On Textbooks

This little story is from my time as assistant dean, but it’s been three years, so I guess it’s fine to tell it now.

An officer of the student body approached me with a letter they had drafted. They were raising the issue of teachers who were requiring their classes to purchase textbooks that they themselves had written. I read through and handed it back to her.

“No,” I said.

“No? But…why?!”

“Because it doesn’t quite cover enough of what’s going on. Give me an hour, and I’ll show you what you can really bring up. If you like it, you can make it the official student body position.”

What follows is my version of their complaint (apologies if it’s a little long) —

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Leaving Academia

I stumbled into university teaching back in 2008. I was three years out of my last corporate job, a year out of managing the pharmacy in Dumaguete, back in Davao bouncing around with no real plan, and I finagled a part time gig at Ateneo which a year later became full time, master’s degree included.

I stumbled out of university teaching back in 2015. If I trace it back to its proximate cause, I stronglyu suspect it was when they asked me to become OIC assistant dean of computer studies the summer prior. Silly me, I accepted.

If it hadn’t been for that year-long stint as OIC assistant dean, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take a paid semester off. One doesn’t equate to the other, of course, and I certainly never planned it that way. But this is how it happened:

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Proverbs 26:11

“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”

Such was the phrase that turned over and over in my mind when I heard that A– had seized speakership of the lower house. Surprisingly, the thought came neither with anger nor with dismay but with bemusement. Three years down, this is the change that you all voted for?

As with many such biblical expressions, the proverb is fraught with meaning. I looked up its history and usage. Apparently in ancient times, dogs were considered unclean as they were scavengers of the dead. That a dog should consume its own vomit, this doesn’t need a long stretch of imagination — it is meant to evoke shame and revulsion.

The image of the fool is more interesting. Unlike our common modern association with diminished intellectual capacity, “the fool” in Proverbs is a person lacking moral behavior and discipline. Contrast this with “the wise”, who behaves righteously.

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Data is the New Oil!

Last Thursday my team and I attended a short seminar entitled “Data is the New Oil” at my old stomping grounds, Ateneo de Davao. I suspected it was a seminar aimed at students, more breadth than depth, and it turned out I was right: the coverage was practically textbook chapter one with a smattering of marketing rah-rah. But it was only an hour, it was happening during lunch, the speaker was from prestigious Carnegie Mellon, and it was in the good auditorium where the airconditioning was cool, so why not?

In the days leading up to the seminar, though, I was turning the title over in my mind. Data is the New Oil! What a tragic analogy!

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Metaphysics of Identity

Of the many cultural gifts of the Internet, a hidden gem is the term “showerthought.” The name already gives itself away, so there really isn’t much need for explanation. We’ve all had one come to mind at an odd moment when we were zoned out. It just took the meme machine of the Internet to call it for what it is.

Here’s a showerthought I came across recently: if the cells in the human body are replaced every ten years, are we the same person we were a decade ago? An intriguing thought, already invalidated by a fallacious premise, because not all our cells regenerate at the same rate, and some cells don’t regenerate at all. But still!

That idea recalls the thought experiment which we know as the Ship of Theseus. It’s an ancient conundrum, as if the name hasn’t already given it away. It goes like this: consider our titular ship, once majestic but now rotting away. Some carpenters decide to restore it, replacing a board here and some equipment there. At the end of the project, can we consider it to be the same ship? What if all the component pieces were replaced, albeit piecemeal, such that none of the original parts remain? Is it still the same ship?

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Ship of Theseus

Any long hiatus from this space probably benefits from some explanation of the absence and some updates since then. My last entry was in early March, when I ended a few weeks’ run writing about social media. Really, I had hoped for a longer streak, but the truth of the matter is I don’t have the same stamina that I used to. Such, I suppose, are the vagaries of old age.

I’ve been through many of these fits and starts throughout the years with Metro Post that I know the patterns well enough. Typically it starts with a significant event that I feel compelled to write about, but the work being unequal to the ambition, I end up missing the deadline. Thus passes the muse, unanswered.

This time around, the catalyst was the death of Fred Dael. I had the privilege of working with Fred all those many years ago when the call center industry in Dumaguete was just the germ of an idea in his mind and he gathered us like-minded volunteers of the TVB Group — J–, D–, V–, and a few starry-eyed friends. (Was it 2002 or 2003 that we started courting the call centers? Certainly no later than 2004 or 2005. Oh, God, it’s been so long.)

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…and we’re back…

…though in what ultimate shape or form, if there ever is one, we don’t know what it will be.

I said goodbye to my old blog a few months ago. At fifteen years, it was a good run, but I felt that, for all the changes that it saw me through, it didn’t reflect me anymore. I kept it up mostly for the traffic but even the ad income wasn’t really enough to justify it. Even then, it just feels a little silly now so I’m archiving all the old content and starting fresh with this new one.

No plans, really. Heck, I don’t really know if I’ve still got the legs for this. My other blog attempt is an intermittent undertaking, and mostly links that I find interesting with a view to going back and rereading them. But what the hey, here it is. And here I am.

The Church on Social Media

December 12, 2012. A message from Pope Benedict XVI: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.” While not exactly an early adopter or a trendsetter, the Catholic Church can be surprisingly agile when it comes to using technology.

For the Church, technology is just a means, and when it comes to this subject, the nexus is still on human dignity. Early on, the Church was already cautiously cognizant of the far-ranging effects of social media. In his address to the Pontifical Council for Culture in February 2017, Pope Benedict said of social media: “…the new means of communication that encourage and at times give rise to continuous and rapid changes in mindset, morality and behaviour.”

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The Project

By now it should be clear that I have a little project running with regard to this column. Instead of random topics, I’ve been sticking to one theme across these past few weeks. That theme just happens to be the dangers of social media.

I started with my experiences in shedding my social media accounts and the resulting mental freedom that the decision afforded me. Then I covered how some tech executives who were instrumental in the success of these social media companies were beginning to have serious second thoughts about what they had created. This was followed by the effects of overexposure to technology on children. I rounded it out with a piece on the physical effects of our gadgets and suggestions on how, based on my own experiences, to detoxify from social media.

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Blue Light Menace

I don’t think I’ll ever be truly able to escape the clutches of my smartphone. Even after divesting myself of social media and games, there’s still a huge chunk of my day-to-day activities that’s tied to the system, not counting the actual phone calls and text messages. For one thing, I do my daily expense recording on my phone. For another, that’s also where I do my language learning — currently French and Mandarin — especially handy to have during the down times. And finally, my podcasts and audiobooks. I tried switching to a dumb phone but it didn’t take.

Still, I have made some changes with my relationship. I don’t keep my phone by my bedside anymore. Before I turn in, I leave it in the living room to charge, right beside my tablet. Now it’s no longer the last thing I see at night nor the first thing I see in the morning.

The benefits were readily apparent. I’m able to sleep quickly at night, and soundly, too. When I wake up in the morning, I am more reflective and calm. There’s that feeling of peace when you’re all alone with your thoughts, nothing nagging and persisting for your attention.

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