Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Tamil writing system as an app - a response to some comments

At least a couple of people raised the concern regarding whether the Tamil writing system proposal would require people to learn new sounds. It seems that the concern is about the audience for the writing system - - or as I would like to put it, the concern is regarding the market and any potential requirements placed by this product on the market's population. It would be useful to clarify at this point that the target market for this is people in the United States and Singapore. Furthermore, it is only for specialized users. It is only for people who would want to represent these sounds. It is not intended for elementary and middle school children, for example. Again, I would like to emphasize that this system is only intended for use by specialized users.

The reason for my choosing this population is not that this system would only work for specialized users from the United States and Singapore. The reason is that, first, this subject area is highly political and so I want to basically avoid all the politics around this by simply saying that this system is being made available for those who would like to use it. If you don't like it, don't use it. As simple as that. This also allows me to not worry too much about politics involving people in the Third World, academics in various departments in various universities, et cetera. These people may not have had the best educational opportunities and may therefore have trouble learning entirely new sounds (because they may be from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds). I am referring, of course, to the people in the Third World, the first population referenced. The question of whether this former population of people should be made to learn new sounds and letters arises (given that the educational system in the Third World is uneven in terms of quality) and this is certainly a valid concern. Second, there are many sociological concerns about whether new sounds should be introduced into a language in the first place. However, as I clarify below, I am not proposing to introduce any new sounds into Tamil. This system is intended simply to represent sounds that journalists and writers in Tamil already are required today to represent as part of their jobs.

Indeed, I have kept my system to what  I would like to call an optimal minimum - neither so little is proposed that no significant value is attained nor so much that it creates political problems. When I think back to some results I have seen in the field (based on some work I was doing while at Harvard Business School), it would appear that it would be better for languages to have fewer symbols and sounds, not more, especially since having a very large number of symbols and sounds may impose a heavier burden on poorer children (and note that I am talking about poor children in the Third World) who may already know to speak the language (as native speakers) but do not have family members who can teach them to read. This is indeed a good reason why policy makers would not want to allow new sounds in a language. In fact, I think that this may be the only one good reason why issues around language would acquire a political hue. It is for this reason that I am not proposing to introduce any new sounds into Tamil.

Because it is only for a restricted set of people, I can say that this system of diacritics is offered on a "take it or leave it" basis. If you don't like it, you don't have to use it. The system does not propose to add any new sounds into Tamil and so, as I mentioned to George Hart (and IIRC, also to Schiffman), it is sort of like the 'hook' for users of the English/Roman script. Most speakers of English don't know about the hook diacritic but it doesn't hurt them because the 'hook' is only used in languages and loan words where that particular sound needs to be represented.

I am approaching this as an organizational behaviorist/marketer. The concerns I have as an organization behaviorist/marketer are around such issues as : is there a problem being solved? Is there significant 'value' that can be attached to this solution?, et cetera. Also, as a business researcher, I have created what we call in marketing 'personas' to represent potential users of this system. One persona that might find this proposal useful : a journalist who must write down the names of Hindi movie actors for a Tamil audience. Another persona who might find this proposal useful is someone who wants to write a book listing places (planets, et cetera) in the Star Wars universe. By using organizational/marketing constructs, I am able to rather precisely identify a 'population' of individuals who could use this system and the manner in which they would use it. If this could be developed into an app, it would be very easy for users to convert between formats (such as from Harvard-Kyoto). An app based on this proposal could be really simple to use and absolutely intuitive. I expect the learning curve for this proposal to be no more than 10 minutes. If that.

Tamil has a rich and vibrant history stretching over centuries. I personally know by heart poetry that was written in Tamil centuries ago that still comes through today with all the beauty and richness with which it was conceived. Jean Cocteau once said "Poetry is indispensable – if I only knew what for". It is a pity that the man is dead. I believe I could have helped him understand some of the benefits of Tamil poetry to society, not the least of which is this fabulous conversation I have been able to have with George Hart and Harold Schiffman. Discourse such as this is essential for democracy in India.

Update (July 19): I have heard back from Prof. Harold Schiffman as well. This is in addition to Prof. George L. Hart (Prof. Hart concurs with me that this system has benefits). Please also see the update (posted today, July 7th) of the original post. Also, fixed text in the main post as part of this update.