06 December 2004

xWork: Be aware of cultural variety and every day obstacles

Sent: Monday, December 06, 2004 10:16 AM
To: eric.britton@ecoplan.org
Subject: From: "Cornelssen, Inse:

Hello Franz and Eric,

To be optimistic is one thing, to stay realistic is related to it. So I
want to tell you about my (not so very pleasant) experiences made
during this year 2004:

a) emails disappear so often meanwhile that it is more and more
necessary to print letters and send them by snail post - like we did in
the last centuries.

b) attachments are cut off even if they are not poisened. This means:
You have to burn CDs or DVDs and send them - by snail post.

c) Financial means are shrinking so much that technological
innovations cannot be used because the money is lacking to afford
them.

d) - and most relevant and difficult: Cultural differences. Since
February 2003 I planned an international block seminar together with
students from Cairo University, with our universital partners in Vilnius
(Lithuania) and Kauhava (Finland). Intention: to study the most
important big regions dominating religions, philosophies, ethical
teachings, to relate them with the economic performance of these
regions, and to learn about the interrelatedness of both. The Cairo
students were enthusiastic, the Lithuanian students were not at all
interested or sensitive, the Finnish students realized that this seminar would cause lots and lots of preparating work and - so they wanted to take part - withdraw from work.

Bigger Institutions like EU, VW-Stiftung etc were unable to sustain
the program because it did not fit into their already existing concepts.

The idea was too new. So we decided in February 2004 to try the
seminar by video conferencing. First problem: to get a conferencing
system. Neither Cairo nor we had the money to buy one and the staff
to implement it. Finland had. In Hanover we managed to find
somebody to lend it to us for a couple of days.

Second problem: the students in Cairo first accepted to organize the
seminar this way after I had convinced the German Foreign ministery
to give technical support in Cairo. Then they decided that it makes no
sense to sit 5 days before a computer to communicate and
exchange reports by using a machine: "Cannot you come to Cairo?
Housing will not be the problem." We could not: it was too expensive
and too short to organize our households and other duties (childrens
and animals support etc.). Finland decided to postpone the seminar
to November. In Cairo 6 out of 10 students withdraw mainly because
they refused to communicate with a machine. When we started in
July, the system broke down. We tried a chatroom, but it did
not work. Finally we exchanged written reports (we had prepared for
this case) by email. To send emails from Cairo to Hanover ore vice
versa took about 24 hours. It was frustrating.

November, Finland: The students signalized their interest in the
seminar but did not want to do so much work as necessary. Instead
of preparing a report each of them, they prepared all together a
"Copy & Paste" internet-based weak report on one single topic. It was
of no use to the students left in Hanover. Video Conferencing did not
work, email did not work, chatroom break down.

Conclusion: I am very fond of this sort of working together...(!!!)

It sounds innovative and visionary to work like that but it needs a
functionning technical base and a certain culture of mind to be
successful in this field. One group withdraw from intense work (self
discipline obviously has to be very strong, something which marks
people who belong to a working elite, not to the mass), the other
could not deal with this technical, unpersonal atmosphere of
communication.

Now you can argue that we have to educate people to behave and
feel adequate to technical possibilities. It was old Japanese Buddhist
monch Suzuki Daisets who proclamed already in the 30ies of the last
century "What poor conditions if the machine masters man!" I agree.

Ergo: first we have to master machines (not to be forced to use snail
mail anymore...), second we have to accept that it needs a certain
ethic and culture to handle work and communication this way. It´s not
so easily applicable to everybody. It can and will be one of several
alternatives to nowadays working situation which will not (and
possibly cannot) substitute physical mobility as far as some of us
hope. Visions are necessary - but not enough to change the world of
work.

Best regards
IC
Fachhochschule Hannover
Fachbereich Wirtschaft
Prof. Dr. Inse Cornelssen

Postfach 920 261
30441 Hannover
Ricklinger Stadtweg 120

D - 30459 Hannover

Tel: +49 - 511 - 92 96 -1517/1502
Fax: +49 - 511 - 92 96 -1510
e-mail: cornelssen@wirt.fh-hannover.de


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