Friday, July 8, 2016

4 conferences, 3 cities, 2 countries: Nice wrap up for a sabbatical

The month of June served as a nice wrap up of my almost yearlong sabbatical that started in New York and ended in Germany. Four conferences, three cities and two countries (Japan and China) – indeed was a true roller-coaster ride. The end of this sabbatical is reminiscent of my start where I launched it as a NYU Steinhardt Fellow in New York, my old stomping grounds where I spent ten years of my life, including my doctoral days of trying to get in as much New York at the price of as little sleep as possible.

Nobody warns you on the work that goes into organizing a sabbatical and the psychology of dislocation that comes with it, both liberating and disorienting at the same time. Giving up your home, moving to different countries, being confronted with a long to-do list of writing on a daily basis mixed with the classic promise of finding yourself on a beach somewhere sipping pina coladas. Well, the latter did not happen but instead of beaches, I managed to escape regularly for hiking into the Bavarian region of Germany, with some of the most spectacular nature I have ever experienced.

This escape kept my sanity as the year stacked up quickly with reports, papers, workshops, alongside the book I am currently writing for Harvard University Press due next year.  One of the highlights was the report I was commissioned for by UNESCO on evaluating incentives for ICT innovation in education in the global South. This report has opened up pathways of new research I would like to pursue, particularly on what does technology innovation look like to the world’s poor and to what degree does it matter to them? We take it for granted that innovation must be a good thing especially for the marginalized as if novelty is all that it takes to leapfrog ones current social realities.

Another highlight from my sabbatical is getting into the theme of algorithms and bots and their impact on our understandings of representation and social media activism in developing countries. One of the workshops that I presented at in June absolutely immersed me into this area and cemented my commitment to pursuing this further. Organized by Oxford Internet Institute,the preconference ‘Algorithms, Automation and Politics’ at Fukuoka, Japan, revealed the multiplicity and complexity of analyzing the impact of bots on the social media landscape.

Of course, the biggest positive constant was the uninterrupted time to think and write for the Harvard book ‘Poor@Play: Digital Life beyond the West.” It will be my first non-academic style book writing which makes me excited as I have always wanted to break out of the circle of academic jargon and write accessibly, simply and hopefully through that, create a wider reach beyond academia. So here’s to my spending the summer doing just that!