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Showing posts from 2011

Communes. Communities. Cults

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A few colleagues and I went out for dinner some time back and bonded over the usual small talk of renting and work and relationships. One of my colleagues made the conversation rather spicy by telling us that he lived in a commune in Amsterdam where there were about 10 people and that they often had dinner together in the evenings. He admitted that it was partly due to the cheap rent that drew him to this commune as much as the ideals. This got me thinking of a commune I encountered in my fieldwork two years ago when writing my book. I had gone to the Central Himalayas for research where I encountered the Mirtola ashram, a place where people voluntarily left their 'material' life behind in the cities and dedicated to living a simple and 'honest' life through the tilling of the land, growing their own produce, living with and within nature and praying to the Gods through a ritualistic practice every evening. Within a matter of months, much infighting began. Some did les…

Another review on my book "Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas"

The Australian Journal of Anthropology (ISI/SSCI Indexed journal) Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas P. Arora. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010. xv + 172 pp. Illustrmap, bibliog., index. ISBN 978-1409401070. £50.00 (Hc.) Arora’s book offers an ethnographic answer to a common question in development studies: can new technologies transform other cultures effectively and for the better? Not surprisingly for an ethnographer, her answer is a critique of the technological determinism inherent in this question. She focuses on the introduction of computers in Almora, a town in rural northern India where a long-standing web of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) has steadily tried to influence people’s behaviour. Computers are but one of the technologies that NGOs hope will transform these farmers’ and villagers’ lives. A pastiche of types of organisations are introducing computers in the central Himalayas—some strikingly hands-off educational NGOs, some government-spo…

The Re-Branding of Middle East Youth: Identities, Possibilities, Connectivities

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It’s a good sign when you don’t use much of your carefully planned PowerPoint slides when interacting with the youth. Had a wonderful discussion with an engaged and critical group of Language students at the University of Jordan on new technologies, business communication and culture as well as with a significant number of youth who attended the Leaders of Tomorrow event at the King Hussain Cultural Centre organized around this topic. Granted, many seemed to come from a privileged background with impeccable English and an international exposure. This by no means discounts their perspective. In fact, given my experience in India and the fact that I’m a product of such privilege, I’m acutely aware of that thin line between belongingness and responsibility that the fortunate feel towards their immediate surrounding versus the feeling of affinity towards that of afar. It is much too easy to become civically disengaged from our context and I’d even argue that much of the youth, be it in…

Does culture matter? Business practices across the Netherlands and Middle East

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A few months ago I was contacted by the Netherlands Institute of Beirut to see if I would be interested in talking about culture and business in the Middle East. This is part of their upcoming initiative to create bridges between the Middle East and the Netherlands, starting within an academic setting. Part of this commendable drive it seems to me is a response against this growing Islamophobia within Europe which is of course deeply troubling. What better way than to engage the youth across these borders in areas of common interest. I like the idea that instead of going there to be preachy about intercultural harmony and respect, that we choose a topic that the youth are genuinely engaged with and from there see how culture actually matters. So of course it’s of little surprise that the topic that youth in the Middle East seem to be interested in is that of business, social media and globalization. And for good reason. Like other young people across the globe, I believe they are mo…

My Favorite part of TEDx Amsterdam: The making of the "living brain"

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Amazing performance and idea by the Dutch National Ballet and beautiful photos by Jan Jaap Heine

Alan McSmith: Time to get in touch with your wild side

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For every ten of those Mac worshiping, crackberry addicted, Starbucks weekend worker bees, there is always someone who makes noise of living simply, living deeply, living…period. Modern life is defined by this antithesis; the romanticism of nature rises as we get more technologically dependent and removed from the workings of the daily struggles for sustenance. We immerse in nature temporarily and dwell deeply in concrete worlds; we prefer to be unfamiliar with nature and familiar with the city, our daily landscape that we navigate through. But every once in a while we are called upon to pause, to pay attention, to reflect by physically and emotively experiencing the environment that nurtures us, with a hope that we will realize why it needs to be nurtured in turn. Alan McSmith, a nature guide who has worked for 25 years in the wilderness of Africa and an advocate for environment conservation, is one such soul. His talk starts with the audience surrounding a digital campfire on the s…

Baby Mozarts within us all?

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Who doesn’t love ‘Baby Mozart’? A multimedia edutainment, this musical toy lures parents with the promise of opening up their child’s latent creativity and spatial-reasoning. In fact, the popularization of music within the cognitive domain has pervaded our day-to-day lives as we see this as a means to healing and a balm for many other afflictions such as autism, Alzheimer's disease and disabilities that result from stroke. Part of this attraction is perhaps in its primal status as it serves as a listening stimulus with seemingly transformative powers. Across cultures it appears that peoples’ pleasures and sense of well-being are tied to their passion for music. Yet, can we authoritatively say that we all have musical predisposition? Are we just little Mozarts waiting for the right stimulation to tap into the well of our primitive and latent musical nature? Are we all somehow born with a beat to our steps? Apparently, there’s no point denying it…regardless of who you are or where …

Grey Matter: People Matter: Launching the ‘Living brain’

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Sheer poetry through the hokey pokey! The launch of TEDxAmsterdam by the Dutch National Ballet compels us to emerge, engage, and enter with our left leg, right leg, and oh all of our senses! Ballet artists enter the stage and their seemingly random movements are shown from above behind them, allowing us to see how chaos slowly but surely comes together, becoming the sensible as well as the sensational. And what a way to represent the TEDxAmsterdam theme of 'human nature!' After all, what comes to mind when we speak of ‘human nature’ are notions of being organic, raw, and spontaneous. Yet, when grappling with what constitutes as being human in this current time, we have become more and more preoccupied with significant alienations that occur around us. Crisis looms and reminds us of our vulnerabilities from the possible euro meltdown, techno-hackings to the continuous struggle for political freedoms across the Middle East. The brain takes over, rationalizing, segmenting, diss…

Here we go again! TEDx Amsterdam mania and fanaticism renewed

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Let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, I am still a hardcore TED groupie. Okay, I did not spend all of last year crossing the days off the calendar but did engage with tremendous foreplay - the communication process building up to next week’s TEDx Amsterdam event. Creating the profiles of this years’ speakers to release to the press flirted with my senses, compelling me to look them up on Wikipedia, YouTube and other digital platforms, consuming them voraciously in their presentation style and novelty of their ideas. Almost started to stalk some of them on Twitter but my saner part was kind enough to remind me that I really don’t have much in common with Computer-mediated Epistemology or Musical Cognition in the long run. Ah but that is why this event, a gathering of artists, designers, scientists, architects, technologists, and activists is so unusual and addictive – the adrenaline rush of immersing into unknown territories and specialties with just one common thread –ideas worth s…

Battling Uncertainty: Old and New Experts in the Market for Visual Arts

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Sotheby's Art Institute and University of Cambridge Judge Business School organized a very stimulating workshop with a lecture series on the new risks in the art market from multiple perspectives including economists, business folk, art dealers, auctioneers, and media experts: Exploring Risk and Uncertainty: Metaphors from the Art Market Questions about the role of information in valuation, the new sources of knowledge and the management of these sources for assessment, the place of originality of the art in contemporary valuation and more were tackled and discussed. Filip Vermeylen and I presented on specifically intermediaries, from the past to the digital present and the implications new media has in this age old gate-keeping space when it comes to making decisions and evaluations on art value. Battling Uncertainty: Old and New Experts in the Market for Visual Arts Our paper explores the position and purpose of experts in the art world over time. It has been long understood t…

Past as a friendly ghost: The art world all over again…

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It’s been almost a decade since I left the art world to pursue academia. From convincing CEOs and their interior designer sidekicks to buy a Toy painting from the Warhol series for the children’s room to now convincing students to learn how to communicate when selling themselves and their ideas, things have changed somewhat. But it’s hard to forget the adrenaline of clinching a deal, of convincing your client that a Chagall lithograph was meant for them as you dimmed the lights in the viewing room, got them to nurse some wine and relax on the leather couch in the privacy of the gallery room. In my naïve days, I thought information deeply mattered. I thought a buyer would be interested and would demand knowledge on the background of the artist, their historical significance, the artistic significance of the piece to the provenance of the artwork. Yet over time, you get to realize that decision-making is a more irrational process and rationality comes often after the deal is done to…

Review of My book "Dot Com Mantra" in The British Journal of Educational Technology

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Arora, Payal (2010) Dot com mantra Ashgate (Farnham, Surrey & Burlington VT) ISBN 978-1-4094-0107-0 190 pp £55
http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calctitle=1&pageSubject=417&lang=cy gb&pagecount=1&title_id=9768&edition_id=12842

This book presents an ethnographic study on the use of computers, carried out in a marginalised town in the central Himalayas—hence among a group of remote, new computer users—with the aim to allow new perspectives to emerge and old views to be revisited. The study does not investigate if computers are good or bad, but spots the range of constraints and opportunities entailed by their use. It highlights relations between old and new technologies together with people’s beliefs, perceptions and modes of use, and reflects on the nature and implications of the learning induced. In order to reveal a perspective that is not biased by formal institutional difficulties, the study is concerned with computer use in …

Review of my book "Dot Com Mantra" in The Journal of Education, Community & Values

THE JOURNAL OF EDUCATION, COMMUNITY, AND VALUES
Dot Com Mantra. Social Computing in the Central Himalayas
Berglund Authority Level 4
Review by Jeffrey Barlow

Dot Com Mantra is an excellent work by Payal Arora, a much-published [1] Indian anthropologist who writes frequently on social computing, that is, the connection between society and the use of computers. This study is an ethnography (a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures [2]) done in the town complex of Almora, in a fairly isolated area of Uttrakhand, India, formerly Uttar Pradesh.Dr. Arora is well qualified to write this particular work. She has studied at Cambridge (Certificate in Teaching ESL), at Harvard (M.A. in International Policy, Education) and at Columbia (Doctorate in Language, Literacy & Technology). This work is derived from her Ph.D. Dissertation, Social Computing in the Central Himalayas.

Dot Com Mantra focuses largely on the social, economic, and political aspect of…

Paper presentations at the IAMCR Conference 2011 in Istanbul

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I'll also be presenting on the following topics at the IAMCR conference 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey:

1) CULTURES OF CYBERSPACE: A PEDAGOGIC FRAMEWORK

It has taken the past decade to commonly acknowledge that cyberspace is tethered to real place. From euphoric conceptualizations of virtual space as novel, unprecedented and revolutionary an entity, the dust has settled, allowing for talk of boundaries and ties to real world settings. Metaphors have faithfully followed this scholarship; there is a clear mission to architect Net spaces, be it chatrooms, electronic frontiers, homepages, to information highways. This metaphorical approach allows for concretization and comprehension of Net spaces for policy regulation, private sector practice and pedagogic instruction. This paper focuses particularly on the pedagogic angle, providing a rubric of guidance for university professors to address the critical relationship of the real and virtual in new media studies programs. This paper proposes a…

IAMCR Conference 2011 in Istanbul: Theme: Cities, Creativity, Connectivity

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Istanbul, here we come! The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) will be starting next week from the 12th to 18th of July with papers surrounding the theme of Cities, Creativity, Connectivity.

I'll be Chairing a Program session on the "Second Wave of the Digital Divide" as well as presenting a paper on the following topic:

The leisure divide: Can the Third World come out to play?

In this Web 2.0 era, evidence is mounting on human ingenuity and creativity with and within online spheres. Much has been documented on how users innovate in a myriad of ways, opening possible economic and techno-social opportunities through play. From initially being viewed as “wasteful” and “idle,” cyberleisure is slowly but steadily being recognized as potentially productive, labor intensive and commercially fruitful. In fact, online leisure has stimulated a virtual economy where “dragon sabers,” a cyberweapon of the Legend of Mir III sells on ebay and “Farmvi…

Digital absence: The modern day sabbatical?

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When you speak of sabbaticals, you perhaps picture a professor of art history sitting at a café in Florence, trying to come up with a new spin on Uffizi art. It seems that academia has usurped this practice that has been enveloped in biblical meaning for the longest of time. This hiatus from work has had the weight of Ten Commandments backing it up, allowing the masses to justify their temporal ceasing to labor. Henceforth, the weekend was born. Granted, this is a rather simplistic interpretation. Of course one needs to take into account other phenomena such as the industrialization era where leisure began to be viewed as not necessarily a waste of time but actually that which could enhance productivity. In fact, these strategic interruptions have served as a signal of the modern era where a society sees its inherent virtue. So the question is not on whether or not it is advisable to desist working for some time but rather, how long is it acceptable to leisure before it is viewed as …

In-built democracy in the Middle East

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Writing about the Middle East uprisings is intimidating as words barely do justice to the phenomenal spirit that has captured people in this region and beyond. How can one not be awestruck and humbled by these moments in time? If it were a movie, it would win the Oscars undoubtedly. It guarantees a lump in your throat each time it gains media limelight. We live vicariously through these times, getting a taste of what it’s like to be passionate for an ideal. Our palette is being honed for more exotic flavors of democracy. This media coverage has become our new high.

Frontpage coverage gives frontline feelings; it’s a battle and we, the reader, march along. To sustain this momentum, questions surface: are the people in the Middle East fighting for democracy or are they fighting against authoritarianism? Will this region create their own style of democracy, much like the Chinese, who have managed to defy the conventional coupling of capitalism and Western style democracy? And besides, a…

The Dutch government WANTS YOU to party!

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The residential street of Gashouderstraat seems like any other in the Netherlands. There is a play space at the corner; houses have large windows and cycles lean precariously against anything resembling a post. A few potted plants scatter the footpath. And then it starts to unravel. A herb garden emerges on the sidewalk and we are told that we can access sage to thyme for our evening meals. This community garden effort has government backing. Nothing transforms a space as public gardening – an innovative strategy to create ownership of public property. Although seemingly an oxymoron, the idea of keeping things “public” requires certain privatization or belief in appropriating spaces as ones own. It’s been working across cultures, especially as a means of urban renewal in areas from the Bronx in New York to out here. After all, a sense of ownership comes with responsibility. You live a little longer here and the stories start to emerge of how a boy of 11 collected signatures from this …

Does Culture fail to Shock?

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When moving to a new country, there is much talk about “culture shock,” where inadvertently you discover that not everyone has heard of Shah Rukh Khan, forget Koffee with Karan Johar; where walking is interpreted as a sign of your cycle having been stolen and where Nutella wins over peanut butter as a choice of spread. But the truth of the matter is that this is not really a “shock” to the system as for it to jolt you, it has to confront you immediately.

In fact, momentum and pace is at the heart of such eureka moments, which, contrary to popular belief, creeps up on you at the most unexpected of times or perhaps never! You could be walking by the Marijuana Museum in Amsterdam everyday, oblivious to the fact that there is, after all, a museum on this much-adored weed. This term “culture shock”, although a cliché, is in fact barely representative of what one goes through when one shifts geographies. After all, we don’t just travel with our material luggage, we move with our well-encas…

Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the cheapest of them all?

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Today’s world is the world of consumerism. “Access,” even in the most economically disadvantaged areas is less about the basics. In fact, there is a thin line between what constitutes as necessity versus luxury. The farmer wants a mobile to listen to Radio1 94.3; the housemaid in Bandra wants a TV to watch her favorite soap opera; the watchman in Electronic City aims to get a car one day. With India’s massive consumer base of a billion strong, the economy of scale as a perennial cliché kicks in as predictably as ever. So there is nothing new in the fact that new technologies can become accessible at a faster rate in emerging markets than its western counterpart. What is new however is that products today are being developed from the start to be accessible – in one word –CHEAP. Patience is a thing of the past apparently. The new consumer has made the economy of scale redundant here.

The burgeoning middle class laps up the Tata Nano, the people’s car at $2500, an unprecedented figure …

When in India...swami style reflections in 2011

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I left India 16 years ago. With every annual visit back to my hometown, Bangalore, there is a new version of the past created. The past becomes highlighted when the present changes. And changes are aplenty. Roads are constantly being expanded with colossal pillars for the fast train emerging smack in the middle. The guts of Bangalore are being opened up for the NammaMetro, “our metro” fast train, designed to control and digest the 7 million strong city residents. There is constant talk of the “center” being moved, given the construction of luxury gated communities and IT parks along the outskirts of Whitefield to Hosur road, with the future rotating around the new airport shaped after much championing for a new global image for this hybrid city.

And hybrid city it is as 60% of the residents come from across the country and NRIs (Indians who settled in the West) are making their way back to etch their place in this perceived dynamic market and simultaneously be close to their aging par…