13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Mathemagenic
...giving birth to learning...


  Saturday, May 28, 2005

  Between cultures

This time in Moscow was different - next to all other things I was running a kick-off meeting for a project (will tell more later - when marketing stuff is out :) with several European and Russian partners. For many Europeans it was the first experience in Russia - signtseeing, but also learning about the culture and preparing for the joint work.

I wonder if I was annoying with all my questions about their experiences :) I was so curious to know what did they discover, find different, similar, worth attention... Even with open borders Russia is still pretty much unknown for many foreigners: image of Russia is a strange combination of cold war time impressions and stories in the media magnify specific issues, but do not tell much about everyday life. I'm happy that this trip made it a bit different at least for a few people.

What I found interesting (and - in retrospect - it shouldn't be that surprising) that most learning about culture came through experiencing it - finding a way around the city and, especially, three days of joint work with Russian people (like a discussion on financial issues of the project that illuminated many issues that Russian businesses are facing). I was there with two colleagues, and, inspite of all my attempts to prepare them by telling stories it feels like my stories were nothing compared to the richness of their own experiences even in a limited number of situations.

We didn't design on purpose for those experiences, but, given my believe that understanding cultures - similarities and differences - is crusial for this project, I really would like to think how to make "learning about culture through experience" element stronger next times.

I also think about this from an ethnographic perspective - I've read too much about learning culture through reflecting on moments where you as an outsider do not fit. What is strange and funny is my own role - I was constantly switching between being Russian, being someone living abroad and being someone in between - understanding both sides, trying to mediate for common language, thinking of mediation process... This in-between position shows me a way to redefine my own identity and go beyond my current dichotomy of being a guest in the Netherlands or being a stranger in Russia.

And - in case you are curious - main impressions of our European guests (my biased summary ;)

  • passion of Russian people
  • beauty and scale of Moscow
  • green and beautiful parks
  • life that never stops (like bookshopping after midnight - and seeing that there are others :)
  • a strange combination of a modern high-standard city (could be any European capital) with third world elements - differences that somehow co-exist next to each other

  Friday, May 27, 2005

  Large social network imposes an higher attention degree on what goes on worldwide

Riccardo redefines social pressure:

We are used to think of Social Pressure as that feeling of "I have to do more" to stand up with the expectations of others.

Today I experienced another kind of Social Pressure, the one being imposed by your expanded social network on your attention/focus.
Let me explain:
I read on Kottke's that an explosion caused massive power outage in Moscow.
Normally this would go totally unnoticed. But today something different happened: the words "explosion" and "moscow" rang a bell. My mind ravaged on a query for "is there anybody you know who could be in Moscow now?".
Of course yes.
Next query was “May she actually be there?” and, yes, I remembered reading something about that, and I had this sensation she hadn't blogged in a while.
A quick check confirmed these feelings.
The fact I couldn't find her on IM made me worry even more. All these well knowing the nobody were injured or whatever, that's funny.

Fortunately, there are no reasons to worry - I'm back :) I was in Moscow during the outage, but spent the whole day at a workshop in the Northern part of the city that went unaffected (although the high temperatures were raising even more with hearing the news). And - to be fair - I was pretty happy that for the last few days there I moved from my sister's appartment in the South to my parents' place - she told me her story of dark shops, people storming busses or giving up and walking along the street.

Anyway - I'm more or less back (travelling a bit more for a few coming days).

And I loved how Riccardo puts it concluding the post:

Anyway, the point is that having a large social network actually imposes an higher attention degree on what goes on worldwide, and in a sense can make you listen to and be sympathethic with topics you'd never noticed before.

This is pretty logical, but still feels strange - your main focus is still more or less on things you do and people around you, but your peripheral vision extends to far away world...

  Thursday, May 12, 2005


danah boyd:

I think that it's hard to be interdisciplinary. I think everyone *wants* to be interdisciplinary but that seems to mean draw haphazardly from different disciplines, throw into the blender, add a few spices and voila interdisciplinary gazpacho. I want a chemical reaction dammit.

The problem with being interdisciplinary is it that means staying in a state of perpetual identity crisis. I think that this is fundamentally hard for academics. Many of us grew up as ostracized freaks and geeks and felt such glory in fitting in. There's something desperately comforting about fitting it, about being amongst peers. Staying in-between, outside and perpetually bridging any dichotomous definitions is exhausting. I think about how many people i know who identify as someone in-between (fe)male but eventually chose to identify as one or the other. Alternatively, i think about inter-racial identities and how some of my friends happily proclaim the identity of hapa. When no identity out there works, you end up developing a new one. Of course, this happens in academia all the time. There are new interdisciplinary departments popping up daily in academia.

Thinking of identity crising and staying in-between... Wondering what is necessary for the chemical reaction...

More on: metaphors 

  Travel plans: Moscow 14-26 May

There are hundred reasons to blog and quite some half-written posts in my head, but no time - I'm flying to Moscow on Saturday, so it's a lot to sort out before that.

This trip will be special, both personally and professionally - wondering how things will go... It's also 4,5 months since my last visit - unbearably long comparing to the last couple of years (and - still - I know how lucky I'm to be able to fly frequently).

I'm counting days: today - tomorrow - flying - home...

Anyway, if you happen to be in Moscow and feel like cappuccino and wandering around - let me know

Back to work...

More on: Russia travel 

  Monday, May 09, 2005

  History rewritten over

Last few days I spent more time than usual in front of the TV - watching Second World War stories,  remembrance and celebrations.

It feels strange - being surrounded by "other" views and ways than those that I grew up with.

In Russia it's celebrated today - 9 May - as a Victory Day. I remember it colorful - colorful parades, colorful medals, colorful flowers. I learnt the war - and Victory - stories as I grew up, picking up from adults, from official propaganda, from school, but, most importantly from stories in my family. Especially from the story of my grandparents, carrying their love through the war. Somehow the knowledge about millions who died, fights and suffering was always there, but it was always taken over by the feeling of Victory, the colors that come over black...

Now it's different. Watching Remembrance Day ceremony over Dutch TV was definitely moving, but also a bit depressing - in grey and black - so much contrast with what I knew as the end of the war memory - colorful and full of hope...

That was just learning about the differences... More difficult part came yesterday, in special program on National Geographic... I didn't get the title and googling didn't work, but anyway, the way it was done was really nice. They recorded and reconstructed stories of several people as they went through the last days of war - those of different nationalities, different sides, soldiers and civilians. It was a great learning experience - the history reconstructed from different perspectives - but I couldn't avoid a bitter feeling.

The way it was presented was totally different from what I've learnt in school. Not very surprising, since the dark moments of Soviet history were not new to me... The bitterness came from something what I believe is downplaying the role of Soviet army in that war. Soviets (which, of course, equals Russians for whatever reasons) were portrayed as those that the whole Europe was scared of and had to be protected from. Americans and British were those who saved so many countries from "another dictatorship"...

I do not want to insist on one perspective, especially the one I've learnt at school. I'm happy that I have an opportunity to learn the history as it is broadcasted taught in other cultures. But what I saw yesterday was quite similar to the Soviet history I've learnt during the Cold War time - so painfully one-sided... And it pains more as it was so professionally done.

Even CNN coverage of celebrations in Moscow today was more balanced...

I guess I'll never know the truth - what happened during that war and who really won. History seems to be so easily rewritten...

  Wednesday, May 04, 2005

  Being researched (2)

I was a bit mixed up after finding out that I was being researched by students as part of their assignment. Not because I'm uncomfortable with it. I'm pretty aware that my weblog is "out there" for others to study, I participated in a few weblog studies as a "case" and I'm always glad to "return" the favor even if it's not directly to those whom I study.

Being uncomfortable comes from a feeling of intrusion into a private space - the girls researching me didn't expect me to start studying them in turn. "Intrusion discomfort" came not so much from doing background search work (at the end what I found was published openly on the web), but from letting them know that I found them when I blogged it. I thought that they would be uncomfortable knowing that they are being watched, so I became uncomfortable myself thinking of that :)

I found kind of a middle ground. I didn't blog any direct links and names, so at least their work didn't get exposed to more people (don't think others had many reasons to get curious enough about the issue to do the same background connections I did). And I didn't look in the wiki pages about myself untill reading today in weblog of one of the authors that the assignment was finished. And, yes, somehow I didn't have any problem subscribing to weblogs of both students.

The reason I'm writing about this that it's unusual. Usually I wouldn't have any problem linking to most of weblogs/wiki pages I find online, even if they are about myself. So, I wonder why I'm different this time...

It's definitely has some connection with blog research ethics, or, probably just with blog ethics. Something around: "don't bring into a spotlight those who think they are in a private space if you think they may not like it".

Another reason is that it was an assignment in a course. I didn't want to mess up whatever goals Adrian has for the assignment and I didn't want to make it too complicated for the students.

Anyway, I'm wondering what Adrian Miles and the students would say: did I do more harm or good with putting my nose into this whole thing? could I take more freedom and link directly to students and their work? can I do it now when it's finished?

As for me that was a nice experience:

  • I thought more on how blurry are the boundaries between researcher and researched in the weblog (online?) world
  • I made an interesting observation while participating in the interview that was part of the assignment, which turned into insightful comments from Lois, which have potential of turning into research questions
  • While checking wiki pages about myself I found highlighted an aspect of my work that I probably should focus more and some additional reading on the topic

And this is one more illustration why I find mixing blogging and research so fun and so rewarding :)

  Monday, May 02, 2005

  From I to you

Was writing email answering questions about blogging and realised that I often do a trick. When I write about my own experiences I often start with I ("I blog because it's fun"), but somehow in between I switch to talking about you ("when you start blogging you often discover how fun it is").

So, a bit of wondering:

  • Wonder how far this observation is true (didn't do any analysis of my blog posts, this is just what I think about how I write - should be easy to check :)? Are there others doing something similar?
  • Wonder what does it do to those who read it? Helps to associate with my experiences? Helps to build trust? Gets into (un)critical mode?
  • Is there a similar trick in whatever "how to write/speak" recommendations?
More on: blog writing 

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This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Last update: 1/19/2006; 9:35:22 PM.