Just listen.

Some TED presentations are inspiring and challenge you to do something. Others are funny and entertaining… And still others are just beautiful to listen to. This falls into the last category: So take a break. Relax. Just listen.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the New York Times best seller Eat, Pray, Love talks about how creatives can possibly protect their creativity and themselves.

… one day [Tom Waits] was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles he told me, and this is when it all changed for him. And he’s speeding along, and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody, that comes into his head as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalizing, and he wants it, you know, it’s gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it. He doesn’t have a piece of paper, he doesn’t have a pencil, he doesn’t have a tape recorder.

So he starts to feel all of that old anxiety start to rise in him like, “I’m going to lose this thing, and then I’m going to be haunted by this song forever. I’m not good enough, and I can’t do it.” And instead of panicking, he just stopped. He just stopped that whole mental process and he did something completely novel. He just looked up at the sky, and he said, “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving?” “Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen.”

Culture gap: no 4th floor

No 4th Floor

F(ourth) floor is 4th floor in Korea

No 4th Floor

No 13th floor (photo credit: eggrollstan)

The 4th floor in Korea has the same status as the 13th floor does in the US.

The pronunciation for “4” is “sa” which is the same as the Chinese character for “death”, hence the “F” (for Fourth) instead of “4” in elevators.

Quite silly really.

Seoul, 15 years ago

Mapo, Seoul, 1994

Click image to view slideshow of Mapo redevelopment, 1994

Digging through some old photos, I found this set I took in 1994, of Mapo area, in Seoul. This area had been home to many informal settlers (so called “moon village” or 달동네) but had been “condemned” to be redeveloped and replaced by more of Seoul’s ubiquitous apartment blocks.

David Kilburn, in a comment to one of my previous post Hanoi: Think different wrote about Seoul:

… A Korean architect I know describes modern Seoul as a city designed to drive people insane. This is a far cry from Korea’s own architectural traditons where it was always important that buildings were designed to nestle harmoniously into the landscape, neither dominating nor destroying it. The geomantic ideas that are better known as the Chinese ‘Feng Shui’ were always important. Nowadays, the landscape is eradicated to pave the way for squadrons of identikit apartment blocks? Who benefits, certainly not the residents. The real beneficiaries are the owners of constructio companies, real estate speculators, and the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who play their own role in detroying quality of life.

David has a very interesting documentary The Destruction of Kahoi Dong about the destruction of Han-ok’s (traditional Korean houses) in Seoul.

The dilemma of content sharing for universities

iTunes U

iTunes U

Republished from UXforGood.org.

Recently I’ve participated in brainstorming session for a premier university in Korea on how to make its lectures available online.

Ever since MIT started offering its lectures through its OpenCourseWare (website) initiative in late 2002, many higher education institutions have been offering lectures online through various channels: YouTube and iTunes just to name the obvious.

The YouTube Effect

The explosive popularity of sharing sites such as YouTube seems to have radically changes the way we consume media.

Part of the popularity of YouTube lies in the ease in which you can “take” video, hosted on YouTube, and embed it on your site. This is no trivial change. Previously content was a guarded commodity. Some readers my remember that in the early days of the internet, “deep linking” (linking to a page other than the homepage) was a controversial issue, which seems almost comical in today’s internet environment. Others devised ways of keeping users on their website as long as possible, and only allowed consumption of their content on the site.

With the rise of user-generated content, and the legal framework that Creative Commons affords in terms of copyright protection, the line between between the ownership/authorship of content hosted on such content sharing sites as Youtube, Flickr, SlideShare and to some degree digg are being blurred.

YouTube really doesn’t distinguish between the content being on their site or your site. This is important in that it recognizes that is is impossible to neatly categorize the content and it is transferring that burden of organization, categorization and contextualization of the content to users themselves. YouTube has so much content that it cannot (and does not) predict how users will use the content on its site. They leave it up to the users to contextualize it by embedding in their sites. A funny video of a cat may be just cute entertainment on someone’s personal site, whereas it could be a serious example of feline behavior on an academic site. YouTube is saying, we provide you easy access to the content, you provide the context.

David Weinberger writes a whole book on this issue. In Everything is Miscellaneous he writes:

We are building an ever-growing pile of smart leaves that we can organize as we need to at any one moment. Some ways of organizing it – of finding meaning in it – will be grassroots; some will be official. Some will apply to small groups; some will engender large groups; some will subvert established groups. Some will be funny; some will be tragic. But it will be the users who decide what the leaves mean.

Allowing users to take the content is supremely smart for YouTube in that it significantly increases distribution and now that they have figured out a way to advertise within the video frame, a greater source of advertising income.

TED is using this exact model for spreading its ideas.

Shifting role of universities

Back to universities. For universities this climate of content sharing sets up a dilemma.

Universities as an institution have long been in the business of guarding its knowledge and the authors of its knowledge. Whenever you partner with a university the intellectual property contracts their legal department send you is a strong indication of how serious they are about their knowledge. It’s apparent that some knowledge needs to be protected, such as patents, processes and original works. But in this current age, being too strict about protecting knowledge has the negative effects. Universities are not measured in terms of how many books their libraries house but how effective they are in encouraging, facilitating and protecting open discourse, thought leadership and, more so than ever, social responsibility.

Liz Coleman, the president of Bennington College in her inspiring presentation at TED (Feb 2009), A call to reinvent liberal arts education, expresses the urgency of our higher education institutions to be more open, interconnected and socially responsible:

The progression of today’s college student is to jettison every interest except one. And within that one, to continually narrow the focus. Learning more and more about less and less. This, despite the evidence all around us of the interconnectedness of things. Lest you think I exaggerate, Here are the beginnings of the A-B-Cs of anthropology. As one moves up the ladder, values other than technical competence are viewed with increasing suspicion. Questions such as “What kind of a world are we making? What kind of a world should we be making? What kind of a world can we be making?” are treated with more and more skepticism and move off the table.

To share or not to share?

When one thinks about how to describe the premier universities in Korea, words such as exclusivity, high-walled, academic, authoritative and conservative come to mind. This is clash with the values of the internet that shout social, communal, accessible and collaborative.

The motivation behind a premier university in Korea sharing its lectures online seems may seem to be a little more self-serving than socially inspiring: To reinforce it branding and positioning; to create a business model for paid exclusive content; and to provide some public service.

Whatever the motivation, I believe that once the door to access is opened up, it may unintentionally trigger a change that may be irreversible.

Update: Fast Company: How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education is worth reading on this issue.

Korean government offers generous loan terms for poor college students

In a followup to a previous post, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Korea through Education: A Social Business Proposal I saw some very exciting news that the Korean government will move to provide long-term full tuition coverage student loans for poor students starting 2010.

It even stipulates that the students are only required to pay back the loan after they find employment over a maximum 25 years. It also supports living expenses.

More detailed article on 헤럴드 경제 (sorry, in Korean) says that the conditions of the loan are:

취업을 못해 일정수준 이상의 소득을 올리지 못하면 상환 의무도 없어진다.
수혜 대상은 기초수급자 및 소득 1~7분위(연간 가구소득 인정액 4839만원 이하)에 속하는 가정의 대학생으로 평균 성적이 C학점 이상이어야 한다. 고소득층인 8~10분위 가정은 기존의 대출 방식을 적용받는다. 특히 1인당 대출 한도액(현행 대학 4년간 최대 4000만원까지)을 없애 연간 등록금 소요액 전액과 생활비 연 200만원을 대출받을 수 있게 된다. 생활비는 기초생활수급자에게는 무상으로, 소득 1~7분위는 소득에 따라 무이자 또는 정상 대출방식으로 지원된다.

Very encouraging indeed. This does remove some of the barriers the poor students had to accessing higher education and bettering their lives.

Still remaining is how to make inroads into the issue of supporting poor kids while they are in school and bridging the gap between them and kids who get private extra-curricular education (사교육).

Update 2009-08-24
Some opposing opinions about the new loans. (in Korean)

The article claims:
– If you postpone repayment after graduating, you still get charged interest;
– Given the current employment market, most graduates will not be able to afford the repayment schedule;
– Loans mean that grants given to low-income students will reduced;
– This may be grounds for raising tuition, since you payback after you graduate;
– For the government providing the loans, this is another long-term, low-risk way of financially exploiting parents and students.