I'm about half-way through Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. In my dreams I'll write a proper review, but for the moment I'll just say if you want to understand what's going on on the internet today, you can't do better than this book. It is an optimistic, but distinctly post-utopian and largely hype-free explanation of the landscape. Much better than A Whole New World is Miscellaneous.
This quote leaped out at me last night:
Communication tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It's when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.
The problem is, this cuts against the conventional wisdom about how to do computing in schools, which is to have an ambitious, expensive program front loaded with professional development, aiming to meet short term goals. I've long argued that we would be better off aiming for inexpensive, sustainable, ubiquitous computing that is sufficiently cheap that it doesn't carry significant short-term performance pressures.
I believe that many initiatives in the current 1:3 or 1:4 student to computer ratio schools have failed not because of the lack of training, but the lack of ubiquity and consistency. A teacher must feel that the computers are here, they work, and they aren't going away, ever. EVER. If they can't believe all three, how can you argue that they aren't wasting their time? Why should they care about your professional development? The process has to be bootstrapped by putting technology in the hands of teachers and students. This is obvious, but we prefer to pretend it isn't true, mostly, I suppose, because it opens the door for charlatans to just sell loads of crappy computers to schools. Nonetheless, we just have to get over it and buy better technology, or we'll just continue walking around in smaller and smaller circles.
Some might say that cell phones fit the role of ubiquitous computers for kids today. They do socially, but it is harder to be institutionally ubiquitous. If I can't say, "ok kids, take out your X and do Y," with reasonably expectation that every student should have X and Y, then aren't ubiquitous in a school. Cell phone technology and its commercial implementation in the US is a long way from that point.