July 23rd, 2009
The various incarnations of this series of information-based videos trace the rapidly accelerating technological world in which we are spinning. They are all well worth a watch. Every time I attend a conference these days, someone is showing a version of this video, some shorter or longer than others. Its precursor boasted the catchy title of Shift Happens, and I first saw it last summer at a huge student recruitment conference in Chicago. It rocked me.
We live in an age where the sheer incremental display of statistics, piled higher and deeper onto each other and accompanied by new age music and colour graphics is not only entertaining but generates awe. Who knew we would be enthralled by a film full of numbers? But it is the nature of the numbers that grabs our attention. Educators like to show this video because it maps the world we are and will be educating. It compels us to face change squarely, not as a slow boat to China but as a shuttle to Mars. It suddenly makes a chalkboard look like a Paleolithic tool. If anyone over the age of 30 still thinks he/she is living in the real world then their confidence will be shaken by watching this film.
Indeed, Did You Know 3.0 implicitly undermines the confidence of any (North) American who might still hold to the self-serving belief that we hold intelligent mastery over the universe. The film exploits this assumption by showingâ€”warning?â€”us that in 10 years China will be largest English-speaking country in the world; that there are more Honours students in India than all the students in the United States of America; that in 8 minutes watching the video 38 babies have been born, most of them in China and India. Is the message here â€“be prepared to be dominated?
As the information on the screen builds to a crescendo we are bound to be shaken, if not stirred. If todayâ€™s 21 year-old watches 20,00 hours of television a year, if over 70% of 4-year-olds have already used a computer, if 1 out of every 8 married couples met online, if todayâ€™s learners will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38, where are we? Who are we?
Who knows? As the video asks in the very last frame: So what does it all mean? Certainly, it means the olâ€™ grey mare she ainâ€™t what she used to be.
Tangential but relevant story here: while writing this blog my husband emailed me to order a piece of technology for our new and totally loveable plasma screen television on eBay. The company was founded on a whim in the mid â€˜nineties and is today, as you all know, a giant commercial powerhouse. I found the item, ordered and paid for it in about 90 seconds. eBay has revenues of $8.37 billion. It employs 16,200 people. How do I know this? I went to my latest favourite web site
Founder Stephen Wolfram will give you a stunning, brief introduction to the site, also well worth a visit.
As he intones, this is â€œan ambitious and long-term project,â€ with the aim of making all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone. Thatâ€™s a tall order, for what a mid twentieth-century writer might have called a â€œbrave new world,â€ but Wolfram and his alpha team are well on their way. The site does the math, big time. It is an information junkieâ€™s fantasy. Numbers are crunched and information is displayed faster than it takes to think of an entry. You can spend countless hours (or, actually, maybe the site can actually do the counting for you) getting everything from complicated calculations to impossible questions to weather trends and imaginative comparisons. Itâ€™s all about data, data, data, and the open access to information for which we would otherwise never even have known where to look.
And so to return to shift happening, which is a recurring theme of these deanâ€™s blogs, we are living, as Did You Know 3.0 avers, â€œin exponential times. â€œ How does one plan curricula for such times? Apparently, we are offering graduate programs in subjects and fields that did not even exist ten years ago. We are preparing students for a future we do not really understand yet, asking them to solve problems we have not yet identified. Itâ€™s humbling, at once scary and exhilarating.
How can we know what it means if we donâ€™t fully understand the pronoun in that question?