Comment: What do you know about world news?

Do you keep up with the news? Watch it daily? Do you follow local news? World news? What do you do to stay informed?

I stay informed of world news through my friends and my Twitter feed. My friend Tim loves to tease me about not staying more informed on daily happenings around the world. He’s ready to discuss politics and world news at every moment. Sometimes our conversations start by him giving me the short version of the news that has happened (that I have missed or ignored) since the last time we chatted. Is this problematic? He always encourages me to stay more informed, but I admit that depressing world news is not my cup of tea.

I like to stay informed about local politics – elections, transit issues, community news. I always vote. I read up on Canadian federal election issues. I generally know what’s happening around the world, but it’s very surface-level. I read enough so that I know what my economics students are discussing. I encourage them to stay informed, read up on issues that they’re passionate about, and use their right to vote.

That said, in terms of global politics, I only have so much brain capacity for Trump news, so I ignore a lot of it.

Is this so wrong?

What about you?

I’m curious. How do you keep up with the news? What news outlets do you read/listen to? Do you and your friends discuss world issues and politics regularly?

Comment: Do You Talk To Strangers?

On his recent Pinkcast, Daniel Pink spoke with Christine Porath for 100 seconds (I love short snippets!) about how to make your workplace kinder. One of the ways that people can act with civility, Porath shared, is by following the 10-5 rule. The rule is that if someone is within 10 feet away, the polite thing to do is to nod and smile. If someone is within 5 feet away, the polite behaviour is to say hello. I think this is a great guideline, and I’m going to try to put it into action.

While in Stratford a couple of weeks ago, I had several friendly conversations with complete strangers in stores and cafĂ©s. I feel like I upped notch on the 10-5 rule. Maybe I added a 1…as in if someone is within 1 foot, strike up a conversation. Read body language. Make a connection. It’s nice to speak to strangers and realize what you have in common.

So, what do you do? Do you talk to strangers? Say hello to passerby on the street?

Porath is the author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.

Comment: A Glimpse into Education in China

I’m an educator. For decades, I’ve learned about how we learn and how we teach. I have experienced education in other countries as a teacher and as a learner, and I continue to learn about education systems around the world. One article that caught my attention recently was about the Chinese education system. It’s not so much the text that I was focused on. Instead, it was this photo that had me staring for a long while. It made me think.

I have learned quite a bit about the Chinese education system through friends, colleagues, students, and academic and non-academic articles. While I don’t have first-hand experience, I have heard about the organization. The restrictions. The long hours. The competition. The standardized tests. This photo gives us a glimpse into that Chinese classroom. The space. The textbooks. The hunched over bodies. It’s quite a view. And so very different from our Canadian classrooms.

Here in Canada, we have public, elementary classrooms full of stability balls, stress toys, and markers in every colour. Teachers have Amazon wishlists for parents (or the general public) to purchase supplies for their classrooms. Because how could they ever live without a whiteboard marker holder? Or a range of Command strip hooks?

At the post-secondary level, we have classrooms with chairs on wheels, so students can move around easily to work in groups. We have a walls of whiteboards to encourage problem-solving (when sometimes all we really need is a paper and pencil). We have rooms with several projectors, so that a professor’s PowerPoint presentation can be projected on multiple screens and so that student groups can project their work for ongoing discussion and feedback. The students I meet often complain about purchasing textbooks. About night classes. About morning classes. Phones are brought into classes, and often used for educational purposes. I regularly ask my students to use their phones (or whatever device they have) to look something up, to read something, or to submit work. It is rare for my students to come to the university classroom without a device of sorts.

In many Canadian classrooms, we love space. Students spread out. They don’t seem to like sitting too close to one another. If I teach in a large classroom, for example, students may opt to take one, two, or three spots for themselves, leaving an empty seat (or several) between them and their neighbour. We still have the desks-in-rows seating arrangement, but we’re moving away from this set-up. At the elementary level, this is generally a thing of the past (the long ago past).

Education around the world is so very different, I know. I shouldn’t be surprised to see photos like the one above. But I am. And I’m glad it makes me think about how we teach and learn in different contexts, how my education has given me freedom to learn, and how I can continue to make contributions in my academic work.

Comment: Memories of Technological Advancements

On the recommendation of a friend who attended the True North tech conference in Waterloo a couple of months ago, I listened to the book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations written by Thomas L. Friedman who was a speaker at the conference. The book was interesting. In it, Friedman talks about the intersection of three major forces affecting current and future generations: globalization, technology, and climate change. The book has made me think about how I use technology every day, how I wish I could use it, how I avoid it, and what I may experience in the future. 

Things, as we know, change rapidly these days. Just a few weeks ago, I ran into an issue with my DVD player…as in, I hadn’t used my DVD player for 6 years, so when I tried to use it to watch DVDs I took out from the library, I couldn’t because I didn’t have any cords to connect the DVD player to my TV. Cords? Wires? This felt like an ancient set-up! A friend lent me a bunch of cords and in this pile, I found the one I needed. Colour-coded pieces of plastic on either end of the cords…one set to hook into my DVD player, the other set for my TV. It felt like an unncessary challenge even though not too long ago, this was our only option to watch movies at home. 

More recently, when I was cleaning up my office, I came across one of my first ever cassette tapes – The Minipops – and I thought, what am I going to do with a cassette now? I don’t have any way to play it! So did I get rid of it? No, of course not. How could I get rid of The Minipops? I’m holding on to this tape for nostalgic purposes.

So Friedman’s book, combined with these two recent experiences, has had me reflecting on other defining memories of technology in my life.

In elementary school, I remember when my dad brought home an electric typewriter. I actually remember its arrival into our home. It was white and grey. Typing seemed to go at lightening speed! I typed short stories and reports for school on that thing. I felt so fancy. I think it may still be in my parents’ basement. I wonder if it’ll feel fast if I go type on it now.

If you lived in Canada in the 1980s, and you banked at Canada Trust, then you may remember the roll out of the Johnny Cash machine…an automated teller. I remember the Johnny Cash machine because my mom worked at the bank at the time, and talked all about the Johnny Cash machine and how it was going to change the work of tellers. I remember her talking about setting up, using, restocking, reconciling the “Johnny Cash”. Oh my goodness, just thinking about it makes me laugh. Watch this Johnny Cash machine commercial for a walk down memory lane.

In Grade 13, I remember sitting in computer class (not typing class, but actual coding class) and my teacher was teaching us about the world wide web. We explored Yahoo. During that same year, I had a friend who was quite tech savvy and taught me about ICQ, which was an online space for chatting. At night, when we were at home, instead of calling, we’d meet on ICQ. It would take what felt like hours to get the computer and modem in my parents’ basement up and running. And then my friend and I would be on ICQ chatting about nothing in particular. No phone calls. Just online chats about homework and such.

When I was graduating and applying to universities, I applied to computer science programs, just barely knowing what computer science was all about. My sister’s friend was finishing her degree in computer science, and everyone told me that there would be so many jobs if I had a computer science degree. I took computer science in my first year at university, and I remember learning computer coding like JAVA to get little worms to move across the screen. I remember spending hours in the computer lab trying to figure out code. I liked it, but didn’t love the non-social aspect of my program, so I dropped it and continued on with French, which had always been my major. Coding now? Kids can do it on apps! Oh, how things have changed!

When I was studied in France in my third year of university, I walked down the street to the Internet café or public library to send emails home. It was part of my daily or weekly routine. I sent letters, too, at the time, but emails were immediate, so by the time anyone received my mailed letters, they were full of old news. I remember creating a new email address just to categorize the stories from France. My parents printed every email I sent. Every single email. They gave me the stack of emails on my return. Printed emails. Can you imagine? Now my parents are more into texting on WhatsApp and using FaceTime than they are into emails.

It was also in France that I got my first cell phone. It was dirt cheap to buy and maintain. I’m not sure if it was because I was in Europe, but text messaging at the time was called SMS (which stands for short message service). People would say, Envoie moi un SMS (Send me an SMS). I loved my little portable (cell phone). It was blue, and the buttons were squishy. I think I still have it stored away in my parents’ house. I should really find the little blue cell phone and store it alongside my old cassette tapes.

In about 2006 or so, I was doing my masters and one of my friends introduced me to this thing called Facebook. At the time, it was a messaging system that was only for university students to communicate with other university students. It was such a closed community! He told me about “some guy” who started Facebook in the United States, and it was only now being rolled out into Canadian institutions. I think I felt privileged to be a student, so I could have access to it. It was during my PhD, about seven years after I first joined Facebook, that I deleted it completely. I have been without Facebook for about seven years now, and I don’t miss it.

I remember when my friend Johanne started Fashion in Motion, a fashion blog, in about 2007 or so. She posted about her blog on Facebook at the time, and I was intrigued, but confused. I remember having coffee with her somewhere in Toronto where she explained to me what a blog was. I thought it was so interesting. An online platform to share ideas. I ended up writing a weekly column on Fashion in Motion, which then gave me the confidence and know-how to start White Cabana in 2010.

Most recently, just a few months ago actually, Kitchener-Waterloo launched the region’s light rail – the ION. This has been a major piece of news for the Waterloo region for years. I feel that the ION has made our region modern, efficient, and ready for future growth. Unlike Canada Trust all those years ago who hired Johnny Cash to be the face of the automatic teller machine (ATM, by the way!), the ION did not launch with a celebrity. It may have been fun if Justin Bieber came back to the region as the face of the ION. Imagine!

These are some of the strong memories I have of the impact of technology in my own life. I know it’s clichĂ©, but it really is hard to believe how fast technology changes. It does not seem so long ago that I was playing The Minipops on my yellow Sony sport walkman!

Comment: The Tipping Game

I don’t quite know how to categorize this post, so I went with “Comment.” I have a comment to make about tipping.

In North America, tipping is expected in the service industry. Good service. Bad service. We tip. We tip at restaurants, spas, and hair salons. We tip for cab rides. We tip hotel staff for service. We tip. We should tip to say thank you and to show appreciation of great service. North Americans are expected to tip.

And when the service isn’t all that great? I still end up tipping. Do you? Why? If the tip is a reflection of service received, and service is bad, why should I (or we) feel obliged to offer a 15% tip? It’s a curious question. One that I have discussed with others recently as we’ve expressed frustration and interest and curiosity about the tipping practice in Canada.

Outside North America, tipping practices vary. In France and Italy, tips aren’t common. In Japan, too, you never tip. And this is a country whose citizens pride themselves on providing excellent service. When I was there, I wanted to tip everyone, but since tipping is frowned upon, I didn’t dare!

Although tip percentages in North America vary, they seem to hover around the 15% mark for many of the services I tend to use (e.g., restaurants, spa, salon). Emily Post’s tipping etiquette guide offers reasonable guidelines regarding many industries and services.

Lately, one thing related to tipping has really bothered me (and some of my friends, too). Let me explain.

Some of my regular – and new – restaurants and cafĂ©s are self-service whereby you order at a counter and you either bring the food back with you after it has been served on the counter, or it is brought to your table. In these establishments, you pay your complete bill before you receive your meal. The machine that you use to pay with your credit card or debit card gives you an option to tip (some machines start at 18% tip).

Tip in advance of receiving service or a meal? I just don’t get it.

At one place I go to in Waterloo, you order and pay for your meal at the counter. You get your own water from the water dispenser. You pick up your coffee at the counter and bring it to your table. A server brings you your meal (not always the right one!). You clear away your own dishes. Regardless of all the work you do, a tip is requested at time of payment (before any service, besides someone taking your order, is offered). How do you know if or what to tip if you’ve not yet received any service? Do I tip because someone has said hello to me and taken my money for order? It seems odd to tip pre-service. Frankly, the whole situation bothers me. Am I alone in thinking that it’s rude to request a tip for service that hasn’t yet been offered?

I wonder what would Emily Post say about this. What do you think? I’d love to know!