Thompson: "Slowly, Slowly We’ll Obtain a Balance."
Douglass Rushkoff’s brilliant "Digital Nation" should be required viewing for reformers committed to "disruptive innovation."
In terms of specifics, I don’t know how much he adds to the insights of Umburto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Travels in Hyperreality. The novelist had long ago persuaded me that the digital age will cause short-term damage to the younger generation, not unlike the way that the rise of literacy damaged memory and other aspects of the human imagination. In the long run, as is also true of data-driven accountability, humans will learn to control the technology, create art, and produce real gains. In the short run, however, who would trade an increase in math skills for an acceleration in the decline of delayed gratification?
Secretary Duncan is 1/2 right about the transition of the next five years as up to a million Baby Boomers retire. He is dead wrong in implying that we do not need to be afraid of technology. A technology enthusiast described digital gaming "as a lens for the entire learning experience." I support investments in those more engaging technologies, but I really agree with Todd Oppenheimer who wrote, "we’ve got to slow down and stop. And schools are one of the few institutions we have where you can have a sustained conversation."
Rushkoff’s strength was portraying the overall transformation of society and the younger generation by digital reality. We must debate how much should schools try to slow the transformation or whether schools should just try to direct change in a healthier direction. But as with the other issues that divide us, educators must recognize that classroom effects will continue to be dwarfed by social forces. The schools we build will be determined by the values of our culture, with commercialism weighing in as the 900 pound gorilla. Hopefully technology will restore some of the "human touch." It is ridiculous, however, that educators would fight over disruptive innovations as if school reform will control the unfolding of history.
I would be far more comfortable with the Defense Department rather than schools bearing the financial, the human, and the moral risks of futuristic gaming, for instance. Noah Shachtman was intriguing and terrifying in describing how "distinctions between virtual and real reality become more blurred." For instance, when a real person adds ten centimeters to their digital height in virtual negotiating, they win. When children experience swimming with whales in virtual reality, ½ recall that they actually swam with whales.
"People developing these tools seem to have less regard for how technologies will affect us in the future than how we will be influenced in the present," says Rushkoff. Sherry Turkle adds, "technology challenges us to assert our values. Slowly, slowly we’ll obtain a balance. It will take time."