Archive for November, 2011


I have mixed feelings after reading the first 19 chapters in Future Shock.  My first response like many that read this book is how eerie his predictions are now that I can look back in hindsight (in 2011) to a book that was released in 1970. I went online and typed in the search words ; Shock and predictions and found this recent article published last year, ‘Future Shock’ team issues predictions for next 40 years’  that looks back on Toffler’s predictions  in Future Shock and reports on Toffler Associates predictions for the next 40 years. I am linking here for those of you that plan on sticking around for at least another 40 years… Continue reading

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Alvin Toffler is not currently open to receiving Introductions or InMail™. Grrr. Not very futuristic of you Mr. Toffler. Continue reading

“COMPUTERS ARE ELECTRIC TRAINS” (TED NELSON)

One of the comments Ted Nelson made in POSSIPLEX was “Computers are electric trains.” To most people this would seem yet another of his rambling and disjointed comments.  But it “clicked” with me on a number of levels, because I think it was one of the truest things he said in the book.

Why did this odd comment make an impression on me?  One reason, which he more or less states in his book, is the similarity of the world of computers to the world of toy trains – flashing lights, sounds, etc.  But looking at it more as a metaphor, it brought to mind a recent comment by Dr. Leidman who said “I can just spend time on the computer all evening – –  it’s like Disneyworld.”

This resonated with me on a few different levels.  “it’s like Disney-world.”  To me that meant “like an imaginary world that is a fun place.”  Which brings to mind imaginary worlds that I identify with strongly.  Many of them were created by British authors in the last century  –  The Hundred Acre Wood of Winnie-the-Pooh,  Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” from The Lord of the Rings.  C.S. Lewis’s Narnia,  not to mention Neverland, of Peter Pan, and Wonderland, of Alice and the White Rabbit.

I have heard fiction writing instructors talk about the world of the story. By this they mean the development of the plot, the characters, the role of the narrator, the ambiance of the setting and time.  But in some of the British stories that I mention above, it is the imaginary world of the story that might be considered the focal point of the fictional work. The characters are in some sense “upstaged” by the imaginative creation of the world itself.  In the case of Harry Potter, he enters the world of magic by catching a train at “Platform 9 ¾” at the King’s Cross Station which takes him to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Alice falls down a rabbit hole, Peter Pan flies out through an open window, following Tinkerbell the fairy.

All far-fetched – silly places, really.  But silly originally meant blessed in Middle English – it only came to mean daft over the passage of time. Likewise these places, over time, lose their enchanted quality as we become adults.  Yet, at times, the world of the story still evokes its magic – its numinous quality.  C.S. Lewis talked about this “numinous” quality of his imaginary toy world of “Boxton” which he shared with his brother Warren in his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy – the Shape of my Early Life.   He described how at times when he was a young boy “playing” with this imaginary world of moss and ferns and toy animals there would come over  him a feeling of intense joy and wonder. Lewis and professor Tolkien met weekly with a small circle of writers called “The Inklings” at a pub near Oxford. For years they discussed their writing projects including the Narnia stories and The Lord of The Rings.  Both of them tried to incorporate this sense of a fully formed imaginary world into their fiction, and if book sales alone are the measure, they succeeded.

I mention this in relation to the comment of Ted Nelson about “electric trains” because that is an interest of mine.  In my basement I have a fairly elaborate setup of “toy trains” – which is made like an imaginary world.  A friend came to see this at the holidays last year, and said “these mountains are something – all you need is some Orcs to make it seem more realistic – like a scene from the Tolkien movie.”  His observation, made partly in jest, has made me reflect on this several times since.  What are we doing when we make “imaginary worlds?”  Linking this to computers and the more modern version of this, i.e., “virtual worlds” – what is going on when we create these places?  Do young people playing video games get that same sense of being “Surprised by Joy” that Lewis spoke about when contemplating his first imaginary world called “Boxton”?

Ted Nelson said “Computers are Electric Trains. ”  I agree.

Waiting for a Future Shock

My ten year old son’s Cub Scout troop is working to earn their scholarship badge. One of the components of the badge is to understand and describe how a school is structured. During the last pack meetings, each scout was given an index card labeled with components (or cogs) which make up the school system.  Words such as “Teacher”, “Administrator”, “Superintendent” and “Student” were labeled on these cards. Each boy was asked to place their card in hierarchical order on a poster board.

Now I don’t have a problem with the Cub Scouts and the values, sense of responsibility and respect they are trying to instill in future young men. But this exercise reflected, for me, the essences of the industrial age school model in which card was place in linear order much like a conveyor belt on a manufacturing line.

For the second exercise, the scouts were asked “What have you learned from your teacher?” The first scout to respond said “My teacher taught me how to use a computer.”  While I find that difficult to believe considering many 2 year olds are experienced smartphone users, I did wonder if the next question should be “and what did the computer teach you?”

Toffler describes education as an industry in which students are “raw materials”, teachers are the “workers” and the purpose of the school is to train students within an environment similar to the factory he or she
will soon be working in.  “Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by the industrialism to produce the kinds of adults it needed” (Toffler, 1970). In pondering the best ways to prepare society of tomorrow, should the education system posed Toffler’s question to itself “should education should take place in a school at all?”

Today there are alternatives.  School districts such as Putnam County, Tennessee are now requiring its students to take an online course as requirement for graduation (Davis, 2011) modeling Toffler’s suggestion in Future Shock that students are educated in the same way in which they will one day work.  Students can attend from K-12 online and for-profit online colleges are the ones with demonstrated growth while enrollments in traditional forms of higher education have remained stagnant (Bradley, 2011).  Yet, with all due respect to my colleagues in the field, these alternatives are
derived from an educational model which has been turned into a business model.  When will the field of education truly accept these alternatives beyond just dipping a toe in the water?  When will social, collaborative and constructivist education be valued at a premium?

I have worked in the distance education field for over 15 years and yet I spend an inordinate amount of time in my car driving from one industrial model school to another.  I am particularly frustrated on days where I drive 3-4 hours battling traffic and weather conditions to attend meetings about the future of distance education.  I am literally caught in the undercurrent between two waves as described by Toffler’s Politics of the 3rd Wave. The first wave attributed to the Agricultural Age, the second being the Industrial Age and the Knowledge Age as the third.

Living this paradoxical existence makes me wonder…exactly how long does a revolution take?  Am I supposed to be patient, satisfied in the small strides which have been made so far?  Is an online education the way of the future or is the “blended” or “flipped” classroom the optimum model?  How do we prepare today’s students for the challenges of the tomorrow in which they will be fully riding the Knowledge Age wave?    Must I hope to live long enough to witness a true educational transformation or am I just a victim of a future crash?

Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York, NY: Random House.

Toffler, A., Toffler, H., & Gingrich, N. (1994). Creating a new civilization:
politics of the third wave. (xiii, 98 p. ed.). Washington: Progress &
Freedom Foundation.

Bradley, P. (2011, May 18). Traditional Classrooms Vanishing as Rise In
Online Education Accelerates | Community College Week Blog. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://ccweekblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/traditional-classrooms-vanishing-as-rise-in-online-education-accelerates/

Davis, M. (2011, October 17). Education Week: States, Districts Move to
Require Virtual Classes. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from
http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2011/10/19/01required.h05.html

The Speed of Convergence

I suppose I am somewhat of a social determinist.  I believe in technology.  I’d like to believe that I am tech savvy.

Technology, like most elements in life, lives in a symbiotic relationship with other elements of the universe.  So where there is change there is often confusion; and where there is positive change there also exist the chance of unforeseen consequence.  So I tell myself, and I try to teach my students, Continue reading

I was the Future Man

Alvin Toffler published his book Future Shock in 1970, two years earlier than I was born thus, I feel I can relate to it more than younger people. My whole life has taken place during his “future”. As far back as I can remember my family used to live in a small city in a house that although it had electricity, it did not have a TV. My family bought their first one when I was eight years old. It was black and white. I remember I felt about it. It was shocking, not only for me, but for my whole community. After three years, we got a color TV, and we could hardly believe this improvement. However, we did not have a telephone until I was fifteen years old. It was amazing to see. We felt that the world had been drastically changed. We could contact our relatives who lived a fifteen hour drive away. The distance had vanished. It was obvious that technology was the changing machine.
That actually was nothing in comparison to what happened next. The spread of satellite TV channels, cell phones, the Internet, and all the innovations that came along with them was incredible. Despite the way people were rated in the Diffusion of Innovations Theory, people who were the first adapters, the early majority, the late majority, and the laggards all were forced to adapt to their new world. I was a witness and it was my second future shock. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable to live with all these new technologies. I was at the right time; young, newly graduated, and working for a newspaper that provided the Internet service. Not only was I the first one who was adapted to all new innovation in my community, but I was able to keep up with what was next. Unquestionably, I was the “future man”. As Toffler described him, I was living faster than people around me.
As I got used to all new technologies at that time my pace of keeping up had slowed down. At this point, my community outpaced me and I was not the only one who adapted to all the changes. Now I was the “present man” who was living with his contemporaries and this new “techno-social life”. Even though this new way of living was unacceptable to older people at that time, I was very happy with it. I felt that it represented me. That society was mine. It was true that there was a big change but I felt I was moving at the same pace.
Continuously, as new technologies became uncountable, the speed of new innovations rapidly increased in all directions. Old video games where you played with someone in the same room became interactive online games played with anyone in the world. Social networking sites, second life, smart phones, Ipods, ipads, kindles, etc. and I am sure I do not know what there even is became overwhelming. I am so tired of following new technologies. I wish I could stop these waves of new innovation because I want to keep myself as the “present man”. Unfortunately, now I feel like I could be the “the past man”. As Toffler described shocked people, I could be one of the older people who resist changes.
I would accept my current situation; living with what I have learned and adapted from technologies. Regrettably, I cannot stop adapting to the unadoptable extreme new technologies. The real problem is not technology itself; it is the fact that people are changing quickly and unconsciously all around me. If I choose to not be one of them, they will leave me behind. It feels like I am on a roller coaster, reaching the top, what is coming is more exiting, but, impossibly, I want to get out.

Those of you posting about Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, if you haven’t already, check out the five-part McGraw Hill (1972) documentary on the book that starred Orsen Wells: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ghzomm15yE.  While the narrative did an adequate job summarizing the ideas presented in Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), it did so bringing to the table all the over-the-top elements of production of a cheesy 1970’s kung fu film (or porno).  From the soundtrack to the special effects and narrative style of Orsen Wells, this film which very accurately describes the future is ironically Continue reading

When Alvin Toffler wrote his book Future Shock in 1970 he was projecting what the future would be like in regard to the human race, technology, education, and many other parts of the world.  The majority of the book seems to focus on the changes that will occur and the adjustments that humans will have to make in regard to technology and the human race.   Toffler however does discuss his views on education in the book as well.   In his opinion, “what passes for education today, even in our ‘best’ schools and colleges, is a hopeless anachronism”.   According to Meriam Webster Dictionary anachronism is “the state or condition of being chronologically out of place”.  Toffler went on to state that schools face backward in the direction of a dying system, rather than forward toward a developing  system. Continue reading

Like some of my colleagues, I have been able to read only a portion of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. So far, I have found myself agreeing with a few of his ideas and disagreeing with most. On page 38, Toffler writes that “time passes more swiftly for the old,” then goes into a detailed explanation of why that is the case. Personally, I couldn’t agree with that more. As a young boy, there were plenty of times when two hours felt like twelve hours. Nowadays, depending on what I’m doing, two hours can feel like two minutes. Then, there are other ideas of his, such as the concept of “parental professionals” on page 216, which I feel are way out there. Of what I have read so far, Toffler’s depiction of transience is one that I can relate to and that I am a part of. On page 74, Toffler states that “the professional and technical populations are among the most mobile of all Americans.” After all, I consider myself a professional and I have moved five times in my life. (Granted, a couple of the moves were for the sole purpose of getting out of an apartment and into a house, but they were moves nonetheless, and I think five moves is a lot for a guy who’s only 40.) For this post, however, I want to take his idea of transience in a different direction. Continue reading

For the record, I tried to add the “more” tag to this entry, but it’s not formatting correctly. So feel free to split this up before I get another chance to try to fix it! Thanks!

Fuck. (Had to add it in to this week’s blog as well. I’m sure you understand.) Anyway…

Perusing Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock — a term suggesting an overwhelming feeling citizens experience, an “information overload,” as a result of rapid industrial and technological change — I was drawn to the idea of “alienation” of people as a result of this stress and disorientation, and as a result of rapid technological change (1970).

To be honest, I think I was drawn to it because of a series of articles we read for the second Culture of Cyberspace class this semester. “Lessons from Facebook: The Effect of Social Network Sites on College Students’ Social Capital” by Sebastian Valenzuela, Namsu Park, and Kerk F. Kee addresses the isolation Toffler speaks of by examining the effects of social networking sites, Facebook specifically, on social capital — a person’s networks, social trust, civic engagement, political participation, group membership, volunteering, confidence in political institutions, and life satisfaction. Working off of Toffler’s suggestions, Valenzuela et al. examined the effect of social networking sites on social capital and civic and political participation — a sort of measurement of “alienation” in the face of technological change — determining who is using Facebook, specifically, and for what purposes they are networking socially (2008).

Valenzuela et al.’s literature review includes “Sociability, Interpersonal Relations, and the Internet: Reconciling Conflicting Findings” by Norman Nie, who takes an approach parallel to that of Toffler’s “alienation,” concluding that Internet use detracts individuals from face-to-face interactions and diminishes social capital (2000). However, Valenzuela et al. do not include Nie’s work as support for their research conclusions but rather as an opposing viewpoint to which they retort, and the researchers determine that despite prior thoughts to the contrary, social networking sites foster civic participation and other facets of social capital, and they include rather than isolate frequent users. Valenzuela et al. also suggest that Internet use does not detract from face-to-face interactions and social capital, but rather adds to it, and the researchers suggest that social networking does not turn frequent users into disconnected hermits (2008).

The “social capital” discussed is not as much popularity as it is participation in social events and interaction with other members of society, and this socialization is not something that occurs in simply an online-only realm. The interactions Valenzuela et al. studied transferred from an online environment to a physical environment, and vice versa. Not only do the relationships and connections fostered online improve online social capital, but they improve real-life socialization as well. These facets of contemporary technological change, Facebook and social networking, rebut Toffler’s idea of isolation (2008).

On a personal note, y’all know me. Still the same O.G. (Dr. Dre, anyone?) I’m not the most social person. I’ve always been more of a homebody-sort than a going out-sort (unless that “going out” involves snowboarding), and when I left Pennsylvania seven years ago, I had no real intentions of keeping in touch with old friends. It wasn’t that I disliked them, it’s just that, if I was to take time to use the phone or to write letters to get in touch with people back home, I was going to call my family. Technology and Facebook (although I hardly use Facebook anymore) have allowed me to keep up with these old friends and distant relatives and to keep these relationships going, even on a strained basis. I’m just a normal person with an average amount of social capital, and technological developments have not isolated me, but rather given me a slight increase in social capital. Is this increase in social capital characteristic of most people in contemporary society? Maybe. Probably. Then does Toffler’s “alienation” have legs in contemporary society? To a slight degree, perhaps, but certainly not universally.

References

Nie, N. H. (2001).”Sociability, interpersonal relations, and the internet: Reconciling conflicting findings.” American Behavioral Scientist, 45, 420-435.

Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.

Valenzuela, Sebastian, Namsu Park, and Kerk Kee. “Lessons from Facebook: The Effect of Social Network Sites on College Students’ Social Capital.” 9th International Symposium on Online Journalism (2008): 1-39. Print.