Musings on decisions and factors that drive them.
Mon, Oct 19 2009 12:01
Valuing language and nuance.
I bit my lip at the time. Out of fear or politeness, I am now not sure why I hesitated to accept this as "a good thing," even if perhaps true. The "English" that I was typing into my computer, except in word processing applications, was a far cry from the "English" I loved.
"Computing English" wasn't the rich language of nuance, feeling, expressiveness, or beauty. The English lingo of "input" or coding, and even the support for the results of same, might become universal, but it would never be the "English language."
Unlike the demise of some older computing languages (which many programmers celebrated), the recent BBC story of the demise of some spoken languages, caused a pang in my heart.
"By the year 2100, 90% of the world's languages would have ceased to exist."
As we lose languages, I think of what those that I learned have meant to me: Learning a foreign language was the start of an adventure into another culture, another way of thinking. Being surrounding by the juxtaposition of sounds never heard, in patterns never heard, led to the understanding of viewpoints and perspectives of other people. As with the prayer of St. Francis, it was, for me, less about being understood myself, than about understanding others. (Although improved understanding in both directions is the epitome of good communication.)
Recalling the Tower of Babel story -- the creation of tongues -- depicted as a disaster for humanity, I am wondering now if it really was such a catastrophe. It seems no one was communicating properly when they had a common language. Perhaps "the reason" for different languages was to demonstrate more clearly the existence of underlying differences that were previously being masked by the common language.
The New York Times provides some insights into these underlying differences in an article on literature prizes. After a book is translated into another tongue, its acceptance depends on common themes that appeal to all humanity, and, more importantly on clearly unique themes for differing cultures.
Border checkpoints used to be a mental, as well as geographic, point of embarkation for the traveler. Upcoming experiences may be different from those to which one is accustomed. As physical border checkpoints disappear, and as one global language emerges, we cannot assume that differences will also disappear. "Globalization" and the use of "one common language" may only obscure the appearance of differences. Differences will continue to exist. And we may find ourselves, again, at the base of a Tower of Babel, fighting in a common language.
Differing languages may well be the last remnant of a "border crossing." Do they help us acknowledge cultural differences? Does the very fact that we are confronted with the fact that a difference exists -- that we cannot assume that we will be understood with the words we use -- make us more careful?
The assumption of a common tongue giving us the ability to have immediate understanding is a premise fraught with peril. Our clients, even in their own common language, be it English, French, Italian, German or Japanese, take the time to carefully discuss wording so that there is clear understanding of the nuances of their entries into our software. This part of the process takes the better part of their time, but this point in the process is clearly pivotal in preventing "garbage in, garbage out."
Mon, Sep 21 2009 12:01
Years ago a colleague of mine (who did not have children) told me that she mourned the loss of a good friend who now had two small children. She said that the disintegration of their friendship was due to constant interruptions by the children of any attempted conversation. (With children, interruptions are understandable. As well, one can understand the disappearance of childless friends from one's coterie of friends during such child rearing years.)
Technology has now inculcated into our culture a form of irritant that is more pernicious, but without any of the potential charms of children. Ringing or vibrating cell phones interrupt our conversations, ubiquitously. Described as one element in "tech addiction," it is infinitely less excusable than a friend's demanding child. Interestingly, the characteristics of addiction, and the effect an addiction has on those around the addict, are the same as those of a hard drug.
What is at stake? Conversations form the basis of relationship development. The deliberate interruption of a conversation, especially of another person's speech, erodes a relationship by demeaning that person. One may argue the ringing of a cell phone is not "deliberate." On the contrary. The cell phone didn't grow on one's hip, turned on. It was placed there. And by its presence, with whatever downloaded catchy ringtones, the message is clear: "the present moment, and the persons present, are never as important, or worthy of attention, as even the mere potential of something else in my life."
Marketeers have subtly sold the cell phone as a sign of importance for the wearer. It allows the bearer to silence others with a "Hold your thought, but I must check this much more important [than you] message." No matter how potentially trivial the incoming message may be, the action of stopping conversation makes the call more important. This, of course, reinforces for anyone with low self-esteem, the appearance of one's own importance to others.
As with many addictions, those having low self-esteem succumb most easily to this momentary "high" of feeling "better than." Additionally, as with other addictions, a new vocabulary evolves around the addiction, and gives the "user" good talking points for unacceptable behavior. "I'm just multi-tasking." Sadly both the behavior and its new vocabulary only make the person taking the calls seem rude to others.
There are good reasons to have a cell phone. That is not disputed. But, if one were to write down those reasons, as well as the risks (one of which is indicated above) and weight them, their relative importance and how one uses one's phone would reveal the relative importance of having good relationships. It would certainly reveal why one's circle of friends (if one doesn't also have small children) might be shrinking.
Wall Street -- The Sequel
Mon, Sep 14 2009 12:01
Don't you just hate it when you're misunderstood? It's bad enough even when one hasn't spent millions in creating the vehicle for, the masterpiece of, one's sentiments.
I have always admired Oliver Stone. And Michael Douglas. For their vision and their acting. Sequels can often be a let down. So, I must tip my hat to them for their courage in their upcoming endeavor, "Wall Street 2."
Along with these two gentlemen, I marvel at the fact that the original film "Wall Street" inspired young people to head to Wall Street for jobs in the financial sector. Both actor and director have noted this irony, and yet they are bravely going to produce a "Part 2" of the saga. Perhaps this will be a "read my lips" film, ever hopeful that someone is going to really hear the message this time around.
The question for me is why so many were unable to "hear" Stone's message the first time? Do we hear only what we want to? Have we begun we take words literally, without the tone? "Greed is good." Spoken by the overt villain of the first film. How could this have become so misinterpreted?
It is difficult to imagine how the "art of listening" is going to fare in the future, especially when e-mails and text messaging have their tone indicated by emoticons, and the richness of vocabulary and its attendant nuances are displaced by the need to keep an expression to "under 'x' [number] characters." Studies have been conducted regarding the effect of the "tenor" of e-mails and the offense that has been caused by capitalization. Oh brave new world...
Communications, written or oral, are often misinterpreted. Care in crafting statements is pivotal in ensuring good decision-making. Intent must be clarified. Understanding nuances and expressing them well are vital. Otherwise, one can pretty much be guaranteed to fall into the trap of "garbage in, garbage out." It is not only in filmmaking that millions might be required to counter the results of misinterpretation.
Needed: new rationale
Sat, Apr 29 2000 04:00
Yet again, we are being hit with news stories geared to practically nurture public outrage. Once again, the subject: executive bonuses. This time the recipient in question is Andrew Hall, head of Philbro, up for a bonus in the millions. I don't know which is more irritating: the large amounts in question, or the fact that these stories are becoming all too familiar both in stylistic construction and content. Big bonus. "Talent flight." Connections to "bail out" dollars. John Q. Public foots the bill.
If we are to move beyond outrage to acceptable solutions, more comprehensive thought about this compensation issue is necessary, if not by journalists, at least by the Pay Czar. Lack of clarity as to criteria for how "merit" is determined is typically at the core of any outrage related to compensation. If the public were given more than "talent flight" as the sole reason for bonuses, it would be a good place to start.
More reasons than one determine worthiness. These reasons have a relative importance. In addition, the Pay Czar must understand the full set of concerns from the public view. He must delve into the below-the-surface reasoning that drives the perceived point at which a sum of money given as pay or as a bonus switches from being reasonable to being considered "obscene" or morally reprehensible. These perceptions and concerns, too, have relative perceived levels of impact or pain.
Each potential recipient, now and in the future, should be assessed against the established criteria. The assessment must, with transparency, drive the amount granted. Additionally, integration of that merit assessment with the analysis of public perception will make decisions have a better chance of being deemed "reasonable." They will be defensible.
Without this discipline, the public will create their own myriad sets of criteria for judgment, not only for compensation granted, but for judging the Czar himself. We can then expect the focus of outrage, the topics of the articles, to shift from amounts of compensation to the capabilities of the person making the decision, in this case the Czar. And have we not heard and read similar stories in the past as well?