I am privileged enough to know a second language (although as the years pass, my proficiency is faltering…). The government and the military have a great need for foreign language proficiency for its employees (though apparently that isn’t much of a requirement for U.S. diplomats…). Given their need, they coordinated with the University of Maryland to develop a cognitive test that is supposed to determine how proficient someone can become in a foreign language. It may soon be publicly available, but honestly I don’t know if I’d be interested in taking it. While helpful as an aptitude test for job functions, oftentimes the interest and the attempt at proficiency is a great help for cultural relations with non-American countries. I’d be concerned that a test like this would cause people to give up languages earlier–if they know they’d never become fully proficient, why learn more than the basics or general education requirement?
In terms of making foreign languages more accessible, however, there is also the matter of translations. I’m currently writing about how language and national identity can have a tendency to segment the Internet, but it also has an impact on literature. One man wants to change that, by encouraging others to start their own publishing houses. He did, and focuses primarily on translated works from Russia and Central and Southern America, as he started his publishing house in Dallas, Texas. It’s a great read, with insights about the publishing business and notes about the commonality (or lack thereof) of translated literature in the United States.
Here’s what was important this week…
I spend a lot of time writing, but it never seems like enough. Partially because I spend so much time reading the writing of others, and partially because a lot of the writing that I do is IT documentation for my job. I feel truly accomplished when I manage to finish a blog post (there are at least 11 partially completed, with an entire doc full of more ideas). A lot of the time that I spend working toward a blog post is spent reading, tweeting, and tumbling (how I archive the articles I read). I tell myself it’s like research, and I do find it to be valuable network-building especially when I find a rich creative environment lacking at times. Writer Emily Gould told herself many of the same things, until she had a realization:
“For many years I have been spending a lot of time on the internet. In fact, I can’t really remember anything else I did in 2010. I tumbld, I tweeted, and I scrolled. This didn’t earn me any money but it felt like work. I justified my habits to myself in various ways. I was building my brand. Blogging was a creative act—even “curating” by reblogging someone else’s post was a creative act, if you squinted.”
She was trying to write a book, but only spent time on the internet. (Jacobin has more on the literal labor of social networks online).
My boss was discussing the differences of Microsoft, Google, and Apple today when it comes to utility for business. While Microsoft tends to be somewhat derided for people from my generation (the sometime-scorned Millenials) for their bulky software packages and security-hole-ridden Internet Explorer browser, they are an industry standard. Why? They make static products that don’t change much. Not very innovative, but exactly what a business needs. Businesses create business processes that hinge on these very programs and the staticness of those programs, and their worlds are thrown out of whack when they change drastically.
My workplace is in the process of transitioning to Google Mail, and with that has come a lot of negative feedback from users. Google and Apple share a common characteristic–making changes that benefit them that they paternalistically decide will benefit their users. However, when their users attempt to build processes based on, for example, the structure of the compose window and the available fields when composing a message, and Google changes all of that because they wanted to, our users are thrown off kilter. Apple is a business standard, and falling out of favor with some, for design-intensive professions like photography and graphic design. They’re falling out of favor with some for their emphasis on innovation–removing previously standard computing elements like optical drives in favor of slimmer design. Some changes they’ve made reduce the company’s ability to be a trustworthy ally to design professionals.
Google currently offers no active support for users, providing a feedback form and support pages and forums for users, but no contact information beyond that. They also consistently maintain the paternalistic innovation-for-the-user design motivation–at times disregarding the business needs of their users in Google Apps for Business and Google Apps for Education. It will be interesting to see if Google continues to innovate as it does currently, or if an emphasis on the business needs of larger consumers will inspire it to make changes.