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, that for every digital problem, there exists an analog solution.
When Alvin Toffler predicted a world in future shock, he feared that people would become disoriented and stressed by the speed of change and the convergence of life and technology. Change, he said, was a disease. But like most forms of disease, it was not unmanageable or incapable of being harnessed to maximize its positive gains.
Kevin Kelly makes the same diagnosis in his recent work, What Technology Wants. Kelly approaches the subject from a biological evolutionary perspective, not from a futurist sociological perspective as Toffler had done. He concludes that technology, from the creation of spoken language to the development of the microporcessor, is part of an evolutionary process whereby those who are able to adapt and thrive reproduce and form the foundation of the next generation. It is, quite simply, natural selection. Forty years after Toffler’s diagnosis analsysts are diagnosing the same problems with the same prescription: Understand the technology. Use it in way by which you, the master of your own universe, will not feel used.
Toffler criticized the US system of education for looking to the past for structure and direction,
rather than looking toward the future, establishing an operational framework within which the system might prepare students to meet the demands of the future. He suggested that in the future, parents might have the resources to teach proscribed curriculum from home as a result of technology, not in spite of it. He saw schools students worked creatively, collaboratively, and independent of their age. As much as he lauded the future path, he was describing a saber-tooth curriculum. Today, forty years after Toffler, educational theorists like Sir Ken Robinson continue to diagnose the same disease with the same presciption. Home school, Montessori, Independent Schools…these are analog solutions, or at least alternatives, to digital problems, in this case that the system of education no longer meets the needs of the marketplace of ideas.
To be sure the marketplace of ideas is not only about education. The problems of the future described by Toffler in 1970 are the same problems that face the medical community, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and the post-modern version of Motown. In a recent interview with Howard Stern, Coldplay’s Chris Martin told Stern that professional musicians no longer make records to make a living. Today they produce singles and tour. Martin, a student of ancient history, described the musicians now as “working musicians,” no different than actors and musicians in the time of Shakespeare. They spend more time on the road, less time in the studio. They work for their food and their fortune, no longer isolated behind the walls of a studio, in many ways itself a creation of industrial society. In this regard, musicians too, have found an analog solution to their digital problem.