Archive for April, 2009

Mobile Technology will Be Key In The Next Race To The White House

Barely six months into the new presidency and political strategists are already planning ahead for the 2012 elections. The 2008 elections saw technology and the Internet catapult a fairly unknown senator into the limelight  — and into the Oval Office.

“The game-changer in the Obama campaign…was that technology was not an add-on: It represented a carefully considered element of almost every critical campaign function,” says EchoDitto’s Michael Silberman.

According to an article on, new technologies by 2012 will only serve to level the playing field, regardless of the candidate’s resources.

“The availability of low-cost video devices, video websites with social networking features and even mobile devices with one-button upload capabilities will allow voters more engagement. Campaigns will have the capacity to act or react, respond, pinpoint and address the questions that specific voters care most about.”

While sophisticated technology and innovative social media tools will be pivotal to the next elections, advanced mobile technology will probably have the most significant impact on the race to the White House.

The tech-savvy Obama team used mobile technology extensively during the 2008 elections — from iPhone applications to geo-targeted text messages — to connect with voters. However, technological advancements in mobile technology will completely revolutionize political campaigning in the future. Smart phones will get cheaper and more sophisticated. Like Moore’s law suggests: Computation gets twice as fast and half as cheap every two years. Mobile networks and platforms, too, will be more robust and cost-effective.

phoneMobile giving —  donations through cellphones, now restricted mainly to charitable organizations — may become an integral fundraising tool  for the next elections. Mobile phone owners may even be able to use their handsets to cast votes within the next few years.  Recruiting volunteers, organizing rallies and monitoring elections through mobile services will not be uncommon, too.

Digital content, social networks in particular, will increasingly be accessed — and distributed — through mobile devices. eMarketer forecasts that over 800 million people worldwide will be participating in a social network via their mobile phones by 2012, up from 82 million in 2007 — allowing users to actively engage with digital content.

Accessibility, speed and cost-effective mobile technology will equip the common man with tools to influence opinion — and drive change in the 2012 presidential race.

As Jonathan Spalter, Chairman of Mobile Future, puts it:

“Anyone involved in political organizing should look at the growth of mobile communication as the next Holy Grail of American and grassroots advocacy.”


The Starbucks Experience

I’ve had my share of grumpy Starbucks baristas who bark orders across the store, refuse to translate the foreign language they call a menu, and God forbid, I ask for extra whipped cream with whole milk, and they look at me like I’ve committed blasphemy.

So when my classmate blogged about their poor customer service, I was tempted to agree. Except a friendly barista at the Starbucks cafe on the corner of 15th & K proved otherwise. starbucks_logo_01

After having a particularly awful day last December, I entered the Starbucks cafe opposite the Washington Post office, hoping to seek refuge in a mocha and a chocolate marble cake. I placed my order and reached for my wallet — only to find that I had left it at home. Embarrassed, I slowly whispered to the barista across the counter, asking him to cancel my order, half expecting him to reprimand me for wasting his time.

So I was completely taken aback when, instead of admonishing me in front of the serpentine queue of restless, caffeine-deprived customers, he smiled and handed me the mocha — insisting I take it.

“It’s alright,” he said. “You make sure you have a good day.”

A hot beverage and a random act of kindness? He just made sure I did.

Redefining Beauty

There has been an interesting discussion brewing among my classmates about the distorted perception of beauty, and I was reminded of a video that — for me — had served as a reality check.

Constantly barraged with ads that hold us to an impossible standard of  beauty, it’s no wonder that we never feel satisfied with the way we look. According to Newsweek, eight- to 12-year-olds in this country already spend more than $40 million a month on beauty products, and teens spend another $100 million.

“Body dissatisfaction can lead to very real consequences—and a hefty debt. A lifetime of manis and pedis could cover four years at a public university; hair and face treatments would pay for a private college.”

That’s serious money. For impossible standards.

There is a growing need to redefine beauty, which is why the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty came as a refreshing change amidst the airbrushed faces and photoshopped bodies.

dove-grey-gorgeouspreview1The Dove campaign challenged stereotypes and inspired women to embrace their own beauty. Using real women to promote its products and intent on widening the definition of beauty, the Dove Campaign distinguished itself from its competition.

Their efforts were met with an overwhelming response because it was more than just about selling beauty products. It was about stimulating debate and inspiring action. It persuaded opinion leaders to rethink stereotypes, positioned the campaign as a dialogue and used real people as brand ambassadors.

The campaign worked. For it challenged the norm. Redefined beauty.

And proved that grey can be gorgeous.

The Changing Face of War


If the ongoing conflict in Gaza is anything to go by, it’s clear that the definition of war has changed.

The battle grounds have shifted — and moved online. This time with new frontiers and shinier weapons.

Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used to express political views and rally support, while Second Life is the new gathering ground to protest attacks.

Israeli human rights group Gisha chose animation to raise consciousness about the difficulties facing Gazans who remain confined to the territory.

Last year, the Israeli military started its own YouTube channel to distribute footage of precision air strikes, while the Israeli consulate in New York hosted a press conference on Twitter to respond to questions from the public about Gaza.

But tweeting, according to a blog post on Wired, is passé.

“The latest social media advance combines tools like Twitter, text messaging, and online mapping to gather up first-hand reports, straight from Gaza. The effort, from Al Jazeera Labs, just got started; the reporting is still spotty, and the technology is very much in the testing phase. But the idea is for residents of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank to send quick updates about the conflict from their computers or mobile phones, through SMS or Twitter. The results are then verified, and posted to a Microsoft Virtual Earth map.”

Technology and the Internet have completely changed the face of this rapidly evolving “war of words.”

David Saranga, the head of media relations for the Israeli consulate, in New York says:

“Since the definition of war has changed, the definition of public diplomacy has to change as well.”

Public diplomacy or propaganda? You decide.

Battling The Daily Commute — Mumbai Style

I came across a post about Metro Etiquette, written by my classmate Shayla. While she loves the district’s public transportation, she does have a few issues — issues that, perhaps, DC commuters are all too familiar with.

Take the people who insist on “sharing” their music with the rest of the coach, for instance. Or those who catch up on their sleep, rather noisily, during the morning commute and, as Shayla puts it, the “dry and uninterested tone” of the metro operators.

“The metro is a very public space and filling it with these annoying things really make the ride less enjoyable.”

Maybe that metro rider manual isn’t such a bad idea, Shayla.

But in all honesty, traveling in DC is a breeze compared to traveling in my city, Mumbai. I love my city but its public transportation has some catching up to do. While Mumbai would probably collapse without its trains – the dependable suburban train system ferries some seven million people each day – traveling in the city is a completely different story.

No one can call themselves a true Mumbaiite without having traveled the buses and trains of the city. It’s a privilege – earned only after you have weathered the city’s public transport system.

You know you’re a seasoned commuter in Mumbai when:

ob-aj418_mumbai_20070417131124You travel three stops in the direction opposite to your destination so that you actually find the space to board your train — a routine struggle, with many forced to precariously hang out the doors.

You’re armed and ready – bags slung across shoulders – while boarding the bus that will leave, with or without you, after halting for precisely two seconds at the designated bus stop.

You have the exact fare in your hand before you board the bus. Reach for it once you’re inside the bus amidst the sweaty, irate passengers all fighting for the same square inch of space – while warding off wandering hands – and you’ll know why it is bad idea.

You head for the exit – two stops before your destination — skillfully navigating the swarming crowds. You’re lucky if you make it to the exit in time. You’re even luckier if you can actually get off.

You know the lame beggar sweeping the floors of the coach may “miraculously” make a dash for the exit just as the train pulls out of the station – your handbag in tow.

You know it is routine for women to shop for vegetables, peel them then dice them – all while inside the local train.

You are not surprised when you’re stuck in an overcrowded bus for over five hours because the city is flooded – again.

You don’t flinch when you find your bus fitted with wire meshes to protect its glass windows — and the people inside. Another day of expected political unrest. Nothing the city hasn’t seen before.

You take the train to work less than eight hours after bombs across the city blow up local trains in vicious terrorist attacks. Just how many times can you stay home in fear?

You do it.

Because you’ve done it before.

Because you’ll do it again.

Surfing Singapore

As a sailor’s daughter, I had often heard colorful stories about Singapore — it has one of the world’s busiest ports. It is also a major international financial hub of the Far East. A lucrative business and tourist destination, the country — slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington, DC — has beckoned to me on more than one occasion.

I decided to track the pulse of the country — from 9,664 miles away — and there was no better place to find it than explore its blogosphere. I used  Global Voices Online, an international blog aggregation community, as my map to this foreign world.

Reading the blogs featured on Global Voices Online, it quickly became evident that the overarching topic was the downward spiraling economy and rising unemployment numbers. Bloggers offered opinions on everything from the social impact of the financial crisis to survival tips to cope with the global downturn.

One blogger writes:

“The recession contradicts Singapore’s reputation as a “safe haven” for global investors. In recent weeks, Singapore’s economic fundamentals have been exposed to be less than solid: inflation has worsened and income gap is rising. Job losses will affect Singapore’s migrant workers.”

Another blogger talks about unemployed foreign investment bankers flocking to Singapore — and driving their salaries down.

It was evident. The economy had not spared Singapore either. In fact, it was one of the first Asian countries to be hit. Exploring the international blogosphere does serve as an effective eye opener.

Take a look at some of the most talked-about topics on Singapore’s blogosphere. The size of the words indicate the frequency with which they are mentioned.

picture-111While most of the featured blogs discussed the recession, the Singapore blogosphere also revealed some very interesting — and varied — posts. One post discusses concerns about media owners using the Copyright Act to selectively strangle and silence the Singapore blogosphere. Another blogger shares her views on how the Merlion, Singapore’s national icon, has been desecrated over the years. One particularly irked blogger writes about why Singapore cannot succeed in the Arts just yet.

Surfing the country’s internet waves was not only fascinating but extremely informative as well. I learned that Singapore was ranked the 10th most expensive city in the world and it was also credited with being the most the most wired country in the world.

There is a treasure trove of information out there and thanks to the bridge bloggers I found on my sojourn, I will definitely be tapping into the international blogosphere more often.

As for migrating to Singapore? I think I’ll wait the recession out.

Wandering Wikipedia

Well, I’ll admit it. Editing a Wikipedia entry is not my favorite job. Figuring out how to edit a Wikipedia entry was relatively easy. Making the edits was difficult. Acutely aware of not trying to offend any Wikipedia-obsessed editors who were ‘watching’ the page I was editing, I made the changes I thought were required. I was careful to provide sufficient references, cite credible sources and ensure that I was adding useful information.editcut

Satisfied with my changes, I hit save and waited for the bloodbath to begin. As a first-time Wikipedia editor, I had been warned: the seasoned Wiki editors were ruthless.  To be fair, Wikipedia does warn you:

“If you don’t want your writing to be edited mercilessly or redistributed for profit by others, do not submit it.”

Five minutes later. Intact. Maybe the ‘wiki warriors’ were busy.

A few hours later. Untouched.

The next day. Miracle. It’s all still there.

Maybe they still hadn’t found my page.  Or maybe, I had managed to please the Wikipedia Gods.

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