Technology

Would you believe this?

Paul Ceglia charged with trying to defraud Facebook

A New York businessman has been charged with trying to defraud Facebook by claiming he was owed a 50% share of the social media company, prosecutors say.

Paul Ceglia is accused of fabricating and destroying evidence in a lawsuit asking for half-ownership of the firm.

Arrested at his home in Wellsville, New York, Mr Ceglia was due in court on Friday afternoon.

US Attorney Preet Bharara said the entrepreneur had been chasing a “quick payday based on a blatant forgery”.

In 2003, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, then a Harvard University student, agreed to do programming work for Mr Ceglia and his fax business, say prosecutors.

Mr Ceglia later filed his lawsuit claiming that he and Mr Zuckerberg had signed a two-page contract awarding him a 50% stake in Facebook.

But Mr Zuckerberg said he had not yet conceived the idea for the social network at the time.

Facebook’s lawyers said the contract that Mr Ceglia and Mr Zuckerberg signed in 2003 was to develop street-mapping software.

Mr Ceglia subsequently doctored the document to insert Facebook references, it is alleged.

Facebook page and logo displayed on computers

Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company

This article is adapted from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20102295

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Social Media 101 – Follow-up on Amy Cheong’s case

Adapted from: http://sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/social-media-101-081334893–finance.html

By Shi Tianyun

If there’s anything the Amy Cheong saga has taught us, it is to watch what you say on the World Wide Web. Social media platforms can be a double-edged sword. Facebook and Twitter can help you re-connect with long-lost friends and stay updated with what’s happening in the world but it can also stab you in the back if you don’t follow the rules – as Amy Cheong has learnt the hard way.

Just like in real life, social media has its own set of etiquette, especially for the working individual. Even if your company does not have an official social media policy, here are some tips every employee with an online presence – be it a Facebook account or blog – can follow.

1. Separate personal and business

It may seem like a no-brainer but not everyone has separate private and work social media accounts. While your friends and even your colleagues might love to see your baby parading in her new dress but a status update filled with cutesy baby talk might undermine your professionalism in the eyes of bosses and clients. The general practice is to include all work contacts to one’s LinkedIn account and family and friends to the more general Facebook account.

2. Think twice before you post

Use the same common sense and courtesy that you would in real life. Before you click on the “post” button, see whether what you have typed adhere to these golden rules:

a. Don’t treat social media like your own personal soap box

In the same way that you won’t proclaim how much you hate your superior out and loud in public, you should not be ranting and raving online. Never say anything virtually that you wouldn’t in person, especially about touchy issues like politics, race, and gender. Your co-workers and boss may not be your friends on Facebook but as the Amy Cheong lesson has shown, sensational comments have the tendency to go viral and the online community is merciless.

b. Don’t check-in everywhere

It’s definitely not wise to check in on Foursquare when visiting locations for work, especially when important private-and-confidential deals are taking place. On the flipside, don’t get complacent and declare that you are having after-work drinks at 4pm – there is a chance your boss will find out that you didn’t return to the office after your meeting ended early today.

c. Don’t post every single picture you take

While uploading pictures of you hanging out with your pals may seem harmless, you never know how this information may be used against you when you advance in your career – remember a certain Tin Pei Ling Kate Spade incident? And that photo of you hugging your female colleague could lead to a potential sexual harassment suit. So whenever you are in doubt, do not post.

3. Don’t take advantage of your workplace access to social media

While this has little to do with how you behave on cyber-space, this still is part of online etiquette. If you are lucky to work in an office that does not ban social media sites, lucky you! However, this does not give you the license to go overboard. While there’s no harm in taking a Facebook break once in a while, you can imagine what will go through your boss’ mind if she sees you playing Farmville every time she passes your desk.

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Interesting read on how teachers can embrace social media in education

A Teacher’s Guide To Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC]

By Shea Bennett on July 27, 2012 3:45 PM

Did you know that two thirds of education faculties have used some form of social media during a class? YouTube leads the way, ahead of Facebook and LinkedIn, with Twitter getting a surprisingly low amount of attention.

Overall, some 90 percent of educators have used social media in the classroom or for their professional careers, and it’s not just the young and trendy teachers, either – faculty that have been teaching for 20 years are just as aware of social media as other educators.

This infographic from Online Colleges presents a teacher’s guide to social media, which includes some tips on using the major social platforms in the classroom, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.

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How Classrooms Can Excel Using the Latest Technology and Social Media

Adapted from: http://www.socialnomics.net/2012/09/30/how-classrooms-can-excel-using-the-latest-technology-and-social-media/

Living in a city where there is a sea of college students, I see more technological gadgets on these young students than sometimes even on adults. They havedigital classroom iPads in the classroom to take notes on, read their books on, and more. However it’s not just technology that’s advancing in the classroom it’s also the acceptance and usage of social media. There are many colleges that demonstrate adaptation and skill in using social successfully to teach students. So what are the benefits of using new technology and social media? Here are three reasons why your classroom should consider the same…

1. Use the technology and Networks They Already Use and Know

Students are already posting on Facebook, reading blogs on Tumblr, tweeting their favorite things on Twitter, and pinning what they love on Pinterest. They know how to use the sites well, and they use it often. Make part of the class participation online participation. It helps those who are creative but perhaps shy in class. For example homework can include keeping a Tumblr blog about a topic which students can comment on and share ideas on. Or if it’s a photography class, how about utilizing Instagram or again Tumblr to host that content. Tip: find the networks that work best for your lesson content (and students).

2. Integrate With Lesson Plans and Learnings

The infographic demonstrates that professors and teachers are already adapting, andeven shows the networks where they can utilize to make their efforts more fruitful with their students. It’s not just about using Facebook and Twitter, but realizing that you can create a wiki for the class and online discussion, and/or pin daily findings on a Pinterest board. There are numerous ways to take advantage, it’s about creating the lesson plan that works for you and your students creativity and desire to engage with the content in places they love interacting. Some students may be hesitant to use their own profiles that already exist – so perhaps create new ones just for class or a location where they can all contribute.

3. Continue and Extend the Conversation Past the Classroom

It is a great opportunity to extend conversation past the classroom. Take the offline, online. For example creating a hashtag for the classroom to corral conversation and extend a topic that was discussed in class, after class has ended. It keeps the students thinking, searching, reading, and interacting with the content.

Last Tip: Remember to  keep content and tools fresh. As we all are well aware, tools and social networks, and apps change, update, and pop up daily. It is tough to keep up but we have to. Perhaps utilize students who work for the school to keep up on the research regarding what’s the latest to help keep lesson plans fresh.

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5 Qualities of a Great Social Media Manager

I would recommend you to read this very good article about the understanding of social media: http://www.socialnomics.net/2012/08/31/5-qualities-of-a-great-social-media-manager/

By Amy Kattan

If you stay up to date on the latest trends in social media, I’m sure you’ve read Cathryn Sloane‘s article on NextGenWhy Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25Cathryn argues that since “under 25ers” were teenagers when social media exploded (aka when Facebook started), they have a superior understanding of social and are therefore, most qualified for social media positions. Needless to say, this strong opinion was not so well received by many social media professionals. Whether you agree or disagree, I’m here to argue that the age of your social media manager is insignificant: Your social media manager needs to be not only the voice of your brand, but someone who accurately represents your brand’s core values and has an understanding of the company’s overarching strategy. When hiring your social media manager (or any type of social media position), here are a few things you should look for (besides age):

1) Knowledge of major social platforms: Although there are definitely a few points Cathryn made that can be disputed, she did touch on one very important point: your social media manager needs to understand the major social platforms (or, at the very least, have the ability to learn the platforms quickly). Part of understanding social is understanding the platforms and how they can be most effectively used to benefit your brand.

2) An understanding of how people work: Social media is not a broadcasting tool: It’s a way for brands to tap into people’s natural socializing processes. In order to do this, your social media manager must understand your consumers’ typical behavior patterns, including how they communicate with one another and interact with brands they support.

3) An understanding of how business works: Understanding social media is great, but it means nothing if these efforts aren’t providing any value to your business. What are you paying your social media manager for? What results can you show? Your social strategy should tie into the brand’s overarching business strategy. It is essential for your social media manager to understand your company’s challenges and goals so that he/she can build your social strategy around that.

4) The capacity and eagerness to learn: Social media is an industry that is constantly changing. Regardless of the amount of experience your social media manager has, the willingness to learn is one trait that cannot be overlooked. This person must be willing to stay on top of changes on current social platforms in addition to staying up to date on emerging platforms that will be a good fit for your brand. Your social media manager must also be able to determine if your current social strategy is benefiting your business and identify challenges on a regular basis.

5) Adaptability: Since social media changes every day, your social media manager must not only stay up to date on all of the changes, but also be willing and able to alter your social strategy accordingly. Making sudden changes to a plan is never easy but in this industry, it is essential. It is important for your social media manager to be driven by the success of your brand, which often means re-evaluating tactics when new opportunities emerge.

Overarching question to ponder: What do you look for in a social media manager?

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“Whoever controls the media controls the world.” Do you agree?

Here are the links to the reference articles: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/world/asia/china-revs-up-propaganda-machine-to-disgrace-bo-xilai.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/04/north-korean-propaganda

As eminent American philosopher Avram Noam Chomsky once declared, “He who controls the media controls the minds of the public.” The above articles describe the pervasive nature and far-reaching impact of the state-controlled media’s propaganda machine in China and North Korea, as well as how it possesses the unmitigated ability to turn the tide of public opinion. In this post, I will be examining the extent to which governments which control the media can indeed be said to control the minds of the public.

The pertinence of the media to our current society is undeniable. With the advent of globalisation and the rise of new media, the pervasiveness and permeability of the media in our lives has rapidly increased. Indeed, it has become very much the norm for the vast majority of individuals around the world, to the point that we are oblivious to the vast influence the media has over us. Thus, there is no doubt that by wielding the immense power of the media, organisations and individuals are able to influence society at large.

The media is a colossal entity and is certainly not monolithic. Made up of a plethora of aspects (such as political, economic and social), the media encompasses almost every facet of our human existence. In the political arena, the media’s main purpose is to keep the public up to speed with the latest political happenings, in both the domestic and international spheres. Although the main function of the press is to inform, the press and media can inevitably influence public opinion on certain issues, depending on how they portray the issues in question and which perspective they give more credence to. Coupled with the ability of the media to propagate information rapidly, as well as its easy accessibility, it is no wonder that history is littered with examples of authoritarian and repressive regimes seeking to control it and wield its formidable power. Consider North Korea. Its totalitarian government has made extensive use of the state media apparatus to spread propaganda to the masses, by distorting facts and at times even promulgating outright lies. We, from the outside looking in, know that these fallacious ideas, such as every American being a moribund capitalist and the likening of Lee Myung-bak to a “tailless rat”, are not only farcical, but also a travesty of justice. However, members of the general public in states like North Korea regard these outrageous notions as the gospel truth, primarily because they have no credible alternative source of information they can use as a yardstick to judge the state media’s objectivity, or lack thereof. As such, Orwellian governments, who extensively control their countries’ media and go to great lengths to stymy the public’s access to alternative sources of information, effectively control the minds of the public, by institutionalising misinformation and forcing their own perceptions of the world upon their people.

However, no government can be said to control the public in its entirety. While governments may try their best to suppress and obfuscate the truth, at the end of the day, they are indubitably neither omnipresent nor omnipotent. Cracks always exist in their prima facieunassailable control of information, cracks through which outside information and popular public opinion can enter and insidiously undermine their monopoly of the “truth”. A case in point would be the uprising of the Buddhist monks and students in Burma. Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, they protested against the military junta’s totalitarian regime and drew international attention to Burma’s fragile domestic situation. Despite the junta’s total control of the state media, general dissent amongst the Burmese public grew rapidly, eventually leaving the junta with no choice but to cave in to popular demand and hold democratic parliamentary elections. Thus, it can be seen that total control of a country’s domestic media does not equate to controlling the minds of its entire population.

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Have a break off technology, for a brighter future.

Written by Lim Jin Jie:

Here is the link to the reference article: http://ideas.time.com/2012/03/06/the-surprising-big-idea-at-ted-turn-off-technology/

Since the advent of technology, many technological inventions have benefited human beings in one way or another; be it machinery, which has increased the efficiency of menial and mundane tasks, or computers, which have helped us in our everyday paperwork. Instead of these big machines, let us look at our small and helpful companion: the smartphone.

The smartphone is really not just an intelligent phone; it is so indispensable and pervasive in our lives. It has evolved into such a device that has proven extremely useful and convenient to us. At the touch of the finger, we find ourselves in the digital world, immersing ourselves in the latest news and updates from our friends. The smartphone allows us to communicate with our friends beyond the physical: Facebook and Twitter makes this all possible.

The smartphone is not as propitious as we deem it.

Human beings are born to communicate: we are sentient beings with the ability to use our vocal cords to create language. The fact that we are sentient beings means we are conscious, and our emotional core allows us to feel, to emote. By communicating with others, we learn how to communicate, and this improves human-to-human relationships. Now, add in the smartphone, and instead of improving relationships, relationships deteriorate, even at the same dining table. The introduction of the smartphone has prevented many from engaging in face-to-face conversations, and in between our faces are two screens, each blinking with light so bleak and dim: as is our future. Even in this year’s Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference, many have rallied the audience to stop using their smart phones or tablets, just to listen to what they have to say.

Smart phones help us amplify our identities and relationships in the digital world, but if we are unable to disconnect from the digital world, our emotional core might alter us into senseless living beings, robbed of all emotions and senses. Humans are innately visceral beings. If smart phones are to convert us into emotionless pure-intellects, then the future would, sadly, be very dull and bleak.

However, many argue that we cannot just blame it all on the smartphone. Some argue that smart phones are an “enhancement” to their lives, and that the smartphone has benefitted us much more than it has harmed us. Some also feel that the human touch is still maintained even though there is the smartphone; in fact, it has even helped with communication because people can contact each other from ends of the world. As such, it is not smartphones, but mankind’s fault in allowing technology to harm our society.

As humans, we should be capable of pulling ourselves away from the smartphone or technology as we deem fit, so we will not be mindless slaves of the technological world.

The next time you notice yourself using an electronic device for a long time, take a break and go outside – the air outside is much, much fresher than that mechanical olfaction of your iPhone.

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Politeness in the modern era – blame the technology….

Adapted from: http://www.economist.com/node/15108779

Hi there

Life is getting friendlier but less interesting. Blame technology, globalization and feminism. 

A PRIVATE visit to the castle of Vaduz in Liechtenstein is a treat for many reasons. One is to see a fine private art collection. Another is a chance to use an otherwise unusable German word. As the only German-speaking feudal country in the world, Liechtenstein is the last refuge of that language’s traditional forms of aristocratic address. The reigning prince, Hans Adam II, whose splendiferous full name in German is Johannes (Hans)-Adam II. Ferdinand Alois Josef Maria Marko d’Aviano Pius Fürst von und zu Liechtenstein, Herzog von Troppau und Jägerndorf, Graf zu Rietberg, is the only person in the world who can seriously be addressed as Durchlaucht (Serenity).

Like much foreign formality, it sounds odd in English. So does “Je vous prie de bien vouloir agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués” which is how you might end a business letter in French (it means, more or less, “I ask you kindly to accept, Sir, the assurance of my highest consideration”). In English a “yours sincerely” or even a simple “regards” would suffice; French-style floridity survives, just, only in the context of diplomatic correspondence. For the most part, and in most places, the era of “Serene Highnesses” and “Your Excellencies” is over. This is part of a big shift away from clear, detailed conventions about politeness of the past and towards a blurred but largely egalitarian world that prizes phoney friendliness over formality.

One of the main reasons is the spread of English. Compared with other languages, it is sadly limited in the range of possible forms of politeness it offers. A few thousand people have titles, either inherited or awarded for political reasons, such as the new European foreign minister, Lady (Catherine) Ashton. Members of the established church have handles such as “Your Grace” (for an archbishop) or “Very Reverend” (for a dean). But for the vast majority of commoners and lay people, English has since the middle ages had no formal honorific speech beyond sparse choices such as “Mr”, “Dr” or “Professor”.

Other cultures are far more elaborate. In former Habsburg countries visiting cards habitually bear titles such as JUDr.(Doctor of Law), Ing. (Engineer) or Dipl.-Kfm. (a degree in business). A visit to an Austrian cemetery offers a landscape engraved with even grander titles such as Dr. theol., k. k. Hofrat (“Doctor of Divinity, Imperial and Royal Court Counsellor”).

Nothing like that has ever really existed in English, which also offers no gradation of respect via conjugation or personal pronoun: with “thou” and “ye” gone since the 17th century, everyone is just “you”. English also has few of the diminutives that add subtlety to Slavic social interchange. In languages like Czech, the move from Jana to Janka and then Janicka signals a subtle increase in intimacy each time. In English, that may happen if you are called William (and your friends call you Bill and your close family Willy) but it is the exception, not the rule. Unlike, say, Japanese, English has no special verb forms for politeness, humility and respect. What it does have is useful social lubricants such as please (absent or rarely used in some other languages). That has long made it possible to have a polite conversation in English, without worrying too much about what you actually call the other person.

And over the past 30 years, the narrow options in English have shrunk further. First names have become the standard form of address between English-speaking adults. They once signified a great deal but now mean almost nothing. Old films show how the system used to work. In “The Lavender Hill Mob” (1951), two middle-class men are celebrating a seemingly perfect bullion robbery, during which they have addressed each other only by their surnames. In what would now be called a moment of male bonding the renegade bank clerk, Henry Holland (played by Alec Guinness), tenderly asks his co-conspirator, “May I call you Alfred?”

That surname code had governed social intercourse in the English-speaking world for centuries. Male social equals called each other by their surnames, sometimes (but certainly not always) moving on to first names when the moment warranted it. A touch of intimacy could be added with a prefix. When Winston Churchill returned to the government in September 1939, Franklin Roosevelt, for example, wrote him a personal note addressing him fondly as “My dear Churchill”. Inferiors could use “Mr” or an American-style “Sir” when addressing their betters.

Rules for women were slightly different, which was to prove important when social changes brought more women into the workplace: Miss or Mrs (but never Ms) was the rule between equals. First names were for close relatives, intimate friends and for when addressing subordinates. Occasionally (in girls’ schools for example) unadorned male-style surnames were used. “Madam”, usually contracted to “Ma’am” was for high superiors.

Such rules softened only slightly in subsequent years. In “Fawlty Towers”, a British television comedy series set in a mismanaged hotel in Torquay in south-west England, the proprietor (played by John Cleese) is called “Mr Fawlty” by tradesmen, strangers and his employees. He mostly uses “Mr” in return, though he calls his staff, such as the long-suffering housemaid, Polly, by their first names. Those who know him better, such as his longtime guest, Major Gowen (whose first name is never divulged), call him “Fawlty”. Only his termagant wife and her friends call him “Basil”.

But shortly after “Fawlty Towers” finished its short run in 1975, that social code crumbled. Across professional and business life, lawyers, business people, army officers, academics, doctors and diplomats began using Christian names; the use of the surname among adults shrivelled (though old-fashioned schools retain it).

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister from 1979 to 1990, already called her ministers mostly by their Christian names except in cabinet meetings, where formal titles were used (as in “Yes, Prime Minister”). But under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, all pretence of formality has gone. Mr Brown, on a trip to Washington this year, scandalised Americans by referring to the president as “Barack”, rather than the “Mr President” that convention dictates. Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were on “Ronnie” and “Margaret” terms—but only during their most private chats.

The use of surnames now even looks demeaning. George Bush liked using them—but when in July 2006 he was caught addressing the British prime minister as “Yo Blair” many thought it epitomised Britain’s servile role in the transatlantic relationship. That started decades earlier. Dick Allen, a former White House adviser, remembers President Richard Nixon’s habit of using unadorned surnames, sometimes with belittling intent. Reagan usually called his staff by their first names in their presence.

The intimate use of the surname has almost disappeared. Over a year, your correspondent found only one example of an adult relationship where surnames are still used unaffectedly. A septuagenarian pensioner living in the epitome of English respectability, Tunbridge Wells, Michael Larsen, has a friend who since school has addressed him as “Larsen”. It is not that unusual in Tunbridge Wells, he says, though on his daily trip to Starbucks the youthful staff call him “Michael”. “I find it rather refreshing,” he says.

One reason, at least in the English-speaking world, is feminism. The arrival of significant numbers of women in previously mostly male institutions created a problem for the old code of mutual surname use. “I refused to address a man as ‘Dear Bloggins’, as I hadn’t been to public [ie, private] school with him. And I would have been offended at being addressed as ‘Gunn’,” recalls Janet Gunn, a Sovietologist who joined Britain’s Foreign Office in 1970. At a time of wider social change, few wanted more formality rather than less. So the rules soon changed to first names all round, though ambassadors, at least in public, may be called “Your Excellency” by other diplomats and “Sir” or, particularly if female, “Ambassador” by their own staff.

This shift, the biggest in the English politeness code since “thee” and “thou” fell into disuse, has accelerated. “Mrs” and “Miss”, once important (if unfair) social distinctions, have given way to a ubiquitous “Ms”, even for the most wifely of women. And even these vestigial titles, along with “Mr” are vanishing too, shed within minutes of the first meeting. That trend is particularly pronounced in Britain and the English-speaking Commonwealth. America is a bit more formal, and countries such as India even more so. But when English and foreign politeness codes overlap, it is usually the English one that wins.

Businesses from countries where formality is still strong have to adjust to that. “When we go on a road show to meet investors in New York and London, we are on first name terms while we speak English. But as soon as we are speaking German again, it is Dr Schmidt and Herr Braun,” says the public relations chief for one of Germany’s best-known firms.

But even outside English, the shift towards informality seems inexorable. The use of the informal forms of speech such as tu (French), ty (Slavic languages) and du (German and Swedish) grew sharply in continental Europe after the social upheavals of the late 1960s. Stuffiness in social interaction was a symbol of the despised elder generation’s cultural hegemony. The collapse of authoritarian regimes gave the process another heave. Usted(a third-person form of address in Spain) went out of fashion among all but the elderly after the end of the Franco regime. Third-party forms are on the retreat elsewhere too. In Poland, where the use of Pan [Sir] and Pani [Madam] was once a sign of resistance to communist-era efforts to strip the language of its feudal past, things are changing too. The plural form now sounds unfriendly, says Mateusz Cygnarowski, a translator. Even the singular form is now often modified with the use of a first name—which older Poles find disconcertingly chummy in the mouths of strangers.

The counter-culture was one stimulus. Another was convenience. The Swedish reform, for example, binned a three-tier system in which du signalled intimacy and ni meant distance while a polite third-person form, using the equivalents of “Sir” and “Madam”, often coupled with job titles, was used for politeness and in public.

The first big change in that came in 1967 when Bror Rexed, the head of a state medical agency, issued a formal decree that he wished to be addressed with his first name anddu, and expected the rest of his staff to do likewise. In 1969 the Swedish Social Democrat prime minister, Olof Palme, instructed reporters to use du when asking him questions. Though some nostalgic Swedes have tried to revive the ni form, for example in advertisements stressing ultra-courteous customer service, du and its equivalents are now all but universal across the Nordic countries, to the lingering dismay of the well brought-up. The third-person form survives only in rare cases, such as in addressing royalty and in public sessions of the Swedish parliament.

Formal address forms do still survive strongly elsewhere in Europe, sometimes to a surprising extent. In posh families in France, children are still expected to address their parents as vous. Martin Dewhirst, a British scholar, uses the informal ty when speaking Russian to his Lithuanian-Ukrainian daughter-in-law. But even after ten years, she still uses the formal vy to him and his (Russian) wife. “We suspect that this is because she has been well brought up in Kyiv,” he says, referring to the Ukrainian capital.

America, like the Indian subcontinent, remains a bastion of formal politeness in the English-speaking world, especially in public encounters. India has developed formulations such as “Good Sir”. Even unmodified, “Sir” and “Ma’am” are useful ways of addressing strangers in public, where the British code now allows only a feeble “Excuse me!” or a rude “Hey you”. In countries such as Japan and China, the use of first names is restricted to the very closest family members—spouses and parents. Foreigners hoping to cement their relationship with Japanese or Chinese counterparts by shifting to first-name terms are often unaware of the consternation—akin to public nose-blowing—they are causing.

Another powerful force for change is technology. Being formal in a snail-mail letter is only a minor extra inconvenience on top of finding pen, paper and envelope, writing it, and then folding, stuffing, addressing, stamping and posting the missive. But in an e-mail that takes only seconds to write, formality is a burden. E-mail’s immediacy also erodes the sense of personal distance. In the early days of e-mail, business letters were sent as attachments, properly formatted and even with the senders’ signature scanned and positioned at the end. Modern e-mails are much simpler. The opening salutation, with the unsatisfactory choice of “Dear Mr” or “Dear Joe Smith” may give way to an anodyne “Greetings”, “Hello” or even the dreaded “Hi there”.

Hand-held devices such as mobile phones and BlackBerrys have accelerated the effect. Typing a formal salutation or sign-off with one’s thumbs strains even the starchiest correspondent. Nowadays in English-language instant messaging, the opening salvo of politeness, however mandatory in other languages and cultures, can be omitted all together; the first line of the missive appears in the subject line, while the signoffs can be as brief as “brgds”, followed by a single initial. An automated message at the end of the e-mail, apologising for terseness and blaming the tiny keyboard, signals to the reader that no offence is intended.

Although technology has compressed the spectrum of formality, it has not abolished it altogether. Using initials to sign an e-mail avoids the suggestion of excessive intimacy that comes with a first name, or the deliberate distance signalled by a full one. In French, Bien à vous is short and polite. In German, Grussdoes the trick. In Polish, e-mails can start withWitam (literally “Welcome”) and end withPozdrawiam (literally: “I greet”). Emoticons (facial expressions made up of punctuation marks) allow writers to convey feelings concisely ]:)

Though English is flattening politeness in speech, in some other respects the traffic is the other way. Handshaking is now a commonplace greeting; in England 50 years ago it was unusual at social gatherings and restricted even in the workplace. So is the reluctance (once entrenched among the English upper classes) to give presents at social occasions. Bringing a bottle of wine used to imply that your host’s cellar was empty; flowers were a slur on the hostess’s gardening skills. Now it is all but de rigueur not to arrive empty-handed. Hats and gloves are out. Kissing is all over the place, twice in Paris, thrice in Polish, four times in the south of France. But in Poland hand-kissing, once a flamboyant and ubiquitous way of greeting ladies, is declining. It is, says Pawel Dobrowolski, a Warsaw-based commentator, now usually deemed to be “a provincial attempt at appearing to be cultured”.

All this is grist to the mill of those who study politeness, formality and other branches of sociolinguistics and sociopragmatics. “Politeness studies” is a growing academic discipline; a summer school at Lancaster University in northern England this summer even developed a sub-branch, “Rudeness studies”. A “Journal of Politeness Research” was founded in 2005. Its most-downloaded article is by Miranda Stewart, a scholar based in Scotland. It is called “Protecting speaker’s face in impolite exchanges: The negotiation of face-wants in workplace interaction”.

Students of politeness explore many aspects of social behaviour: how status relates to language, the use of calculated rudeness in broadcast media interviews and the use of the intimate/formal forms of address (called the T-V divide after the French forms tu andvous). One of the big discoveries in the subject’s early days, says Ms Stewart, was that left-wing people, regardless of culture, tend to prefer intimate forms of address; more conservative speakers like formality. These days, the most contentious issue is the idea that politeness studies has been too Eurocentric. Chinese and other east Asian scholars argue vigorously (but politely) that the discipline is too heavily based on individualistic western concepts and takes too little account of collective norms.

At least to outsiders, the biggest question is what politeness actually is, and how it relates to other vital but slippery concepts such as deference, friendliness and formality. From one point of view, politeness is about being nice: easing social interaction by taking account of other people’s needs. Academics call this the “Grand Strategy of Politeness” (GSP). Geoffrey Leech of Lancaster University describes it thus: “the performance of polite speech acts such as requests, offers, compliments, apologies, thanks, and responses to these.” According to the GSP “a speaker communicates meanings which place (a) a high value on what relates to the other person (typically the addressee), and (b) a low value on what relates to the speaker”.

But plenty of so-called polite behaviour in real life is anything but. Being polite does not stop you being freezingly rude, or warmheartedly friendly. Similarly, politeness does not necessarily equate with formality, though it is hard to imagine someone being exceedingly polite but also utterly informal.

So what seems to be happening is that formal politeness, at least in spoken and written exchanges, is on the decline, thanks to globalisation (meaning the rise of flat, nuance-less English as a means of international communication), to social changes and to technology. Replacing it is a kind of neutral friendliness, where human encounters take place devoid of the signifiers of emotional and status differences that past generations found so essential.

That may lubricate business meetings. But it makes life outside the workplace less interesting. If you use first names everywhere at work, how do you signify to a colleague that you want to be a real friend? If you sign all e-mails “love and vibes”, how do you show intimacy? Much of the world has an answer to that, at least in their own languages and cultures. English-speakers may have triumphed on one front, but they are struggling on another.

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“Technology has made us worse communicators, not better.” Do you agree?

Essay 1: Adapted from “KS Bull 2012 Issue 1”

Since the beginning of time, communication has existed as the foundation for humans in establishing relationships and conveying ideas. Such a primal and almost instinctual need for such a means of interaction has, of course, spurred people throughout the ages to create better ways to expedite the process of communication. The boom in technology in the 21st century is testament to that trend. While electronic devices such as computers and cell phones ha e served to make us more efficient communicators, it is still unclear if these improvements have made us more effective communicators.

Efficiency, in communication brought about by technology can be seen in a practical sense. If anything, we have definitely become better communicators in utilizing the resources available to us to convey our ideas in a faster and more concise manner. Gone are the days when snail mail was the only means of long-distance interaction; when a message intended for a person across the country had to endure several days in the postal service. Today, e-mails and text messaging have become staple means of long-distance communication, which is understandable as messages are delivered to the intended recipient with just a single click or touch of a button. Such efficiency has been made possible by the invention of cell phones and the Internet, and all these fall under the large umbrella of technology. Furthermore, the very fact that these means of communication are exceptionally speedy and do not cost much, has led us to take our liberties with it – sending short, brief messages in full knowledge that it would be socially acceptable and not at all taxing on the wallet to send more should the message be incomplete or need to be supplemented. Heavily-worded letters are no longer required; a brief and succinct description would suffice. Technology has indeed been the catalyst for such a phenomenon and the efficiency that this medium has brought has made us better and faster communicators in this respect.

However, it can be argued that the technologically-induced brevity has taken a toll on our social lives, making us less effective communicators with regard to interpersonal relationships and interactions. Undoubtedly, the invention of computers, the Internet, and the rise of new media can be held responsible for this. Take for instance, social networking giant Twitter. Twitter prides itself largely on brevity in its characteristic 140-character status updates it limits its users to. Of course, as the great Shakespeare once quipped, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. This is undoubtedly what Twitter tries to promote and has had its impact on the rising community of satirical Twitterers who have compacted jokes and snarky comments on society within a single status update. The conciseness in this is undeniable. However, this does not translate well in the real social world we live in as the constant expectation and the primal need for communication lie more in the details rather than brevity. Even as the presence of such websites demanding brevity gets increasingly palpable in our lives, the expectations of the people we interact on a daily basis goes far beyond that of short, intermittent messages or witty one-liners and extend more deeply into detailed conversations. The technology which requires and has made us accustomed to succinct communication may have rendered us slightly inept at the reality of social communication and made us less effective communicators.

Of course, the slight deterioration of social interaction brought about by technology has not rendered us entirely unable to communicate effectively. In fact, it has instead made effective communication easier in the spread and conveying of ideas. Technology and its various means of communication have, as established, increased the speed and efficiency at which ideas are conveyed. It has served as a medium for people to share their thoughts and ideas with a large mass of people. An example in recent history is the Arab Spring, where hundreds of protestors in countries like Libya and Egypt harnessed the efficiency of communication through the Internet and communicated their ideas effectively by organizing protests and movements on the social networking site Facebook. The people with this common goal were united through the connecting force of the Internet, which was a technological invention that helped them convey their thoughts and ideas effectively to a large number of people. Hence, technology does expedite the process of communication, translating to better communication through the conveying of ideas to a large audience almost instantaneously.

Technology in its various mediums of communication, has indeed provided us with opportunities to improve the quality of human interaction and relations. However, the effectiveness and efficiency of communication through technology hinges largely on how it is utilized and how the individual chooses to react to it. Technology will only be an advancement to this vital form of interaction if its power is used and harnessed appropriately.

Here is an interesting video which depicts technology acting as a disruption to our traditional methods of communication:

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“The Computer and Internet, while being useful, can never replace the classroom and the teacher.” Discuss.

Yes, I would agree with that view. While the computer and Internet provide a wealth of information and a source of entertainment, it is not the ideal environment for teaching and learning. The computer and the Internet are like our textbooks and encyclopedias. However, all-encompassing they are, they are still not replacements for the classroom and the teacher. One does not gain all the knowledge in life from the Internet or from textbooks; rather, one gains knowledge through the process of reading and learning. The experience of gaining knowledge is also as important, if not more important, than knowledge itself. One must realise that while the computer and Internet provide the necessary knowledge, it is the classroom and the teacher that provide the learning environment and the inter-personal interactions.

Improvements in technology have given us the Internet, allowing us access to a whole horde of information throughout the world, from science and technology to entertainment, to movies, and so much more. This wealth of knowledge may seem frightening, because such amounts of information would surely need regulation and supervision in order to prevent abuse. That is why government agencies are given the task of screening out unwanted or undesirable information like pornography. Students using the Internet are given access to so much more information than they are usually accustomed to. But they do not learn how to screen the information and take out those segments that are useful and important. This is one skill that is not taught in the Internet but in classrooms by the teachers.

In addition, students using the Internet do not get to interact much with people, except through electronic chatting. However, this does not provide sufficient stimulus for students to develop inter-personal skills between friends and with elders. Such skills are essential to them when they are in society, starting to work and to interact more. These skills are better developed in the classroom, where there will be constant interaction with friends and teachers.

Despite the wealth of information provided by the Internet, information can become outdated or erroneous. At our present rate of advancement in science and technology, the information and facts we learn during our years of study can become obsolete and irrelevant in five to ten years. Therefore, it is not the knowledge of information and facts that is crucial to our learning; the knowledge of how to gain current information, distinguishing between the right and wrong, the accurate and the inaccurate, is as important. This skill of accessing information from various sources will keep us updated about current events and be able to evaluate and analyse them. Getting to know all the information in the Internet will not help in these areas. It is in the classroom, where teachers guide students towards what they learn and how they learn, that the real purpose of education is transmitted.

In education, besides skill, knowledge and development of relations, there must also be the inculcation of moral values and the evaluation of one’s abilities. Moral values vary slightly from one culture to another, but there are essential similarities like caring for the needy, providing for the poor, being humble and etc. These moral values cannot be taught on the Internet. There is no textbook on morals anywhere where one can just gain moral principles by reading it. Besides learning the basic moral principles, one must also practise them often in order for them to be embedded in one’s mind and behaviour. In the classroom, where there are classmates and friends, one gets to practise moral behaviour often– helping fellow students, not being selfish, doing to others what one would want others to do to oneself, etc—and these cannot be practised or learnt in the computer and Internet.

In education, one does not just become a sponge and absorb all the skills needed, the information required and the wanted facts. One has to squeeze out some of the knowledge and skills that one has learnt and be able to apply them. Examinations and tests are the most obvious forms of evaluating one’s abilities. These are done in the classroom environment and not by staring into the computer screen. More importantly, one views the world around him differently and knows what is going on, how certain phenomena occur or how the society functions. If one does not gain knowledge or fails to apply the knowledge to everyday situations, then one has not learnt anything useful.

However, despite the computer and Internet not being able to replace the classroom and teacher, its does not mean that they cannot be used. In fact, they are invaluable additions to the tools of learning and education. Global information can be found on them – want to find out about the Antarctica? Who was America’s first president? The history of mankind? All this can be found in the Internet. The Internet also enhances the learning process. Facts unavailable in textbooks can simply be found using search engines in the Internet. The latest development in cancer research can also be found, for example. Students are therefore not confined to the classroom and can roam the world using the Internet without physically being there. There are practically no limits to the potential of the Internet and students, by engaging in the Internet, get exposed to possibilities previously unknown to them. This widens their horizons.

In conclusion, the computer and Internet are windows to places previously unexplored by students and are invaluable to the learning process of students. It provides information, entertainment and knowledge available globally, but the classroom is still the place where the students learn their basic skills needed in life, guided by their teachers, which the computer and Internet can never replace.

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