Category Archives: Social Media

Is there an app for civic awareness?

I have begun looking into a site called Countables, positioned as a tool to connect people with those in government, including one’s state representatives.

However, civic awareness (or the lack thereof) may need more than an app. There’s a video going around showing students of a Texas university being asked basic questions such as ‘Who won the Civil War?’ or Who is our vice president?” Watch!

The producers of PoliTech, say they interviewed 20 to 30 students, of which only 30 percent knew the answers to some of the questions.In this context it seems obvious that a pre-requisite for getting young people to be better informed, is to get them better engaged.

  • In 2002, a study by National Geographic found that less than half the Americans could identify France, the United Kingdom or Japan on a world map. (Fewer than 2 in 3 could find China on a map of the Middle East/Asia…half of young Americans could find New York, etc)

Next week is Digital Learning Day, an event I participate in with my classes. Perhaps there should be a Civics Literacy Day.


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Posted by on February 9, 2016 in Social Media


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Media Illiteracy prevails, and the adults aren’t off the hoook

As our modes of communication grow smarter, we seem to be doing a shoddy job of using them. This is not just about the misuse of Twitter, of which dumb tweets are legion. Such as a Time correspondent firing off a tweet wishing for a drone strike on Julian Assange in 2013. This is about young people who have too powerful publishing tools at their disposal. If you like to know more, you will love this compilation!

This week, six High School students in Arizona got themselves and their school into serious trouble, using SnapChat. They got a picture of themselves taken wearing shirts that spelled out a racial slur. They learned, too late, that an app’s ability to ‘communicate’ should not define the message. (If none of them had data-enabled mobile devices would anyone have even bothered setting up the shot?).

An editorial in the Arizona Republic asked how students who have gone through a curriculum that probably included close reading and discussion of the civil war era, could have been so crass.

It’s hard to imagine these girls got this far in school without reading the ugly chapters in American history about the enslavement and oppression of Black people. Did they fail to pay attention? Did they fail to connect the dots to real people?

Let’s not get parents off the hook. How much time are we spending with young people to inform them about media use? It’s easy to be tool literate and media stupid.

Here are some thoughts for parents who may be considering giving a teenager (actually pre-teens, now) a mobile device:

  1. You pay for the phone and the data plan. You own the device; you set the rules. A phone is not like a pair of shoes, it doesn’t have to belong to the end-user.
  2. You better decide on the apps that get on the phone. Don’t complain later when a kid is spending too much time on Insta-brag or Brat-chat. I mean Instagram and Snapchat.
  3. Like your car keys, devices not owned by a child should be stored outside of bedrooms at night.
  4. It’s possible for homework assignments to be completed without digital devices. Really!
  5. Make sure your child makes every effort to not be in a video taken by a fellow insta-bragger.
  6. Finally, make sure your child’s school has a policy that has been updated to match the ubiquity and speed of shared media. It’s no longer valid to call it a ‘social media policy’. It’s a device use policy.

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White House goes Cheesy, hashtags and all

It’s that time of year when communicators have too much time on their hands. Consider how: North Korea is pretending to prove it has a Hydrogen bomb (various sourcessay this was a damp squib); the sports minister of Sri Lanka is claiming he’s received ‘scandalous’ pictures of cricketers in New Zealand (hotels are denying this), and Google’s ‘self-driving’ cars are supposedly dangerous (drivers have sometimes had to stop them from crashing).

Perhaps it’s that down time after the Christmas season, when there’s a news hole that needs to be filled. With Cheese, for instance. The White House is hosting a humongous cheese party. The hashtag being #youfetabelieveit. It’s called the Big Block of Cheese Day. It’s been created after Andrew Jackson’s 1837 event, for which he trucked in a 1,400 pound block of cheese and had citizens come and mingle with the occupants. A sort of Open House event.

I don’t know how Mr. Jackson managed to handle this without a Tumbler account, but it sure goes to prove that sometimes all you need is a piece of cheese to get people to hang out with you. Unless you don’t mind keeping away the lactose intollerant.



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Farewell LMD readers – I’m retiring after 20 years

Dec. 2015 was my last column in LMD Magazine. After 20 some years, I’ve decided to put down the pen and become a consumer, rather than a contributor. (And yes, it’s always been a pen!)

I began writing for the magazine back in 1994, as an ‘occasional’ contributor. By 1995, publisher Hiran Hewavisenti cajoled me to start a column after we returned to the US, and …the rest is history.

I admit, ‘retiring’ as a columnist was a tough decision, considering how much it connected me with many of you readers in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. It’s funny how ‘old tech’ print publications like this have been the precursors of our fancy schmancy social networks. It’s how I’ve met tech evangelists, entrepreneurs, and a wide range of thought leaders in emerging sectors. You’ve helped me cover topics such as US political campaigns, and advertising to diplomacy, from the tsunami to the ‘Uber economy’, from mobile learning, and cyber wars to artificial intelligence.

I like to thank the staff at LMD for their wonderful support, and my fellow columnists who sometimes became my sounding board, as they covered complimentary, emerging topics from different corners of the world. And last but not least, I have to thank my readers, many of whom write back, or send that occasional tweet.

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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Journalism, Media, Social Media


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Ring-cut or Missed Call? Lankan English at its best

I recently had a conversation with Harshana Rambukwella, a lecturer at the Open University, and our discussion drifted into an evergreen –even controversial — topic: What exactly could we consider ‘standard’ English? Harshana’s work has been about ‘narratives of nationalism’ and often speaks about identity, and nationalism in literature and language.

We got talking about the term “Ring-cut” which means calling someone’s mobile phone from your mobile, and cutting the call so that the number gets registered. Typically, a ring-cut is used because the person you ‘ring-cut’ has a free calls, and can call you back. This pithy term captures the essence of an action that has become ‘standard’ even in a conversation in Sinhalese or Tamil. Meaning, there is no need to translate it!

Interestingly, in some parts of the country, this is also called a ‘Missed call’ – a term I came across in advertising. As in: “Give us a missed call” and enter to win…” So much more interesting than saying “Call and leave your number on our answering machine to register to win.”

Here are a few more Sri Lankanisms:

  • What, for instance would you be doing, if you were caught “murdering the queen?” (Hint: It’s not a punishable act, but could be embarrassing).
  • How about being accused of doing a “Devil Dance?”
  • “Don’t tell me!”  is the equivalent if “Are you kidding me?” but conveys more shock and awe. Another version of which is “You’re telling me!” 
  • “Driving like a lunatic” (Said in exasperation, when talking about TukTuk drivers, or… a spouse)

Incidentally, you could find more of these Lankanisms in Michael Meyler’s  a dictionary of these words in Mirisgala.

And if you like to share your favorite words and phrases, please send them along.


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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in Social Media


Ranting and Whining – And you call this ‘social?

There was a time, not too long ago when social media was the place to be nice to others, and celebrate the ‘small world’ we live in.

What did we do with that?

A week seldom goes by without seeing humans whining and groaning like 14-year olds, complaining about the most mundane things, broadcasting what most people used to keep private in their petty-little spats, or rambling about the speed bumps we all face each day.

There are a 101 reasons why this is bad for us as a society – overuse of social media, that is. There’s a good summary of Why it’s bad for you here (and you probably intuitively knew most of these already.)

Just because we can screen-shot a conversation or an email, or tell our Instagram followers why someone makes us mad, doesn’t need we have to. I’ve written plenty on ‘Why Web 2.0 ought to make us more human’ but find myself having to call out those who turn this wonderful resource we call social media, into the most advanced anti-social media behavior.



Zak Wilson demos 3-D Printing to my students

IMG_3466Always wanted to introduce a class on 3-D printing in my computer and technology lab.

Tomorrow, our students will have just that, as Zak Wilson, a mechanical engineer who recently spent 8 months on a NASA-sponsored mission, visits Salt River Elementary. He is our keynote speaker and presenter at Mars Day.

Why is 3-D printing suddenly popping up everywhere? Depending whom you ask, you’ll find out that the ‘maker Movement’ is partly responsible. It’s driving young people to rediscover the art and science of building things from scratch. Libraries began hosting these Maker spaces, and organizations began experimenting with ‘printing’ hardware from a bicycle to an engine transmission. The latter by a mechanical engineer, for a Toyota! Not to mention the medical industry, and the space industry.

Which brings us back to NASA. There’s a 3-D printer on the International Space Station. One of the astronauts recently printed a 4 1/2 inch ratchet wrench, out of plastic. Zak, featured here, printed many small items in the Mars dome, and we will find out more about this.

More about the previous Mars Days, here if you are interested.

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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Social Media


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