Why Don’t Grownups Understand?


When you are a child, everyone around you is a potential friend. Someone to play with, have fun with. Language, color, gender, disability, don’t matter. You see them in the playground, looking for someone based roughly on age and height, they make eye contact, they do a sort of ‘I’m open for contact’ dance, getting closer together and then just start playing together. Often they won’t even introduce themselves. Next thing you know they are laughing and playing and bringing more kids into their circle. In many cases the parents stay at a protective distance, but appreciate and encourage this interaction.

I used to love watching kids TV programs like Art Linkletter and Cosby Kids. I think one of the famous ones was used in the What The World Needs Now John F Kennedy assassination tribute, where they asked a kid what racism is and he said “I think it’s when you’re sick.” They asked “what is bigotry, and the answer was “I don’t know what biggory is.”

When WWII, ‘the war to end all wars’ was over, there were famous speeches, saying “this must never happen again”. Today it appears we have learned nothing. It may to some degree be propaganda when we see children carried, walked or driven away from bombing sites. The fact is, they are children and they are victims of man’s inhumanity to man. It continues daily in many parts of the world.

I don’t need to show it, you don’t need to be reminded of the actual scenes. It will be on CNN, BBC, Fox or your other favorite news TV station in the next 30 minutes, day after day.

So here’s my question? How do we go from kids, who understand that differences make us interesting, to adults who think we should all be the same and that to be different is a threat? How do we go from sharing our resources to wanting to take them from each other?

At some point we decide children should think along certain lines. We teach them prejudice, we teach them fear and hatred. We teach them on the street, in our homes, we teach them in our schools and we teach them in our places of worship.

I watched the kids in Gaza on TV last night. I saw the looks in the faces as their bodies and lives were wrenched apart, the confusion, the terror, the blank gazes of minds dazed beyond comprehension They were just playing. They don’t understand. They’re just kids. But I’m an adult and I still don’t understand. Does that mean I haven’t grown up?

One of the real ironies to me is that we all have kids. We have all been kids. We have all been taught prejudices by our parents and those around us.

So here’s a thought. Why don’t we change the curriculum?

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

On terrorists and airport security


I was listening to News Talk ZB talkback radio as I got out of the shower this morning. Those who weren’t complaining about ice cream’s for sale at Cathedral Cove (you would think there were more important things on people’s minds), were talking about the latest security measures as a consequence of the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit,

Al-Qaeda have since claimed responsibility for this attempt.

One guy said that they should convict and hang the terrorists within a week of catching them. Didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me, after all the guy was trying to kill himself wasn’t he? Killing this person would only complete part of his goal and help to make him a martyr and this give him access to his 72 virgins or houri.

I don’t really want to dwell on those self-claimed ‘representitives’ of Islam, who are intent on bringing down the US, during a time of Christian celebration. I don’t for a moment believe that they are representative of Muslim people.

What this reminded me of, was a flight I made from Munich to San Francisco earlier this year, which I blogged about previously. There were many Muslim people on the plane, some of whom seemed to have a real disdain towards the European people on the plane. One man got up and started distributing copies of the Koran to fellow Muslim passengers. This was during the night on a long flight and I had just finished watching the movie Traitor on my laptop and the whole atmosphere was very creepy.

The reason I raise this is that renewed terrorist activity has caused major delays at airports around the world, where security levels has been lifted and are causing major inconvenience for passengers travelling to the US. Security measures are easing again, according to the NY Times, which is great, but the effect of all this could cause racial tensions to rise. This has the potential to play right into the hands of terrorist organisations. Their goal has to be causing terror, not necessarily by killing people.

A side effect of this will be a backlash against Muslim people in general. Because aspects of their faith, such as their clothing and burqa in particular are considered threatening to westerners and some see them as being demeaning of women’s rights, particularly as they perceive that many women in the Middle East do not have the same rights and freedoms as they would in the western world. Interestingly some Muslim women who live in the west also want the burqa banned in those countries.

It is great to know that their are organisations like Muslims Against Terrorism, but it would be great if there were more opportunities for people to understand a bit more about the people themselves, especially those who move to the west. It doesn’t help when people immigrate to other countries but want to take their customs and practices with them, such as the wearing of burqa and niqab.

In western countries, we like to see people’s faces as a measure of their honesty and people who cover their faces are often interpreted as people with something to hide. Many people came to countries such as New Zealand to get away from persecution or discrimination about their beliefs. People like to feel that others in their community are like them. New Zealand is big on human rights and political correctness and as the first country in the world to give women the vote, women’s rights are considered inviolate.

People who are different threaten the lifestyle of people in this society, just as westerners look out of place in other countries.

I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is that differences can be both threatening and interesting. Historically wars were about religious beliefs and about the haves and the have-nots. Combine those two, such as when the oil rich nations deplete their resources, or when poor countries need to rally their people into a nationalistic fervour to keep them from thinking to much about wanting to leave their countries to go somewhere where they perceive a better lifestyle and you have a tinder box in the making.

I consider myself a very easy going person. I was born in Holland, came to NZ, went back to school in Holland and made my home in NZ. I love world cultures, languages, food and the mix of ethnicities that make up our country. Yet, hopping on a long night flight full of people in traditional Muslim dress, with a man handing out copies of the Koran to strangers on the flight, speaking a foreign language, while studiously ignoring the ‘infidels’ made me feel very uncomfortable.

Add to that a continued threat of terrorism and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of violent situations on international aircraft, based on a perceived threat, which may be caused by as simple a situation as I found myself in. Given that non Muslim people are not highly motivated to make dialogue with Muslim people in their community, I think the Muslim people need to open doors in their community. A classic example was the goodwill generated when the Aisha Mosque in Wallsall opened their doors to the local community. Comments from local non Muslim people were very favourable.

I hope more Muslim communities will not take the lead and open their doors and their arms in fellowship and help to break down the barriers. But I also believe that if they want to live in the West, they should also liberalise some of their practices, particularly when out in public. This doesn’t mean turning their backs on their culture and history, just making an effort to not appear so different in public. Islam Open Days are another good way for people to learn more about beliefs and lifestyles and perhaps reduce some of the fears, but of course most of the people who go to them already have an affinity towards them. The challenge is to bring in the rest.

This is of course just my opnion and I welcome you to comment and share yours.

The power of other people’s opinions or bias


I had the opportunity to attend the Time Convention in Auckland, New Zealand today, which was a great opportunity to step out of my normal day and have time to think. I didn’t learn much, but it did remind me about things I know I should be doing, but don’t spend enough time at. I used my Blackberry to take notes which I emailed to myself, as it doesn’t have a notepad or Word application, as my trusty Windows Mobile and Palm handhelds used to.

The final presentation, that I very much enjoyed was from Kevin Billett who, while promoting a 2 day seminar for next week, came up with some thought provoking concepts about taking responsibility for attitudes and accepting experiences that you allow to have control over your life expectations and achievements. This set me to thinking about aspects of my experiences, particularly as a child, that have I have allowed to hold me back in some of my endeavours, but that’s another story.

He raised a topic that has interested me for many years, which is the effect that people’s expectations or opinions about other people, influence them in many ways.

There are countless examples. John’s Hopkins researchers recently found that many physicians had negative attitudes to patients with obesity problems, which negatively affected these patients to the extent that their problems worsened.

There have been many studies that show that a teacher’s expectations of their students, irrespective of any basis on which those expectations were founded, had a significant impact on their results. I recall being told, although I can’t site the source, of a university study that proved this point. If you know of the study, please share it with me.

A group of students of equal ability were split into two groups. The teachers were told that one group was of above average capability and the other were below average potential. The groups were taught the same lessons by the same teachers. Their results were consistent with the information the teachers had been given, those who they said were above average, performed above average and the others under performed.

The world of elite sport is often built around belief that people of the right proportions can become medal winning athletes, even if they have never participated in that sport before. Sir Steve Redgrave has selected people based on height, with a view to having them represent their country in the 2012 Olympics. For rowing, the expectation is that tall people have powerful levers suited to the sport. One would not think that this alone could not be enough, but combine that with the positive expectation that they will become medal winners and history has proven that this can work.

The same occurs in gymnastics, where girls are headhunted at an early age based on being short and enjoying sport. I’ve seen from personal experience that girls who are told they can do things, outperform girls of similar strength and flexibility who are told that they aren’t good enough. What I saw was the same thing, girls over whom coaches had high expectations performed confidently, had less injuries and ended up on elite squads.

Psychology 101 has always featured nature and nurture. In any country where people are to some degree living in communities featuring high proportions of particular minority ethnic groups, there is a tendancy for them to be poorly represented in professions and overly represented in menial work. Students’ expectations in these areas are low, often fostered by teachers who have low expectations of their wards.

I won’t go on with this topic. I would appreciate your opinions and experience. Have you seen this happen first hand?

What’s wrong with calling yourself a New Zealander


I love the Census. Every 5 years we get this massive set of questions about who we are, where we come from, what we do, where we live etc. There is an amazing wealth of information in the Census and this time the Government have made it available for free if you can find what you want without assistance.

I spend a lot of time helping people on the fringe of this and am working on the development of a web application to help people view both their own business data and relevant Census data. Watch for this in a future blog if you are following me.

One of the questions they ask us Kiwis is about our ethnicity. I remember in 2006 when there was a strong movement of people saying to each other that they had had enough of the racial issues between Maori and Pakeha (and this clearly came from both sides of the fence).  A large percentage of Kiwis grew up side by side with Caucasians, Maori and people from many othr places including the Pacific Islands. They grew up as friends and neighbours and if there was discussion of ethnicity it was with interest and pride, not with any tensions or mistrust.

On that theme, 400,000 Kiwis signed their ethnicity, not by selected tick boxes for European Caucasion. New Zealand Maori etc, they signed in a text box called other as New Zealanders.

Whilst this made sense in a way as they tried to make their point, it has also caused some significant problems for organisations who use that information for decision making and the Department of Statistics is looking for ways to get better information in the next Census is 2010.

In the Statistics New Zealand Draft report, prepared for public discussion, they outlined some of the concerns and explained ways that the ethnicity data is used. Here are some examples including some of my own:

  • The health sector uses ethnicity data to target services for groups experiencing inequalities in health. For example, it is commonly known that Maori have a significantly lower life expectancy than Europeans.
  • Asian people, especially new immigrants have unique health needs.
  • Local government agencies use these statistics in planning and service delivery, particularly in regions experiencing significant demographic, social and economic change.
  • Marketers with products targeted and particular groups are able to identify where those markets reside.
  • Education planning needs to take into consideration the demographics that make up local communities to ensure that education services are relevant to the needs of that community. Diverisyt is a key tenet in the NZ education system, but in order to best support it and plan for it, statistics are requred.
  • In the business world, demographics can help with many aspects of business planning. For example a manufacturer of baby bottles found that in one area bottles with blue teets weren’t selling and in another area bottles with yellow teets weren’t selling. After a year or so with lots of stock thrown away or discounted they discovered that it was an ethnicity issue. By rotating the stock to the other areas the problem was solved.
  • Today we have many ethnic communities, which is a relatively new situation, at least in Auckland where most of the population lives. This can be very useful for specialist retailers or service providers such as ethnic supermarkets, restaurants, clothing, music and entertainment providers. This is also of relevance for churches who want a lot of their congregation to be able to walk to their place of worship, immigration consultants, language schools or ESOL and so on.If a business can identify where their target market lives, they can better plan on placement of their business or how to find their new customers.

From a futurist persepctive we can use this information to try to predict what the city and country will look like in the future, where the opportunities and threats lie and how to support the changing community. For many people, New Zealand is seen as a wonderful safe and green place to live and raise a family, but each one brings a piece of their own culture with them, but also bring issues of culture, work training, language, education, commerce and the need to belong to a group of people with similar interests and problems, while their children are assimilating into the local community. New Zealand has changed dramatically over the last few decades and it is essential to the wellbeing of the country that the Census accurately represents statistics that can assist in making sure that everyone is able to enjoy living in this country and able to contribute in their own ways.

The Census provides valuable information about the changing nature of our country. Unfortunately this ‘movement’ towards calling people Kiwis means that it has been very difficult to monitor the change in ethnicity in NZ from the 2001 Census to the 2006 Census, meaning that the data is difficult to use for a 10 year period.

Statistics New Zealand is now asking the country for input as to how to allow people to assert their relationship to the country, while at the same time allowing Statistics to gather important information in order to help the country meet the needs of the large range of ethnicity in our country.

I think the answer has to accomodate both the desire for people to consider themselves bona fide New Zealanders irrespective of their ethnicity, but it is also essential to understand their roots or backgrounds. It shouldn’t be hard to combine the questions in such a way as to support the need for quality of information as well as the need of people, irrespective of their origins, to feel they belong and are important players in our multicultural society today.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)