Jun 16, 2020

My empty mind

A few weeks ago, I did an online meditation course in which we met every day for a week for two hours to meditate and discuss various different techniques. 

After doing that course and reflecting on outside work activities that I truly enjoy, I came to realise that there were many activities I engaged in that were more for the purpose of keeping me busy than legitimate interest. At the time, I didn't think I had too much to loose by committing to activities that I didn't have a strong interest in. I picked up Chinese  class because knowing to speak chinese is generally a good to have. I went to learn rollerblading with friends because it's cool to be able to rollerblade. In other words, I was as easy target for activities that weren't essential to my survival or even to my well being, but were just "nice to haves". My thinking was that worst case, I would loose time and money that I may not have spent on anything useful per se anyway. 

However, lately, because of lesser activites to choose from and the consequence of my meditation course, I found myself loosing interest in some activities that I once thought were a good use of time. They suddenly lost meaning, and the initial allure they had of keeping me busy no longer felt like meaning enough. So I ended up dropping a few activities and not picking up new ones in place. As a result, I had fewer things to do and more time on my hands. 

In some ways, this felt quite strange because I was used to having every minute of every day full with activities. Even during moments I had something to do, I noticed an emptiness because I had fewer things to think about and lesser multi-tasking to do than usual. My mind was noticeably less busy at all times, which almost made me feel less useful to world. I hear that many people tend to feel more valuable if they are busy all the time, so that is likely the same societal norm that made me feel less useful. 

At first I thought of this as a negative thing that I should try to resolve by reading or learning more with my spare time, which would at least lead to my mind being less empty, even if I weren't being productive all the time per se. I also started to socialise online a bit more, which certainly made me feel more busy.

But recently, when Singapore announced that it would be significantly reducing measures implying that we could socialise again, I suddenly remembered that feeling of having a lot to do. Somehow, that feeling of being busy no longer feels good or meaningful because there is no space in my head to think about things that actually matter to me. There are times when I want to think about equal access to education for people in poor countries, because that is something that truly matters to me and feels meaningful. But it's been a long time since I've thought about that given all the time I spend keeping myself "busy" with things that I don't care half as much about. Having a lot of activities to do again almost felt like noise that keeps me from thinking about things that truly matter. So as far as I can, I'd like to try and keep my empty mind while I can. 

Jun 8, 2020

Going back out

Last week, on June 2, Singapore officially came out of it's 2 month long circuit breaker. While I always anticipated this moment to involve some sort of celebration, it didn't. 

If it wasn't for the news, one may not have felt any difference at all actually. Phase 1 makes a difference only for a select few who work in manufacturing jobs. Also, it impacts those who live apart from their parents in Singapore, who can now visit their parents. 

The anticipation is for phase 2, which would lead to more opening up and allowing for households to mix with each other. It would mean fitness studios can open, and so can more offices with restrictions. Phase 2 is expected to be the new normal, so to say, until a vaccine is discovered. 

I can see myself being quite happy with the type of lifestyle phase 2 would bring. A lot of time would still be spent at home, but with the options to see friends once in a while. 

However, going back out doesn't feel as happy as I imagined it would. Within the first week of phase 1, we see as many as 15 cases of covid among locals per day, which is expected to increase. Many of these were discovered thanks to random testing, not because 15 people were showing symptoms and suffering. 

Going back out would once again bring back the possibility that anyone we are interacting with could have the infection, whether or not they show the symptoms. Given how long people have been locked inside the house, I suspect that people will mingle not just with one set of friends, but with multiple, which will exponentially increase the possibility of them catching the infection. 

Other than the constant stress of touching railings in public places or holding on to the handles on public transport, there is the stress of wondering where the person standing next to you in a public space has been before. Have they been infected? Are they asymptomatic? Do they look unwell? 

When these stressors existed pre-circuit breaker, they somehow didn't seem as stressful. At that point, we didn't yet know the sheer number of asymptomatic cases in the crowd. Now, we have more research showing just how many people could be unknowingly infected, which is surprisingly high. 

It doesn't change the chances we have of getting infected, which is likely similar to before unless our bodies have already become immune. However, it does make me think of the idea of going back out with more caution and worry. Perhaps, I won't be the first one back to dining out or to the yoga studio. 

Jun 1, 2020

Engaging online audiences isn't just for instructional designers

Lately, I have had the chance to attend all sorts of webinars and online workshops. On a day to day basis, I attend team meetings, Zoom sessions with family and friends, or Netflix parties. 

At the same time, I see an increasing pressure on schools and universities to produce engaging experiences online that not only mirror the engagement of in person classes, but far surpass it to maintain the value of an institute that now faces competition from other institutes. This engagement could come from excellent facilitation, or a well designed class (or both).

I have come to notice that while the pressure remains on schools to produce this engagement, there is less or no pressure on other institutes like companies holding online team meetings, webinars held for the purpose of education or marketing, and on other online meetings of personal interest groups. It's not that it isn't important for people to be engaged in those circumstances, but there is lesser to loose in those scenarios compared to what schools would loose if students were to stop enrolling. 

I recently attended an excellent workshop - one where there was a form of interaction every few minutes, every question was answered, and people willingly commented in the Zoom chat as the facilitator conducted the session and asked questions. The level of engagement in this session was energising. 

When I started to attend other sessions after that one, I started to notice the lack of energy and of facilitation skills. I never realised that some of the simple tricks that are used in engaging online workshops and classes can be carried over to any other online congregation of people, whether it's a meeting, a casual chat with friends or a webinar. 

Now it is highly possible that online meetings and webinars are equally engaging as in person meetings and conferences, which is not very much. So perhaps there is no real urgent need for change. But I wouldn't be the only one to say that there is a lot more scope to make meetings and webinars more engaging in a way that everyone benefits more from the time spent and doesn't exit from the experience drained of energy. 

Simple things such as adding in a few activity, ensuring interaction every few minutes, creating space and time for questions can do wonders for an online experience. Online tools often allow for this in more ways than physical meetings do. For example - Zoom allows for reactions such as thumbs up, hand raises, comments all while the facilitator may be still talking. In real life, these reactions might be harder to gauge for a facilitator, whose only way to gauge the audience's reaction might actually be the expression on their faces or asking listeners to raise their hand when they have a question. 

Engaging online audiences isn't a one time instrumented experience that has to be worked on by professional instructional designers who put in conscious triggers to engage the audience. It's a habit, one that anyone facilitating an online meeting can pick up and keep using.