Stepping Out of Our “Cultural Ghettoes”

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Stepping Out of Our “Cultural Ghettoes”

By: 
Ahmed Tewfik

With the year coming to a close, I couldn’t help but reflect on our experiences in 2020 and 2021. I began my term as president of the IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS) roughly 65 days before we were told to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write this column 18 months later, I find myself, like many of you, still largely working remotely. During this period, we have learned a great deal about what we can and cannot accomplish online. We have learned that copresence is not always essential for facilitating meetings and work outputs. However, we also learned how much copresence facilitates really getting to know those with whom we work. Without the casual chatter that arises naturally when we bump into a colleague in a hallway or in those few minutes before a meeting really begins, our ability to form meaningful relationships is hampered.

With the year coming to a close, I couldn’t help but reflect on our experiences in 2020 and 2021. I began my term as president of the IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS) roughly 65 days before we were told to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write this column 18 months later, I find myself, like many of you, still largely working remotely. During this period, we have learned a great deal about what we can and cannot accomplish online. We have learned that copresence is not always essential for facilitating meetings and work outputs. However, we also learned how much copresence facilitates really getting to know those with whom we work. Without the casual chatter that arises naturally when we bump into a colleague in a hallway or in those few minutes before a meeting really begins, our ability to form meaningful relationships is hampered.

Getting to really know the people we work with is important. “Step[ping] out of our ‘cultural ghettoes,’” as the Turkish writer Elif Shafak so eloquently said, is sine qua non for innovation and personal development. Bringing “outsiders” into our world is a difficult task. We need to upgrade our expectations for our meetings and embrace the challenge of breaking with the past to deliver what truly matters. With regard to our conferences’ physical component, how do we fully exploit our copresence in a given location during a given period of time? How can the Society help us really know people? How can we truly benefit from rubbing shoulders with so many smart people? How can the virtual component of conferences recapture the large audiences we saw at ICASSP and ICIP in 2020? How can the virtual component of SPS conferences help each of us truly get to know perspectives that may seem alien to us?

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