Monthly Archives: November 2012

Congratulations, Mr. President — Parte Deux

As I sat glued to my computer screen earlier this week watching the election results from each state stream in, I realized that this was something I had done once before … four years ago, as again, in China, I waited anxiously in a tucked-in Internet cafe in the heart of Beijing to see what larger direction the United States of America would be headed. But this time, instead of just reading the news passively and sharing amongst a smaller group of friends, there was a real opportunity to ENGAGE, to participate or at the very least observe dialogues from not just all over the country, but all over the world, via Facebook and Twitter-streams that were often embedded right alongside interactive media units designed and put together by media organizations like Huffington Post, The Guardian, and CNN, regardless of your physical location.

It is incredible to see what can change in four years, and the type of reporting and data visualization that was available during this year’s election was a reminder of how quickly we innovate in today’s age of computing, and thankfully, how user-centered design and experience has become a key part of the conversation.  Four years ago, there was no ‘like’ on Facebook, there were no apps/open Facebook authentication that allowed you to easily share articles and stories with your Facebook networks.  And somehow 2008 seems to have pre-dated the explosion of Internet memes. Twitter was not the same global medium it now is, with over 41 million unique visitors monthly (and 32 million tweets alone on Election Day), compared to just 4.5 million unique visitors a month at its peak in 2008. If anything, these past four years can be surmised into the shift towards the ‘connected economy’, enabled by social media.

For all of the innovation there has been, however, in some ways the world has become less connected. Facebook and Twitter which had once been openly available across China were now accessible only behind VPN — 1 billion people who by and large, are not part of this digital global square.  As governments continue to grapple with how to address the rise of social media, the number of countries that now censor the internet continues to grow.   (I did a study on this in 2010 … I wonder how it’s changed since).  And this week, China’s infamously slow internet was only made slower driven undoubtedly by the series of meetings being held in Beijing at the 18th Communist Party Congressional Meetings.

President Obama — this week we rejoice with you in celebrating the American Dream and moving forward together as a nation in preserving the vision that makes this country so, so very unique. And for the next four years, let us continue to innovate, listen, and collaborate in creating a fair and neutral digital environment, being sensitive of the cultural and historical concerns each nation may bear in this dialogue.  “The best is yet to come.”

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On Cultural Leadership and the Liberal Arts

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At the Shanghai Music Conservatory — a piano signed by all the great musical maestros that have passed through its halls.

One of the more happenstance events on my trip so far has been randomly participating in the 6th Annual Shanghai International Piano Competition (unfortunately, not as a pianist :)) in helping interview Robert Blocker, the Dean of Music at the Yale School of Music.  In his interview (where I was the interpreter), Dean Blocker articulated a thoughtfulness of the role of music and culture that inspired hope and delivered a clear vision of his own personal ethos — that it isn’t enough to be a gifted performer, but in that capacity, one must also strive to be a cultural leader in using the universal voice of the arts and music to connect cultures,and initiate and participate in programs that strive to give similar opportunities to those who may not otherwise have them, particularly youth (I was never planning to write about this but perhaps having been in hardened Shanghai for a few days, this brief encounter has left me thinking about our discussion for the past few hours). 

No stranger to China, Dean Blocker has been coming to China since the 1980s in various capacities as a cultural ambassador and connector between Asia and the various initiatives he’s led at both Yale and UCLA (where he was the presiding dean of the Department of World Arts and Cultures and the Center for Digital Art).  And in that time, he has seen how music has often been able to serve the capacity of being the connecting thread between communities. 

One of my favorite stories he shared was from a performance that Dean Blocker gave in 1998 with the Shanghai Symphony — before the final performance, there were a series of public recitals that were held, and at one of those recitals, a group of elder Shanghai natives gathered.  During one of the breaks in the recital, one of the ladies began to sing, a song that Dean Blocker recalled having learned from his grandmother as a young boy in Charleston, South Carolina.  To him, this epitomized the universal spirit of music, whose timeless messages transcend both time and cultures, and have the ability to create instantaneous bonds between people. 

And it is in this same spirit that Dean Blocker now teaches a class at the Yale School of Management, focusing on the analysis of music as a lens to view management.  “In music, you really learn to work in three ways,” said Blocker. “One, you learn how to work individually, second, in teams, and third, to read between the lines and the black and white notes on a music score to find your own interpretation.” 

Particularly in a country like China, whose current economic revival has been based largely on the backbone of a heavy emphasis on the sciences and math, I hope that this also sheds light on the importance of the liberal arts and in delivering performances that focus as much on individual artistic expression as it is about technical mastery.  And for Dean Blocker, the high-school football player and once pre-med student turned concert pianist, he epitomizes that spirit of self-discovery and definition in finding a path that is uniquely your own. “I was not very good student, but I think in the end, you always find your way. When I was once performing at a festival in the US, a reporter asked my first piano teacher what she ended up learning from me, to which she answered: patience. ” 

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