The complete #TweetOrToastQuiz [16 Jan 2015]

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In case you missed out on the #TweetOrToastQuiz that we have every Friday on Twitter at 1pm IST, here is the complete list of questions for this week. Each question winner gets a flipkart voucher (no limits on how many you can win. Get all 10 right before others and you could walk away with Rs 1000 worth vouchers)

The Answers are below the questions. Come play next week. Follow @kwenchlib on twitter and stay tuned.

1 Q1: Vinod Rai, former CAG of India is often referred to as a crusader against corruption. What was the title of his book?
2 Q2: Kiran Bedi had two bibliographies written about her. “Kiran Bedi, the kindly baton” was one. Name the Second.
3 Q3: The adventures of Asterix was written by Rene Goscinny. Who was the Illustrator in the 2-man team?
4 Q4: Name the amateur Kolkata based detective created by film-maker Satyajit Ray (hint: the name closely resembles a dessert)
5 Q5:Name the Indian author of Birtish descent famous for children’s books like “Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra” (hint:not a 007)
6 Q6: Jhumpa Lahiri’s debut short story collection won the 2000 Pultizer Prize. Name the book.
7 Q7: Phantom comics have been a favourite of children for decades. Name the Creator.
8 Q8: Name the Brand:World’s largest travel guide book publisher.HQ:Australia,Accquired from BBC by American Billionaire in 2013.
9 Q9: Dan Brown is famous for his novels Angels&Demons and The Da Vinci Code. Which was his first novel?
10 Q10: Dilbert the comic strip is famous for satirical office humour. Name the character who is the “Evil HR Director”

 

And the answers:

1. Not Just An Accountant

2. I Dare!

3. Albert Uderzo

4. Feluda

5. Ruskin Bond

6. Interpreter of Maladies

7. Lee Falk

8. Lonely Planet

9. Digital Fortress

10. Catbert

Run for your lives! The Devices are coming!

eReader_

Cyberman: Daleks and Cybermen; together we can upgrade the universe.

Dalek: You propose an alliance?

Cyberman: That is correct.

Dalek: Request denied! (Dr. Who TV Series, Doomsday)

So, here is my no-brainer statement for (rest of) the year. The devices are becoming omnipresent. First it was mobiles, now eReaders and wearable-tech are threatening to take over. With Google, Facebook and other companies working on means to track everything you search, type, say and do, the devices will soon be omniscient. And if some of the people are to be believed, they will be omnipotent without much delay.

Such dreadful depressing thoughts on Christmas Eve!

Actually, its Christmas that got me thinking about devices in the first place. Last week it struck me that gifts had to be bought! I head to the local mall (buying Christmas gifts from eCommerce sites is just plain wrong even if it would save me a fortune), ignore the marketing masterstroke of the soft-drink company that has rendered Santa and everything about Christmas Red and turn to the store of my favourite gizmo peddler.

This year, the display case was covered with eReaders and tablets. Even mobile phones and SLR cameras (last years top sellers) were hidden somewhere in the corner. All I could see was Kindle, Nook and iPads of all sizes and shapes (and prices). It was hard to see how much longer the dead-tree publishing industry could fend off the onslaught.

As eReaders (and wearable tech) are becoming mainstream, studies into their effect on people are being conducted with gusto. The latest buzz is the one by Harvard Medical School found that eReaders have an adverse effect on the sleep hormone melatonin. There are concerns about radiation from wearable tech like pedometers and smart watches too.

A friend of mine (eReader hater) told me in a fit of anger during a much-protracted discussion on the future of books – “It’s (devices are) the work of the Devil. It’s right there in the name. De-Vice – Vice of the Devil”

Ridiculous Dan-Brown style theories aside, I must admit on the topic of eReaders versus Print, I have been ambivalent. Yes I have a few favourite old books (the Fountainhead copy I mentioned in my previous post) but I have never been averse to reading eInk instead of actual ink. There are those who swear by the printed version. In fact an author posted the following on GoodReads:

“Though I enjoy the occasional eBook from time to time, I will only stop reading books printed on paper when they pry them from my cold, dead, withered hands, and even then, they will be hard pressed to take them from me.” – H.L.Stephens

Wow! That’s categorical. I have often wondered what people really love so much about books in the print form. Is there really something special or is it just a result of conditioning – most of the people who swear by the printed version are ones who really haven’t seen any other version till quite recently.

My personal poll (of people I know prefer printed books to eReaders, and can pester to answer such silly questions) revealed the following. 12% said they preferred printed books because they were easier to read when lying down, 17% said they liked printed books for the “touch”, eReaders were well…eReaders, and the overwhelming majority said they liked the “smell” of a new book and then the smell when they reopen it (if ever) years later. (One person actually said she likes printed books because they look nice in the bookshelf, eReaders wouldn’t)

Now I was hooked. I did some searching about the source of the book “smell” and quickly realized that it is a grossly under researched topic. Well long story and many dead ends later it boils down to the fact that the “intoxicating” smell of a new book is largely a function of the paper and the chemicals used in its preparation, the ink used for printing and the glue used in the binding. That smell might actually be intoxicating without people realizing it (Glue-and Bleach- sniffing anyone?) – of course the quantity is too small to do any permanent damage.

And the old book smell? Well it seems that acid hydrolysis (due to the breakdown of cellulose in the paper) and sometimes moss (if stored in moist conditions) contribute to that effect.

If you are now thinking (like I was) that all eReader manufacturers need to do is somehow add the “smell” to the reader to convert all the fence sitters – aha! There is a company that already does it! (And I don’t think it has worked like it does with cookies and biscuits)

So, the biggest barrier to eReaders taking over seems to be more psychological than actual problems with the technology. You can lend eBooks now on Kindle, you can sell eBooks, you can carry thousands of books in one small device (try lugging your bookcase onto a flight!), you can order books at your whim at 2 in the morning (Amazon and others sure hope you do a lot of it), you can read reviews before you order the book, you can read snippets, you can browse endlessly. In short there is no plausible reason for printed books to continue ruling the roost.

Except that they do!

Well people can’t explain why oil prices are suddenly tanking. But they are. That’s the problem with people – they seem to have a mind of their own!

Cyber Leader: This broadcast is for humankind. Cybermen now occupy every land mass on this planet. But you need not fear. Cybermen will remove fear. Cybermen will remove sex and class and colour and creed. You will become identical, you will become like us. (Dr. Who TV Series, Doomsday)

Bottom Line: eReaders are here to stay. They represent a paradigm shift in the way publishing and consumption of content works. Printed books are here for some more time (at least) but at some time they will have to give way. Technology will eventually improve to the point that all the psychological barriers (touch, smell) and medical concerns (eye strain, sleep patterns) will be overcome. Then other than the vested interests of the incumbents (Publishers, Printing press owners, Book Distributers) there will be no other reason to maintain status quo. Printed books (like clay tablets and papyrus) will become collectibles, but chances are I won’t be around to see that day (which is a pity, because that’s a tale I would love to tell my grandchildren.)

As Douglas Adams puts it succinctly

“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food”

Come on, the man knows the answer to the ultimate question, surely the future of eReaders is no big deal to predict.

Oh and by the way: Merry Christmas!

References and Acknowledgements: 

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Medical Experts Warn About Health Risks Of Wearable Tech, Inigo Monzon , Design & Trend, Oct, 23, 2014

What Causes the Smell of New & Old Books?, CompoundChem.com

smellofbooks.com/aromas/

E-books ‘damage sleep and health,’ doctors warn,James Gallagher
Health editor, BBC News website

We are what we read (or rather – a defense of fiction)

LadyReadingFiction_As we rolled out the all-new version of the Kwench Library in the Kwench Employee Engagement Platform over the weekend, I got thinking about the reading preferences of people. On kwench we have over 300k users who love to read all kinds of books. The dashboards offer an unparalleled insight into what “Corporate India” likes to read and sometimes data can prove popular perceptions wrong!

Now I am a big fan of fiction. My reading habits have been formed with spending countless hours poring over comics and then graduating to novels. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, R.K.Narayan, Conan Doyle, Ayn Rand, Agatha Christie; Alistair MacLean all had a deep influence on me at various stages of my life. By the time Dan Brown, Rowling and Tolkien got published I was an adult, but I was more than happy to read those books too.

Interestingly some of my best friends can’t stand fiction. (Sort of puts a formidable challenge to the birds-of-a-feather theory) They recoil in horror when I try to regale them with the story of the latest blockbuster I finished. These puritans wouldn’t be caught dead with a well-thumbed novel. Only hard-bound business books please! (And I cringe before hiding my favourite copy of Fountainhead in my bag.)

Ever so often I wondered why these rather imaginative and intelligent professionals didn’t feel the thrill of being transported to another world. How can following Holmes or Poirot as they go about solving a murder not be exciting? Or how can the antics of Swami and his friends not transport the reader to a small town in pre-Independence India?

Interestingly I came across an article in the Sunday Review of the NYTimes – titled “How Reading Transforms Us”. Finally some research that seemed to back up what I had felt intuitively all these years. The effect fiction has on readers is very different from that of non-fiction. I had to read more. The rest of this post is essentially a short synopsis of the research by Maja Djikic et al. of the University of Toronto.

 Fictional Stories are Simulations designed to run not on computers but on minds”

Researchers have been pondering over the difference in the impact fiction and non-fiction has on readers. Bal and Veltkamp have proposed that fiction is ‘engaging and of emotional interest’. Put in other words, fiction is capable of generating emotions whereas non-fiction due to its informational nature might be engaging but not necessarily associated with emotions.

As all those of read fiction have experienced at some time or the other, readers of well-written (i.e. engaging) fictional stories often find themselves identifying with a character in the story. The degree of this is a function of the personality of the reader. In experiments on ‘identification’, researchers Kaufman and Libby concluded that instead of considering the events of the story from a neutral point of view, readers who are high in experience-taking ‘relinquish some of their own individuality’ and align with the mindset of the character in the story. (I have had friends back in university days act like Howard Roark after reading Fountainhead)

There are three primary kinds of simulations attributed to fiction:

Simulation of complexes of several processes: Stories involving relationships and social interactions is often based on complex interactions. It is the implicit understanding of those complexes that improve the reader’s appreciation of the situation (and hence the story). These ‘fictional simulations’ enable the reader to imagine possible situations and outcomes thereby belying the popular assumption that fiction is simply a description of some sort.

Simulation of empathy: When readers interact with an engaging story, they understand or empathize with the emotions of others.

In an experiment, researchers asked readers to read a Sherlock Holmes story and the control group was given a non-fiction piece of the same length that was based on newspaper reports. Interestingly the readers who were deeply involved in the Sherlock Holmes story became more empathetic while those who were less involved actually became less empathetic. Such effects were not seen in the control group.

The theory-of-mind: Researchers have proposed that an important aspect of reading fiction is to work out what the characters are feeling or thinking.

In a very interesting experiment, Speer et. al. had people read a short story while being scanned with a fMRI (a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine. When in the story the protagonist pulled a cord to turn on the light, the part of the reader’s brain associated with grasping objects was activated.

The very interesting observation that Djikic and others present is on the Change of Cognitive Empathy among the participants who had low ‘Openness’. There was a marked change in the empathy levels of those who have low openness and read a short story instead of an essay. The study also found that people who had been reading fiction for at least five years scored higher on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index.

To sum up it seems that those who read fiction are more responsive to social cues and are able to better empathize with others. Much more research needs to be done before we can start generalizing the conclusions.

But there is enough research to back up the calls for doing away with the stigma that reading fiction is merely a leisure activity. Reading fiction does contribute in cognitive development and encourages people to ‘place themselves in others shoes.’ Empathy towards others in the work place is one of the most important drivers of engagement. As the researchers point out in the conclusion of the paper – “Of course, we can understand others by interacting with them, but in real life misunderstanding often causes severe upsets. Fictional literature, in which we can misunderstand without suffering negative consequences, may be a gentler teacher.

Acknowledgements and References 

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1. How Reading Transforms Us, Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic, Sunday Review, The New York Times, Dec 19, 2014. 

2. Reading Other Minds, Effects of literature on empathy, Maja Djikic, Keith Oatley and Mihnea C. Moldoveanu, University of Toronto

Week #36[Book of the Week] Tribes: We need *You* to lead us

Tribes_BookCover_Ah! Seth Godin. That guy who writes about things like Purple Cows. (Think screeching brakes on the road when you do a double take).

So here we are with the book of the week – Tribes!

A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.

 

This is not a “how-to” book on leadership. Let me repeat that – this is not a “how-to” book. But then Seth doesn’t write how-to’s with pyramids and circles and lists. His style is to make short statements that force you to think and this book is no exception.

The book talks about tribes (groups of people who come together around an idea or something they are passionate about) and the need for a leader – someone who can ignite that spark and keep people motivated. If this is starting to sound a lot like Social Networks, Employee Engagement, Enterprise Collaboration, ERGs then that’s because those concepts are not very different.

So if you are looking for a quick read (albeit a bit repetitive) and a solid dose of motivation to get off the chair and start something you are passionate about – this book is for you. If you are looking for a workbook with plans on how to create excitement and spread ideas, you want to give it a skip. There are books that claim to do those things, this one doesn’t (claim or do it too).

Here’s Seth himself talking at TED about ‘The tribes we lead’.

 

Related posts:

Social Intranets: Your key to a “Knowledge-Creating Company”

Rise of ERGs as an Employee Engagement Initiative.