Friday, 26 September 2014

On a Social Experiment and on Imposition

'Data will confess to anything if you flog it hard enough.'

Over four years of working with data has one develop a healthy suspicion of data. Not all data is suspect, of course. But then not all data is data. A lot of it is fiction. Most of the rest is noise. The current hot phrase 'big data' may yet be the next big thing in the world of technology. How do you use big data in administration?

While we are on the topic of data, let me share the results of the social experiment performed over the past few days. The experiment in itself was simple-the experimenters (two males, socially unremarkable) claim a specific spot of 'in-demand' real estate in the mess during the meal hours and observe the reactions of the OTs to this deliberate attempt at encroachment. The result of this experiment was consistent- almost all OTs desirous of occupying the prime real estate assiduously avoided the chairs next to the experimenters. Few had expressions of irritation writ large on their faces at the inconvenience, few others could mask their emotions well. Few OTs who initially were inclined to sit next to the experimenters would change their seat at the last minute on finding OTs from their 'group' elsewhere. After close to a month at the academy, it is the transitional phase when the OTs would move from the awkward group formation in to their comfort zones. The experimenters desired to gauge the effect of external stimuli in assessing the cohesiveness of groups. The number of chairs left vacant next to the experimenters, even during the peak mess hours, was indicative of the OTs' affinity towards their homogeneous groups and their aversion towards unfamiliar, heterogeneous groups. The ideal group size, we deduced, was 7. Anyone above that number becomes unwieldy in terms of communication. Therefore, 7 is the core group membership. There are associative memberships as well. The peripheral members move fluidly between different groups. These try hard to belong somewhere, anywhere. Unless one has strong social bonds, the ideal nuclear size is 2. Group accretion does not start easily below this size if the individuals at the centre do not have compelling social aura around them. Service, geography, gender, regionality, ranks are the usual suspects in promoting homogeneous groups. The only notable exception was when one lady OT broke the valence barrier and took the trouble to make small talk with the experimenters, occupying the chair next to them. We need more time to understand this aberration.

That then was our experiment. It was pseudo sociological, yes, but it was fun. Apologies for my engineering friends for using non-technical sounding jargon. Apologies too to the serious sociologist types for trivializing your field with these engineering incursions.

Irrespective of the experiment, I had had a chance to listen in to a rather entertaining and insightful monologue of a fellow OT at the dining table tonight. I shall present the monologue in a suitable format at a later date.

Before signing off, I would like to ask what we are imposing and what we are superimposing. Can we 'impose' secularism? Can we 'impose' religious intolerance? Can we 'impose' peace, love and brotherhood among people? What do we impose and what do we displace?

I remember imposition as a punishment at school when one had to write out apologies on the blackboard. 

The trek routes have been finalized, the group leaders, assistants, navigators, communicators, treasurers and bookkeepers have all been appointed and prepped. We look forward to 8 odd days in the Himalayas. But before that we have to survive the PT, intensified many fold with the ostensible purpose of toughening us for the Great Himalayan Trek. Yours truly will be on a route to Dodital. Details at a later time. For the present, one has to match Sir George Everest and trek to his bungalow tomorrow.

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