese, or really speak at all, unless asked. Pretend like you just got off of an airplane yesterday. Those who go for such gigs tend to be unemployed actors or models, part-time English teachers or other expats looking to earn a few extra bucks. Often they are jobs at a second- or third-tier city, where the presence of pale-faced foreigners is needed to impress local officials, secure a contract or simply to fulfill a claim of being international. Occasionally, these jobs can go awry. A company can hire a white foreigner, swindle millions of yuan out of their clients , and after police shows up tell that the white guy was the one really in charge, White women are…

Using Computers to Teach Children Without Teachers

Johnathan, F . (2010). “Using computers to teach children with no teachers” BBC News. Retrieved on 21 July, 2010: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-10663353?print=true Summary of the article: The article summarizes studies conducted by Prof Mitra on the learning curve of children using computers for education with teachers. Results of the study prove that the teaching methods employed have been quite successful based on the fact that: Children who are not exposed to computers are highly motivated to teach themselves skills they want to learn Children have had a steep learning curve in picking up complex tasks with minimum supervision Learning by discussion and in groups ensures that content is retained and not skimmed through by children. Motivation levels of students are kept high with a grandmother figure in the picture. The best results of the study have been combined to create Self Learning Environments where children in groups of 4 share a computer to assimilate information. Virtually present volunteer grandmothers keep the student motivated and support the learning process. On Environment: The need for self-organized learning essentially arises in developing nations and the ones who do not have access to education. Children living in such conditions have a natural survival instinct, which keeps…

Antisocial Networking?

Stout, H. (2010). “Antisocial Networking?” New York Times Online. Retrieved on 3 October, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/fashion/02BEST.html The main topic of this article is that technology may be changing the very nature of kid’s friendships. Children used to actually talk to their friends. But now, even chatting on cellphones or via e-mail is becoming rare. Today’s teenagers and preteens, prefer to make friends and communicate using cellphone texts and instant messages, or through the very public forum of Facebook walls and MySpace bulletins. People now are more likely to use their cellphones to text friends than to call them. The article shows two opposite points of view on the topic. The author believes the quality of human interactions is becoming worse without the intimacy and emotional component of regular face-to-face communications (hence the title of this article). The ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends, but close childhood friendships help kids build trust in people outside their families, develop empathy, understand emotional nuances and read social cues like facial expressions and body language, and consequently help lay the groundwork for healthy adult relationships. On the other hand, online social networking allows children to become…

Be the Customer

By our very nature, humans are an “us versus them” kind of mammal. We are quick to judge and categorize: “he’s our kind’a people” or “she’s management.” We adapt and root for our favorite sports teams, sometimes even resorting to violence to “defend our guys.” We peg an art department against the engineers; we side with nurses over doctors; we fight with democrats against republicans; we wave our flags in a spirit of nationalism. And it doesn’t matter if we all work for the same company, heal the same patients, want the same basic rights, or live on a very small planet—we tend to take sides. So it’s no surprise that when product designers develop products the feeling of “us against the users” creeps up into the process. To protect the design process from these “us versus them” impulses, we can create a well-realized user personas based on the the audience taxonomy developed during the conceptual design stage of product design. For each major category in the audience taxonomy, a sample fictional user is created which embodies all of the traits in that audience category: age, profession, socio-economic background, culture and sub-culture, interests and dislikes, family status, education level, etc.…