Sunday, March 17, 2013

Conversation with a Futurist

Two Thursdays ago our school corporation had the pleasure of conducting a meeting via go to meeting with futurist David Houle in which he discussed with us the future of education and his conception of Flow.  He focused much of his talk about how the decade of 2010-2020 will be the transformation decade, in which all of the change of the last 10,000 years will take place in the next 100, with this 10 year period kicking that massive change off.

His concept of Flow involves three areas, The Flow to Global-in which the only boundaries will be planetary,  the Flow to Individual-the explosion of choice where power will move from institutions to individuals, and finally Accelerated Electronic Connectedness-cell phone ubiquity.

What struck me most from his conversation though was his idea that the concept of place no longer exists.  He explains this by talking about how we can now be anywhere, and connect to someone anywhere in almost no time at all.  This is not a new idea, the telegraph allowed people to quickly send messages from place to place, but you had to go pick them up or have them delivered to you.  The telephone brought both voice and direct connection-as long as you were in your home or office-and the cell phone made that connection mobile.

The scope of this change though hit me in two different ways.  The first was the way that cell phones have mobilized communication.  Freeman Hrabowski, the President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, told a story at a conference I attended in which he spoke of how when he was growing up, and Star Trek was on, he kept hearing that some day phones would be able to go anywhere-he just couldn't conceive of the idea because he kept wondering how you would keep the cords from being tangled.  The shift that the mobile phone brought changed how we connect with other, where we connect with others, and made the world a smaller place.

But cell phones did not truly change the concept of place.  Yes, they allowed us to communicate with others wherever we were.  The truly radical change though came with the advent of the smartphone.  Now not only could we connect with anyone, anywhere, at anytime.  Now we could share our ideas, pictures, videos, and thoughts with anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

Two examples, one from American history and one from my personal experience, solidified this concept for me.  The example from American history is the letter writing of John and Abigail Adams.  While John was stationed in Europe during the American Revolutionary War, and after until 1789, he and Abigail exchanged 258 of the over 1100 letters that they wrote each other in their lifetimes.  What struck me about these letter exchanges, in light of Mr. Houle's discussion of place no longer existing, is that it took each of these letters three months to travel to it's recipient, and that was when the letters were able to get through and safely cross the ocean during war time.  The strain on the relationship was such that Abigail referred to the time as her "widowhood".

This leads directly to my personal experience.  While I work long hours, I am blessed with having few requirements to travel that take me away from my family overnight.  The week prior to Mr. Houle speaking though, I was in Berkley, CA at the New Tech Network Spring Leadership Summit.  During this time, while I missed my family, they were always no more than a text, email, or instagram photo away.  In fact when I returned the principle of a neighboring elementary school commented that he enjoyed the pictures I was sending with my tweets as I walked around Berkley.

The world has now shrunk to fit in the pocket of our pants, and we are no longer cut off from either those we love or the work we do, unless we choose to unplug ourselves.  This is truly the game changer, as the Digital Generation continues to grow up in a plugged in world, the ways and interfaces for this plugging in will change and further shrink their concepts of time and place.  Google Glass will only be the beginning of an ever more connected life experience for all of us.  How we continue to adapt as educators to a world where all resources are available at the touch of a few keys, will determine how well our institutions survive this decade of disruption.

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