Monday, November 03, 2008

Are Your Children Prepared for the Coming Techno-Utopia?

Education is by its nature forward-looking, and particularly in ed-tech, we take the indulgence of making a lot of arguments based on predictions about the future, and the projected needs of citizens of the future. Or at least we do a lot of hand-waving about the future, but you'll look in vain (or at least I did) for a description of what the 21st century looks like on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills site. And David Warlick (for one) likes to hedge by saying "for the first time in history, we cannot clearly describe the future for which we are preparing our children," which is transparent bullshit (the "for the first time" part, that is).

But generally speaking (in the US K-12 sphere), the message that has really resonated is exemplified by Did You Know? Clearly, this little presentation captured the zeitgeist.

I've been thinking about this and I've decided that overall, what people have gotten caught up in are pessimistic takes on essentially optimistic future scenarios. In effect, "Are your children prepared for the coming techno-utopia?"

For example, if you are worried that the US's grasp on global hegemony in the 21st century may be following in the footsteps of the UK in the 20th century, you're being optimistic. First off, the UK ended up just fine, thank you, notwithstanding the lack of global empire, for which their former colonies are grateful. If you are asking whether or not the US will be a unilateral mega-power or one of several balanced super-powers competing as part of more or less the same global system as we have now, either way you're counting on a lot of stability and prosperity.

Put another way, if you're primarily worried about how we're going to handle information in the future, that implies that the physical world will be relatively ok.

I think the zeitgeist is going to flip, and we're going to start taking more optimistic angles on more pessimistic scenarios. We're increasingly confronted with the reality that a whole set of things we all know are "unsustainable" are ceasing to be sustained or sustain themselves, and we're entering a long period of overlapping, interlocking crises that will completely re-make our physical world and our place in it. I think we're about ready to stop running from cartoon phantoms and start facing real problems.

At least rhetorically, that is.

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