Popweekly: Digest for 06.28.10

g20 police
Violent thugs and criminals disguised as protestors create mayhem in Toronto. Photo by poyanp.
As I enter my summer travel schedule I’ll be postponing gathering my weekly link digest until my return to Taiwan in September. My time will be tight and this is perhaps the most time consuming piece I prepare for Popwuping (and the most under read as well).

Rent a White Guy – Confessions of a fake businessman from Beijing

Not long ago I was offered work as a quality-control expert with an American company in China I’d never heard of. No experience necessary–which was good, because I had none. I’d be paid $1,000 for a week, put up in a fancy hotel, and wined and dined in Dongying, an industrial city in Shandong province I’d also never heard of. The only requirements were a fair complexion and a suit.
And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image–particularly, the image of connection–that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”

Indian outsourcing firms find greener pastures

As the business matures in India, companies are setting up offices in rural areas, with lower costs and, possibly, fewer office romances. In the process, they’re bringing middle-class values and modern aspirations to the tradition-bound heartland.
V. Bharadwaj had never used a computer before landing a data-entry job at an outsourcing firm here in India’s Karnataka state. Now he spends his days quietly tap-tapping on a keyboard in a converted school building next to a field of dirt-caked sheep.
Initially his mother was worried for her only child, fearful the 20-year-old would meet the “bad” women who populate the wanton call centers of Indian TV and movies. That changed, however, with his first paycheck, more than his parents ever made, and a new sari for his mother’s birthday.

Designing better urban noise

Earlier this year, Deborah Hall, a psychology lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, gave a talk about how listeners react to different urban soundscapes when put into a fMRI machine. It turns out that loudness is not the only factor that determines how people react to urban soundscapes. A perception of pleasantness actually changes the way we feel about sounds. Loud bird song is far more pleasant than equally loud beeping.
If there is no way, then, to make these sounds less loud (for reasons of safety) could we not have more bird-song, rustling leaves and waterfalls in our urban soundscapes? Dr Hall says
…while it is probably not possible to redesign warning alarms (like tube or lift doors closing) a lot of unpleasant noise can come from ongoing sounds in the background, especially the constant rumble of traffic sounds. In Sheffield planners have built a long water feature (water running down a wall) that separates pedestrians leaving the railway station from the dual carriageway around the city centre. This makes the five-minute walk to the shops very pleasant.

Social Networking Affects Brains Like Falling in Love

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has discovered, for the first time, that social networking triggers the release of the generosity-trust chemical in our brains. And that should be a wake-up call for every company.
What explains the need of our BlackBerry-bearing, Twitter-tweeting Facebook friends for constant connectivity? Are we biologically hardwired to do it? Do our brains react to tweeting just as they do to our physical engagement with people we trust and enjoy?
The answers could have profound ramifications. As Zak and others deepen their study of oxytocin, we may better understand why people with friends live longer and get sick less, and why we are compelled to be social animals online and off. If these changes apply in the world of social media, the implications for business — for every brand, company, and marketer trying to understand the now intimately networked world — could be significant. Yes, there may be a dark side to all this: What if corporations come to understand human behavior and its root mechanisms so well that they can manipulate our biochemistry to trick us into buying more? But that’s a question for later.

Prince George’s bans student cellphone use during school day

That silent, studious classroom? Looks can deceive, say Prince George’s County educators, who have fired the latest volley in a technological arms race that pits student against teacher.
There is an epidemic of under-the-desk text messages during class, a virtual economy of exam pictures posted to Facebook, a trade in school fight videos on YouTube, they say. To combat it, the county school board voted Thursday to ban cellphones and other electronics during the school day, even as many school systems across the country are loosening their rules.
Also: A ringing endorsement for Prince George’s cellphone ban
We have created a culture of rampant attention deficit disorder. The fact that some parents object to the cellphone ban by the Prince George’s County school board tells us that this cultural warp has infected multiple generations, and many adults are unable to model appropriate behavior for their children.
People in business meetings surreptitiously text under the table. You see people in restaurants with phones buzzing on the table. Friends are distracted by work messages. Real life becomes background noise to the latest intrusion. As a social work supervisor, I’ve had to remind staffers to give their cellphones a rest during supervision and case conferences.