Looking on the Bright Side for the Future

When Jared Silver writes, it’s frequently thought-provoking, enlightening and worth considering.

This is a very interesting piece he’s written for Edu Surge that puts the argument that as the internet becomes readily available to anyone anywhere in the world, so, we are entering a new human revolution that will unlock human potential at levels we cannot even imagine.

EduSurge – The Impending Human Capital Revolution

His evidence for this is the rarity, historically of Indian or Chinese Nobel Prize winners – because the people in those countries didn’t have the same access to knowledge and education compared with those in more developed nations. Now that the internet is freely available everywhere, so everyone can have access to all of human knowledge.

The first issue I would have with this argument is that by no means does the internet contain all of human knowledge or even most of the best knowledge. I think we’re a very long way from that and will continue to be for a long time. For one, even if we think of new knowledge that is published in books. At most, people give access to snippets of it online in order to entice more people to buy the books. They’re not about to give it all away for free. Secondly, there are vast parts of the world’s population who have severely restricted access to the internet, with large parts of knowledge placed behind curtains where they are not permitted to go. Laws and rules that restrict access can all too easily be imposed on people in any part of the world, justified by nebulous concepts like ‘national interest.’

As highlighted by Daniel Kahneman in ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ there are different kinds of thinking (engagement with knowledge) that lead to advances in human development. Whilst the internet and ubiquitous accessibility might give greater potential for the fast and shallow kind of thinking, it gives little scope for the slower, deeper forms of thinking. For that deeper thinking, people need access to the kinds of written material not generally accessible through the internet (at least for free) and access to other thinkers and experts in the chosen field with whom to share thoughts and ideas. On the latter point, email and ability to ‘find’ experts has had interesting implications. I recall a meeting and discussion with Dr Howard Gardner in which he slightly ruefully acknowledged that today he spends a far greater proportion of his time responding to speculative communication that he receives from people all over the world who want to tap in to his knowledge and insights. There is serious risk that this heightened level of accessibility makes his work less whilst giving little benefit in the enhanced knowledge of those corresponding with him – considering that the vast majority will still only be engaging with him at the most superficial levels.

One thing that Jared Silver’s article doesn’t really make clear, is whether he sees this human revolution emerging because a few more exceptional people will be able to emerge because of their newfound access to knowledge, information and each other, or whether he actually foresees an overall raising of all intellectual levels of all people. If he’s arguing for the latter, I’m really not sure that his examples about Nobel Prize winners are convincing proof as these people are by their very nature the exceptional, rarest of the rare.

If you walked in to most western school classrooms (or those in more affluent private schools anywhere in the world) and asked students what the internet changes, gives them access to most of their answers would relate to social networking and gaming. There is a strong argument to say that, especially with its addictive qualities, the internet is far from fueling an intellectual step forward for mankind, but rather giving him new and previously unforeseen ways to fritter away life on meaningless, addictive and compulsive activities. This is at its worst for those receiving a lot of unfettered access in their youth when the wiring of their brains predisposes them towards addictive and compulsive activities that give them repeated doses of dopamine and other neural ‘drugs’ that have nothing to do with enhancing mankind. instead, like the Soma of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ it dulls the mind, eats up their time in ways that don’t challenge or move them forward intellectually and keep them limited in their advancement.

This has become of such concern to some educators that it leads to news articles like this recent one from the UK:

The Times – UK – Your Teacher’s At The Door – He Wants Your Xbox

Some years ago i had the privilege to host as a guest in one of our Delhi schools the great economist, CK Prahalad (who I suspect if not taken from us too soon was destined to be a future Nobel Prize winner). over coffee before and after the event we had conversations ranging over a wide array of topics. The one that has always stuck in my mind was his fears and apprehensions for the youth we worked with. The new young elite of India whose parents were all too frequently the first generation in their families to taste real economic success. he saw them suffering from a disease he described as “Affluenza” – an infection of plenty that undermines motivation and drive when these young people are growing up with all opportunities handed to them with ease and lacking the drive and the need to strive that marked out their parents’ generation. Such a level of complacency is more likely to lead to short cuts than hunger to use and access all possible information and knowledge that is accessible in the world.

The workings of human motivation, drive and the inclination to purpose have been areas of fascination to many (Daniel Pink – Drive, Roy Baumeister – Willpower, Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Just because opportunity is available to people, doesn’t mean they will take it, grasp it or see it as important. People’s aspirations and feelings of what’s possible or what are realistic and meaningful life goals are not simply shaped by exposure.

For example, ten to fifteen years ago, there were plenty of eminent experts who suggested that the growth of the internet would lead to new and greater levels of cultural understanding, empathy and recognition of common purpose amongst people of the world. The argument was that knowing people from all over the world, being exposed to them, understanding more of their culture would reduce fear, animosity and distance. however, as we see a wave of nationalism, protectionism and inter-cultural and religious sabre rattling, it’s clear that there is still just as much potential for people to be divided on ethnic, racial, religious or nationalistic lines as there ever has been.

In conclusion, the possibility that future Nobel prize winners might be more evenly distributed throughout the world doesn’t, in my view, automatically add up to a human revolution. Access and opportunity don’t change things on their own. Whilst i can agree that intellectual and knowledge accessibility may contribute to greater equity in the world, there is no rule that says a rising tide of accessible knowledge will raise all boats.

Screenagers!

I’ve shared a number of articles here in recent months on the subject of children and ‘screen time’ and, as it is one of the most critical issues confronting parents and chilren today, I make no apology for sharing another.

Forbes – Are Your Kids Addicted To Their Phones? Screenagers Wants To Help
(Click on the link above to read the article and to see a trailer of the documentary)

This documentary looks to be well worth seeing once it goes on more general release. Seeing the trailer it came across very obviously that a lot of parents and children know there’s a problem, but nobody’s too sure about what to do about it. One of the scariest comments is the one about the evidence that children tend to believe that they are perfectly able to multitask whilst all experiments have shown that the effect is to perform worse on everything.

Futher, here’s an interview that the documentary maker did for American television;

I think one of the most valuable lessons she brings out is that extreme reactions aren't going to work. parents mustn't take a laissez faire view where they do nothing at all, deny the issues or do nothing because they're unclear about the way forward. Neither is it right to treat the child as 'the problem' or as though they are fundamentally bad. Bans, refusal to give the smart phones and other apparatus of the digital age isn't going to work. In such circumstances children, feeling the need to fit in with peers, will simply find devious ways to get online whenever they get the chance. In these circumstances trust is majorly undermined.

Rather, as the film suggests, we've got to maintain open dialogue with children. I've said before, it's vital that parents (and educators) share with children the simple rudimentary basics of the science of the brain that makes them more vulnerable and susceptible. In turn, we also need to make them part of the solutions, involving them in discussion and dialogue about setting reasonable boundaries. They are always far more likely to work to stick to limits and barriers that they have agreed, although even in these circumstances we have to acknowledge that they will have successes and failures, good days and bad. The key is to see this as a long term project - no point abandoning the process, giving up on the child, as soon as they have a bad day and make a mistake.

There are no easy answers, but i believe the children who will come out best adjusted are the ones whose parents and teachers are consistent and work for the long haul with the children to get these habits right, to learn what's best and to build good practices.

And, ............ as this article sets out and I've said before - we have to walk our talk. A parent who takes calls on the phone from friends or work colleagues during a family meal loses the right to complain when the child is texting and not listening to them!

Teenagers in the Twenty First Century

Who would want to be a teen today, given the choice? Not me, thanks.

It was bad in enough in ‘our time’, but I reckon that for teens today there are extra layers of challenge, complexity and stresses that we were spared. However, it’s also a reality that the burden and unpleasantness today isn’t all experienced by the child – us parents carry our share of the burden too.

This article from Huffington Post UK, written by Chloe Combi highlights realistically some of the challenges and issues, especially related to the role that technology plays in the lives of today’s teens;

Huffington Post – Parenting Teenagers in the 21st Century

Whilst reading the article I couldn’t help wondering a bit about the extent to which teens are the architects of their own challenges. So much of the competition, the bullying, the offensive online behaviour is done by teens to teens. Also, as an educator, I’m inevitably drawn to question whether we and the way we run schools are part of the problem or part of the solution. Do we contribute to that sense that teens have of being in competition over everything? Would the situation improve if more emphasis was placed on the development of empathy, EQ and collaborative skills?

There is a perspective that suggests that for those who moved from teens in to adulthood over the last 10-15 years life was harder than for today’s teens. In Western ‘advanced’ economies the baby boomers are reaching retirement at such a rate that far exceeds the number of Generation X coming in to the working environment to replace them. This brings all sorts of other risks such as skills shortages, a sense of privilege and poor work ethic, but it may well mean that they don’t need to be as competitive to fight for themselves as those who went before.

Inevitably, the article also talks a lot about the role of technology in teen’s lives. It really can be all-consuming and, I fear, is creating distorted perceptions about human relations. When a young person chooses to be ‘online’ using social networking, they can portray themselves in any way they choose and interact with others who are also ‘acting out’ roles. In the real world, when teens interact with friends, they come to understand that all have good days and bad days, say smart things and foolish things, have strengths and weaknesses – in short – they know and accept their peers as three dimensional human beings. However, in online social networking everyone becomes a bit less themselves, can keep their weaknesses, foibles and less positive aspects hidden and can therefore seem simpler, easier to deal with and more appealing. Whilst this may be beguiling for the teen, it presents a distorted experience of human nature.

There is much that is happening with today’s teens that is unprecedented. As a result, nobody has all the answers or can accurately predict all the implications. We need more research and we need it quickly.

Twitter for Education

Here’s information of an interesting new platform for educators and all those interested in lifelong learning – the launch of EdCast – a sort of Twitter for education.

I’ve downloaded the App and started exploring it – looks interesting:

Report About Edcast

Edcast.com

Safe Social Networking for Education

I wanted to share this link that teachers might want to explore as a safe and secure social networking site designed specifically for the education sector:

Edmodo Site

Web 2.0 and the Power of Crowds

Here’s a really fun and interesting article that explores how use of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies may see us all playing a collective role in solving some of the world’s great challenges.

Yet another reason why Web 2.0 technologies should be a vital part of daily learning for our children:

Paulina Street Journal Article

(Click on link to open article)