Thursday, February 24, 2005

This past Monday, Will got the computerized version of the study up, and now, just 4 days later, I have more people than I thought I was going to get for my whole study before, bilingually and monolingually raised people combined.

Behold the power of the internet!

Of course, I haven't analyzed any data yet, so there's still a lot to be done, but it is just such a relief to have the data collection finally moving along like I wanted it to. I'm going to stick with being happy with that for now.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Back to Square One, On From There
Here's an overview of my week so far:

Pre-this-week: I have an incompleted research project from last semester hanging over my head. It was supposed to be due before March 2. I started collecting data in earnest a week and a half ago, only to discover after testing a mere 5 subjects that my methodology was full of holes big enough to march elephants through, the most annoying of which was that it is a card sort task that was getting a lot of confound from people's manual dexterity, which was not at all what I was trying to test. Cognitive flexibility, yes; frequency of poker playing, no. I did not want to write a paper about this crappy research.

Monday: I go to hear the final candidate for the new SLS PhD program positions. His talk was very interesting, but about halfway through my brain stopped really absorbing what his study had been about and started listing to me all the ways my own study would be billions of times better if I were collecting data via a computer-based test.

Tuesday: I talk to my friend Ellie, who is interested in the cognitive side of physics education research. Originally, we were talking about Triple Chocolate Cookies and what we should do when she visits, but by the time I got off the phone I had a coherent plan about what I needed from a computer-based version of my test, plus a lead on at least 2 more bilingually-raised subjects. I promptly got in touch with my Flash-programming friend Will, who is a marvelous person to whom I am forever indebted. I sent him an email description of what I wanted while he was in class, and he said he could have it up on Saturday, connected to a database collecting data for me.

Wednesday: I talk to my professor about my complete redesign of my project and the reasons for it. I told her I was much more confident about this research design and the results it was likely to give me, and I'd try to get her a paper on it before the 2nd. She said, "That's in two weeks. I think that's pushing it. I'm on my way down to the dept. office anyway, so I'll ask the secretary for an extension of your incomplete." That afternoon, I had an extension to the end of the semester.

Thursday: Two compete strangers (to me) who are friends of friends of friends at Grinnell contact me to say they'll take the test when I have it ready to go. I begin to believe I will have reasonable sample sizes after all, and may actually have accomplished something worthwhile in the end.

What will the weekend hold? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Thin Line of Cultural Sensitivity
A while ago, I was listening to NPR (that's getting old, I know, but I have no TV, and something has to spark thoughts) and I heard an American woman reporting on a her experience of the Hajj in Mecca (listen). She described how spiritual she felt running in the Sayee, feeling a connection to the story of Hagar that the event represents, when a local woman grabbed her arm and told her to stop running, because women didn't do that there, only men. The commentator goes on to explain basically why she felt that custom was repressive and dumb, and how she told the woman to proudly remember, "Hagar was a woman."

While I'm sure as a well-raised feminist, I should feel proud of this story, instead I felt mostly annoyed. It didn't raise issues of breaking gender barriers to me, but instead brought to mind thoughts of how exactly people should act when in another country. There are two sides to this story. On the one hand, the commentator was an American woman also participating in the pilgrimage and having an intense personal experience. On the other hand, she was a guest in another culture, and should not have felt that her status as an American gave her leave to behave as others could not.

This woman was just on a short-term visit to the country, though. These issues become much more confusing when a person finds themself actually living in the other country. One wants to be sensitive to the other culture, and do as much as one can to remain unobtrusive (at least socially, if not ethnically). However, does one really want to give up all the vestiges of one's native culture for the sake of blending in? Besides, if one tries too hard to blend in, one runs the risk of being derisively seen as "going native" by both fellow foreigners and natives alike. Where does one draw the line?

Personally, I had it kind of easy in Japan in this regard. Part of my job description, after all, was to "be American." I was there to teach my native language and give cultural insights that the Japanese teachers couldn't offer. I wasn't expected to become completely fluent in Japanese or be accepted into Japanese society as one of their own. I was there to be exotic. I was also there with the expectation that I would then be going home. Perhaps, really, it was not so much the job that made it easy for me as it was Japanese society, which is unfailingly polite to guests, but always makes it clear that foreigners *are* guests, outsiders, not from 'round here.

What would it be like in a society where I actually felt like I could fit in more? I recall being flattered the few times someone took me for a Chilean during my semester abroad, but living with a host family held me in the mentality of permanent "guest" status, and I never really felt tempted to really blend in. I'm not sure what it would be like if I was living there more as a person and less as an exchange student. Where would I draw the line? How much would I want to change? How much would I *not* want to change? I don't know. Everyone must have their own internal equilibrium.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Oh. My. Freakin'. Diety.
This deserves announcement in nearly every possible way. Today, nearly two years later, I got my tax refund for the estimated tax I wasn't actually supposed to pay (but did anyway) on my earnings in Japan. I had completely given up hope of ever seeing it. I had resigned myself to having done my duty as a Democrat who actually thinks taxes are a good thing. Over $1000 of free, unexpected money. I don't have to feel bad about buying my new computer now. Happy, happy day.

Internet Usage Kills Creativity!
Right, so I took a break and felt better pretty much immediately. I think just being able to make the decision that I have to blog if I didn't want to made the difference. Almost right away, I started thinking of far more things that I wanted to write about, for myself.

And then my computer died. The combination of the bright, shiny, new laptop and teaching a chapter on internet addiction have induced me to blog again. So I'll kick this off again with a thematic thought (see title).

The nice thing about teaching the highest level in the Intensive English Program is that the listening passages I'm forced to make my students listen to are actually authentic passages, mostly taken from NPR. While I don't think the students are greatly appreciative, I at least am entertained. A week or so ago, we did the chapter on internet addiction, which featured a passage from David Brooks, in which he posited that internet usage and the multitasking it promotes discourage creative thought.

The interviewer started by pointing out that multitasking appears to have made people smarter, at least according to IQ tests. Brooks responded, (rightly, I think,) that multitasking may have increased some forms of our intelligence, but it has harmed others, most notably the penchant for creative thought. In his opinion, creative thought requires time to think on a deeper level that allows one to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Multitasking requires a lot of surface thought activity and quick access to already existing knowledge, but doesn't allow time for the deeper thought that creativity needs.

I don't have a hard time believing this. Since I went to college and had my own internet connection, in addition to more responsibility for myself, I have felt like a lot of my creativity has dried up. Throughout middle and high school, I created stories as fast as my mind could think. I had conversations with made-up characters in my head on my walk home from school, I wrote stories in class when I was bored, I drew pictures of the characters when I couldn't think of plots for them to follow, I was determined to come up with a unique system of magic before I'd try to write anything serious, so I couldn't be seen as copying anyone. Heck, I even wrote super-short stories on the back of my SAT vocab quizzes in 10th grade, because we got extra credit if we used the last 5 words on the quiz in a connected paragraph, rather than disconnected sentences. (I think I threw them away in a fit of cleanliness, unfortunately. I could always tell what I had been reading right before the quiz, because I mimicked the styles unconsciously. Yes, I have always been a geek.)

But when I got to college, I never found time anymore. There were always people around, always homework to do, always email to be sent. I haven't drawn anything in years. I haven't started a new story since high school. I thought it was because college was actually challenging me to think more than my high school classes had, and was therefore pushing out the vast room for creativity I had before. Now I think it's because I didn't have the constant distractions of the internet around. My brain was free to contemplate and connect all the random thoughts and bits of knowledge that it wanted to, because there wasn't anything else to do. My thoughts were very much inside my head, circling around, feeding on each other and any new bits of knowledge I read. I kind of miss those days.

I'm glad I don't have a TV this year. It's one less distraction. Not having a working computer at home for nearly 2 weeks was also interesting, because I found myself thinking more actual thoughts, and less surface blather. Of course, who knows what will happen now. I am trying to cut back on my pointless computer usage, though. More time to read. More time to think.

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