Forty Things to Know About the Next Forty Years

July 10, 2013

For its 40th Anniversary, Smithsonian Magazine just published “40 Things You Need to Know About the Next Forty Years”

If you think about education you have to think about the future.  How can we best educate our students to prepare them for the future?  No one in my high school class of 1967 could have had a career goal of being an iPad repair technician, working for a cell phone company, or fixing electric cars.  I’m sure you can think of a long list of careers and businesses that didn’t exist when you went to school (they probably weren’t even on the radar).

Whenever I think or talk about the future I watch Arthur C. Clark’s short 1964 interview about predicting the future.  Boy did he get it right.  Simply amazing!  I won’t spoil it for you, and I know you will enjoy hearing what he had to say in 1964.  Really.  Click on the link!

What does the Smithsonian think we will see in the next 40 years?  There are many interesting tidbits.  “Sophisticated Buildings Will Be Made of Mud.”  (Did you know that cement production alone accounts for an estimated 5% of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide?

Another one is “A Medical Lab Will Fit On A Postage Stamp” about a chip “designed to diagnose a variety of ailments with nearly the precision of a modern clinical laboratory.” You have to read the article to find out how it works.

But item 40, the last on the list, got me thinking about education.  In an article by Kevin Kelly entitled “Reading in a Whole New Way” (the list said “Reading Will Become an Athletic Activity”), he points out the differences between reading a book and reading from a screen.  After noting that “American prosperity and liberty grew out of a culture of reading and writing,” he says, “reading and writing, like all technologies, are dynamic.”

The whole new way of reading is that “[s]creens engage our bodies. Touch screens respond to the ceaseless caress of our fingers. Sensors in game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii track our hands and arms. We interact with what we see. Soon enough, screens will follow our eyes to perceive where we gaze. A screen will know what we are paying attention to and for how long… Just as it seemed weird five centuries ago to see someone read silently, in the future it will seem weird to read without moving your body.”

I commend the entire article to you, but I found this point very interesting to contemplate:

“Books were good at developing a contemplative mind. Screens encourage more utilitarian thinking. A new idea or unfamiliar fact will provoke a reflex to do something: to research the term, to query your screen “friends” for their opinions, to find alternative views, to create a bookmark, to interact with or tweet the thing rather than simply contemplate it. Book reading strengthened our analytical skills, encouraging us to pursue an observation all the way down to the footnote. Screen reading encourages rapid pattern-making, associating this idea with another, equipping us to deal with the thousands of new thoughts expressed every day. The screen rewards, and nurtures, thinking in real time. We review a movie while we watch it, we come up with an obscure fact in the middle of an argument, we read the owner’s manual of a gadget we spy in a store before we purchase it rather than after we get home and discover that it can’t do what we need it to do.”

Another provocative gem (not sure if I agree): “Screens provoke action instead of persuasion. Propaganda is less effective in a world of screens, because while misinformation travels fast, corrections do, too. On a screen it is often easier to correct a falsehood than to tell one in the first place; Wikipedia works so well because it removes an error in a single click. In books we find a revealed truth; on the screen we assemble our own truth from pieces.”

And last, “A screen can reveal the inner nature of things. Waving the camera eye of a smartphone over the bar code of a manufactured product reveals its price, origins and even relevant comments by other owners. It is as if the screen displays the object’s intangible essence.”

In the future, he says, “portable screens will be used to view more of this inner world…[i]n the next 40 years semi­transparent eyeglasses will apply an informational layer to reality. If you pick up an object while peering through these spectacles, the object’s (or place’s) essential information will appear in overlay text. In this way screens will enable us to ‘read’ everything, not just text….Screens will be the first place we’ll look for answers, for friends, for news, for meaning, for our sense of who we are and who we can be.”

Read the article!  But…you’ll be reading it on a screen….  Hmmm…  You are reading this on a screen…..  Hmmm.  Something to think about when we are thinking about education!

Posted by marks on Wednesday July 10, 2013 at 04:08PM

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