Metaphors and technological change: A double-edged sword

Are these the same device?

Are these the same device?

A smartwatch is not a watch, no more than a smartphone is a phone. Both are sophisticated computerized networking and sensing devices that we carry either in our pocket or on our wrist. When we talk about these devices we metaphorically relate them to familiar devices to create a sense of continuity when we are faced with what are really radical new technologies. And, we carry the metaphors even further. They’re not only used to provide a way to talk about something new, they also influence the way that these new technologies are designed and marketed. Together, the metaphors and imagery derived from them help to ease the potential shock of significant and dramatic technological changes. Sooner or later, however, change catches up with us and we no longer need our metaphorical crutches (see what I did there?) to relate. That’s when things start to get really interesting. At that point we can start asking the really tricky questions, like what does a smartphone become when it’s no longer a phone?

In this article I want to talk about two things. The first is how we use metaphors to gradually ease into new meaningful contexts that might otherwise be uncomfortably disruptive. The second is how we can start to create new futures by looking beyond current metaphors. Both are important parts of how we deal with technological and social change and demonstrate how we can deliberately use metaphors to expand our temporal horizons to plan for unseen futures. Continue reading

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Is technological change really accelerating? Depends – real or perceived change?

Fast businessI’ve just come across this rather dated blog post (from 2006) by Tom Coates in which he is lambasting people for “rhetoric of endless insane change at a ludicrous rate.” The point he wants to make is that the changes being referred to are really the end results of gradual incremental change. It only looks like rapid change when you’re not keeping tabs on relevant trends. The problem here is that Coates doesn’t differentiate between real change and perceived change. This is an important distinction. Most technology consumers (and this includes industries and service providers that consume technologies for their business purposes) neither have the time nor the know-how needed to keep tabs on real change. For them, change occurs, not as a new technology is developed, but when that technology invades their space. There can be a considerable lag between the two and they progress in very different ways. Continue reading

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Are information and communication technologies necessary in education?

classroom without ICT?

Is this what the “class without ICT” looks like?

I was giving a talk yesterday to board members of a Nordic teachers’ organizations’ network. In the end I was asked if information and communication technologies (ICTs) are necessary in education. I didn’t have much time to give an elaborate response but here is what I was thinking.

How we respond to the question depends on what we mean by “necessary”: Continue reading

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Arthur M. Harkins, Ph.D., Futurist: In memory of a dear friend and mentor

Arthur M. Harkins, Ph.D.I learned this morning that my dear friend and mentor, Arthur Harkins, passed away yesterday. As a well-known futurist, commentator and professor, Art had the opportunity to touch a lot of people’s lives. Art was one of those natural born teachers who are too few and far between. He had an intense desire to help people nurture their knowledge and could be very effective in doing so. When you signed up for a course with Art it was very likely that you would come out of it a very different person than when you started. Art didn’t just impart knowledge. He changed the way that people think and view themselves and the world around them.

I first met Art when I started my graduate studies at the University of Minnesota in 2004. He was my advisor and as far as I knew at the time he had been somewhat randomly assigned to me. It wasn’t until much later that he told me that he had picked me out of the student pool because I raised questions about the future of education in my application essay. Typical Art – he was always on the lookout for natural futurists.

Art and I didn’t come to realize the extent of our mutual interests until I took his “Knowledge Formats” course a year or so into my studies. If I remember correctly there were about 15 students in the course but much of the classtime ended up being consumed by some pretty intense discussions and debates between Art and myself. It wasn’t just a two person gab fest, though, and fellow students were very active in those discussions as well. I think that in the end everyone appreciated the depth of understanding that emerged from those discussion because we were dealing with some very tough subject matter.

It was in Art’s “Knowledge Formats” course that I discovered how accommodating Art was of my way of thinking. I was allowed to make references to things like science fiction, futurists and creative visions of society without the side-glances and “tsk tsk’s” that I had become accustomed to. (In high school I once proposed to an english teacher that I be allowed to do an independent study on science fiction literature. She didn’t even have to think about it. She said no way, science fiction is not viable literature. She didn’t give in until I had gone to the library and dug up some prospectuses from US universities that showed that sci-fi literature was actual a thing. But she would only allow Kurt Vonnegut! Not quite my understanding of sci-fi but I was willing to chalk baby steps down as a win nonetheless.) But that’s not to say that it was all some wishy washy post-modern free-for-all with Art. The future was always serious business with Art and he demanded critical, academic and rigorous work. It was probably this that gave me the most in my early interactions with Art, the discovery that I could, and how I should, balance my creative thinking with the scholarly demands of academia.

Later, when I decided to pursue my Ph.D., it was hardly even a question – I wanted to continue working with Art and so I returned to Minnesota. This time, of course, Art and I would work far more closely together than when I was doing my masters. Over the following five years Art and I, along with various others, worked on a range of projects, created courses, taught courses and futured together, intensively at times, and through all of it I learned so much that I’m even still trying to wrap my mind around it. And for all of that, I am very grateful.

In some ways it might be said that this very website is sort of a monument to Art. I actually started this site when I was taking Art’s “Knowledge Formats” course for the specific purpose of keeping a journal of all the thoughts that were streaming through my head at the time, and then I just kept going. It’s now been eleven years and there are over 200 articles. I may not specifically mention Art often in them but his spirit is certainly embedded in each and every one.

My deepest condolences go out to Art’s family.

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Affordances, education and future technologies

software-tell-doPeople working in education are increasingly being urged to think ahead and consider how emerging and future technologies will affect education to better align educational practice, goals and policy with ongoing technological development. It should come as no surprise that I agree. In fact, it’s what I do. But, how do we do this when the future is always at least a step or two ahead of us? It’s certainly no simple task, but what I think it comes down to, essentially, is affordances. That is, we need to consider what the affordances of projected technological developments will be in, and beyond, educational environments. Continue reading

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Posted in Education, Future, ICTs, Internet, Technology foresight, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

‘Big Picture’ Innovation in Education

The following is an article that I started to write several years ago and just now rediscovered while working on something else. I guess I intended to write more about ‘big picture’ innovation in education but only got as far as some guiding questions that that section would address. Nevertheless, I think it’s an interesting article as is and may have some relevance in the rapid change environment that schools find themselves today as they adopt technologies such as mobiles/tablets, etc. I’m going to leave it as is with the questions at the end rather than writing the final section. Comments, especially ones that address the questions at the end, are very welcome.

tinkerI think most would agree that in times of increasingly rapid change, innovation is important for education. That then raises the question; how do we foster innovation in educational systems? There are a lot of general ideas about how innovation works and what needs to be done to promote it. Many of these ideas have been applied to education, primarily approaches that encourage small-scale innovation in the classroom, i.e. making the teacher the primary innovator. These approaches have given mixed results. They’ve produced a lot of interesting ideas but have seldom led to lasting change. Here, I want to consider what broader long-term views of innovation processes, what I’ll call “big picture” theories of innovation, can contribute to discourse on innovation in education. Continue reading

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