Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in Featured, manifesto |

I am writing this in the back of a classroom at EPFL on day four of a conference on complexity. Today’s speaker is Italian and he apologizes for his basic French. His slides are in English. The professor organizing the event is squirming visibly and then, perhaps realizing (but probably not) that we can all see him, his positions his hand in front of his face and watches the rest of the lecture stone-faced, tensing a bit when the lecturer drops English phrases into his talk.   Like almost all of my classes at EPFL this began as an interesting promise and ended in disappointment: I came prepared to discuss ideas of complexity and architecture (in particular social complexity and the way contemporary mobile/social technologies have allowed us different modes of interaction with architecture) and found myself attempting to get work done in between arguing halfheartedly that English is not (entirely) a blasted wasteland of nonsense.   There are about ten students, seven of whom have worked together before. On the first day the three students who were not already part of the group were asked to present their work. We were given two minutes each of the nearly 60 hours this course is requiring. After my presentation the professor in charge shrugged dramatically as if to say “Well, that’s a thing…” and asked the class if there were any questions. There weren’t. ¬†Another student in the class (from France, incidentally) argued (in French) that it might be useful to conduct the class in English. What followed was a fairly lengthy debate (in French) about the presence of these foreigners in their class and the definition of the term “English Friendly” which self-evidently requires that everyone be fully capable of speaking French but which “permits some English.” The other American in my class stuck it out a few more hours and then quit, but I’m still here because I’m a stubborn bastard. Also I need the credits. My friend B, a woman fluent in French but whose family is Ethiopian and German and who just returned from a long tour of Africa and China, tells me I’m taking this...

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