Sunday, February 7, 2010

How much technology is enough?

I spend a lot of time pondering the future these days and seem to be into books on futuring.  I just finished reading a very difficult book "The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization" by Thomas Homer-Dixon.  I have found the messages in this book to be rather troubling but messages that need to be heard.  The author researched the cause of civilization failure and parallels his findings to our modern society.  He shares fascinating stores about ancient Rome.  Access to a reliable source of energy (food, people, animals) played a significantly key role in their success.  They invested in technology to build amazing structures like the Coliseum.  Rome was an amazing society for hundreds of years.  What really caused their fall?  The author argues that complexity (technology) / size drove increasing demands for energy and when it became too difficult to secure energy, their collapse began.  Mind you, it took hundreds of years.  But think about our society today and our dependence on energy to fuel our technology and our lifestyle.  What if our energy sources enter the age of scarcity as increasingly futurists predict?  How will we power our technology, our economy, our society?  How quickly will things change without a reliable and affordable energy source?  Hmmm…

Have you ever wondered what really makes our society tick.  It’s free-market capitalist by design and it depends on constant growth.  It has really created possibilities for 100’s of millions of people to enjoy amazing comforts provided through technology.  We assume growth will continue, ‘cause if it doesn’t, the system won’t work and the unemployed or underemployed would sky rocket.  So, what creates growth?  Technology is a very significant driver of growth.  Companies, organizations invest capital in new technology to gain efficiencies, to transform work, and to create new work.  Old ways are “suddenly” not good enough.  Technology drives change, and it speeds it up.
“constant change and surprise are now inevitable”, p. 29.
That suggests that our society fueled by technology is destined for more change and surprise.  The surprise piece makes me wonder though, maybe worry.
“a world of relentless change and surprise, we must constantly reinvent our societies, ourselves, and our future”, p. 30.
We are certainly working hard at that aren’t we.  A question surfaced in my mind recently “how much technology is enough?”.  Is our drive to invent and use new technology heading us in the right direction?  Schools are increasingly adopting technology to enhance, assist, and transform teaching and learning.  I am a huge proponent of this in my District.  But, even I, a technology evangelist, wonder if there’s a limit (I know shocking isn’t it).

I advocate for technology to be in the classroom in the hands of kids.  Embed the technology for learning where most school-based learning occurs.  I recently watched this video called Distracted by Everything (sorry it wouldn’t embed here, just link).  Kids in the video claim to be able to (multitask) with their technology.  We talk about “digital natives” being able to work on their homework, watch TV, watch youtube, MSN / FB with 7 friends, and text on their cell phone simultaneously.  But can they, really?  What are they sacrificing?  Isn’t there a place for focus, on (gasp) one thing at a time?  Is it healthy to attempt to do so much at one time?  I also read somewhere recently that there is research that suggests humans can’t really multitask.  We can task-switch, and kids seem to be able to do this fairy well.  But just like with computers, there’s a limit and then it’s call “thrashing” and that’s when computers crash.  We don’t want our kids to “crash”…

But then I watched another video (I think Chris Kennedy tweeted it out @chrkennedy) that suggests to me that we haven’t reached the “enough” stage yet in K12.  Check out these youngsters in Moose Jaw, Canada.

These kids certainly have “enough” access to good technology and good teaching.  This is an inspiring story of how technology is woven into the fabric of learning. 

But, is there a limit to how much technology should change our lives, our learning?  I worry about how much people seem to be connecting now with FB, twitter, etc.  With iphones, blackberries, and other devices, people can stay connected practically 24x7.  Personally, I find time to unplug from my PLN and the technology.  Even if people think they’re okay staying so connected I think it might not be healthy over the long haul.  Perhaps the answer to my post’s question is “it depends”.  

Here’s a peek at the future of technology…  it’s cool for sure but where will it take us next?

Back to the Upside of Down.  I still wonder though on the grander scale if we are using technology to head into some uncharted and dangerous waters.  The author of Upside of Down talks about seismic events and technology is un underlying factor in how these may play out.  I think we need to be thoughtful and careful as we adopt new technology.  And remember, technology requires reliable access to energy (preferably clean energy).  Yes, change is inevitable, but let’s make sure the surprises it brings are good ones.