There is no “now” now.

October 29, 2009 · Posted in citizenship, culture, social networking 

A few days ago I had a conversation with a colleague that went something like this:

C: I just want to do what I do now with technology. I don’t want to know about social networking. It’s too hard to keep track of everything.
Me: I…ummm…it’s…did you get the time for the next faculty meeting?

What I wanted to say, and what I’ve been thinking about for some time, is that there is no such thing as catching up. There’s no “now” with technology. If you’re not constantly moving forward, then by default you’re moving backward. Particularly with technology, moving backward is an express ticket to irrelevancy. I liken it to being the best typewriter repairperson in the world–you may be very good at your craft, but who cares?

Two years ago, we weren’t talking about Twitter, and not much about Facebook. In a bit less than four years, YouTube has gone from a cautious startup to serving over one billion videos a day. Fifteen years ago we were just starting to talk about the World Wide Web. The processing power used for the first moon landing is roughly equivalent to the processing power of a Furby, a toy that was interesting 5 or 6 years ago. As quickly as things seem to change, we’re probably still on the early curve of an exponential explosion of technologies that will vastly change the way we do just about everything.

But we seem to be stuck on viewing technology as an object and not as a process. Much of the daily work I used to have to perform on my laptop (which replaced my desktop when it became much more important to be able to carry my work with me) can now be performed on my iPhone. The vessel is irrelevant to me as long as I can do what I need to do. Technology isn’t my laptop, or my iPhone. It’s a process for communicating, collaborating, creating, producing, and (somewhat recursively) for keeping up with technology. For an educator, it’s simply a tool of the trade. If you don’t understand how to use it professionally and instructionally, you’ll soon be looking for an office next to the typewriter repair shop.


8 Responses to “There is no “now” now.”

  1. John Schauer on October 29th, 2009 9:14 pm

    Brilliant! Have you read Accelerando by Charles Stross… I believe we are in a state of exponential change in at least a half dozen technology horizons. Institutions, especially of the educational variety, continue to change linearly with a low slope. Visualize how silly policies prohibiting cell phone/mobile devices in schools will seem a few years from now.

  2. Skip on October 30th, 2009 5:56 am

    I haven’t read that, John, but I’ve just placed an order at Amazon on your recommendation.

    Why do some institutions–notably education, particularly K12–actively resist getting on the curve? It’s got to be more than just money.

  3. Chris L on November 20th, 2009 12:37 pm

    That’s one of the few books by Stross I’ve read… it was a fun read. I also think we are experiencing exponential technological change (cf Ray Kurzweil) but I don’t think positive change in the realm of education is a given by any means… the principles that inform productive use of technology are ancient (which fits perfectly with the notion that it isn’t about the technology but the process and how tech provides affordances that can forward that process)– from Plato and Socrates forward– but there’s a loooong history of education not just being resistant, but ultimately succeeding in marginalizing and finally ignoring those changes.

  4. shawnette @simplek12 on March 9th, 2010 9:50 am

    Great post and oh so true! Thanks for sharing your blog with me and our readers @ I’ll definitely be you to my list!

  5. shawn russell on April 20th, 2010 7:48 pm

    Why the resistance to getting on the curve? That’s a very good question. And I think the answer is that notions of proper pedagogy are so thoroughly and fundamentally hard-wired into the minds of old-school academics that they really, truly just don’t get it. Why do we measure learning in “seat time”? Do you have to be sitting in a seat to learn? I would argue that I could be standing on my head on top of my refrigerator and learn something (even if only that I am capable of standing on my head on top of my refrigerator). Further, I would argue that learning has nothing at all to do with furniture. It’s time to say, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, and hello to the microchip. It might cut down on some of our competition with out-of-state distance learning institutions.

  6. Skip on April 20th, 2010 8:37 pm

    I’m with you there, Shawn. I have some hopes that competition from online universities will force the issue for institutions that can’t get past the lecture-homework-test model of teaching. Students are clearly voting with their feet, and it’s not good news for traditional universities.

    Are you familiar with the term “disintermediation”–the idea that, if you are not adding value to a process, then you are just adding cost and therefore become irrelevant (like the typewriter repairman in my post). I think post-secondary institutions need to figure out what value they add to the process of developing educated citizens and work from there. If all we’re doing is asking students to read the book and take a test, why come to a university to do that? That can be done online. There are several studies that show that a hybrid learning environment–some face to face, some online–is the most effective in terms of student comprehension and retention. The trick, of course, is getting faculty to figure out what elements of their instruction can be online and what is best done face to face.

  7. shawn russell on April 20th, 2010 9:12 pm

    Disintermediation is beyond apropos – it should be our ethical and pedagogical objective to consider the community development aspects of educating citizens and to approach our role from a framework of public service. I would, however, substitute synchronous for face-to-face when talking about hybrid learning environments, but hybrid synchronous/asynchronous is just my particular bent.

    Nice blog! Gets me all fired up.

  8. Skip on April 21st, 2010 6:55 am

    True that, Shawn. In fact, I blogged on asynchronous instruction in my post “The Problem with Synchronicity.”

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