Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

18 JANUARY, 2011

A New Culture of Learning: Rethinking Education

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The evolution of education, particularly as filtered through the prism of emerging technology and new media, is something we’re keenly interested in and something of increasing importance to society at large. Now, from authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown comes a powerful and refreshing effort to approach the subject with equal parts insight, imagination and optimism, rather than the techno-dystopian views today’s cultural pundits tend to throw our way.

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change makes a compelling case for a new kind of learning, one growing synchronously and fluidly with technology rather than resisting it with restless anxiety — a vision that falls somewhere between Sir Ken Robinson’s call for creativity in education paradigms and Clay Shirky’s notion of “cognitive surplus.”

We’re stuck in a mode where we’re using old systems of understanding learning to try to understand these new forms, and part of the disjoint means that we’re missing some really important and valuable data.” ~ Douglas Thomas

The book touches on a number of critical issues in digital learning, from the role of remix culture to the importance of tinkering and experimentation in creating, not merely acquiring, knowledge. Central to its premise is the idea that play is critical to understanding learning, something we can get behind.

Sample the content with some excellent talks by the authors on the book’s site and grab a copy of A New Culture of Learning — you won’t regret it.

Thanks, Helen

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12 JANUARY, 2011

Future Shock: Techno-Paranoia Narrated by Orson Welles

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What the dawn of computing has to do with Herbie Hancock and humanoid robotics.

In 1970, sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler, the Ray Kurzweil of his day, wrote a book entitled Future Shock, which proposed a certain distressing psychological state , induced by change so rapid the human mind can’t digest it, and introduced the notion of “information overload” for the first time. In 1972, the book, already a bestseller, was adapted into a little-known documentary of the same name, narrated by Orson Welles. Exploring the shift from industrial society to what Toffler calls “super-industrial society,” the film tackles notions of consumerism and information overload — think BBC’s The Century of the Self meets Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows.

The film is now available on YouTube in five parts, offering a fascinating glimpse of a conflicted society on the brink of a new information era, the very cultural landscape we now inhabit.

What do we buy, where do we go, what shoud we think? The make, the model, the price… Buy now! Keep up with the latest! Don’t fall behind! The pre-cooked, pre-packaged, plastic-wrapped instant society. We’re faced with so many choices, so many decisions. We have to make them so quickly. None of us can escape the pressures. That’s what Future Shock is all about.”

A chemistry professor recently stated that he couldn’t pass today’s examinations because at least two thirds of the questions require knowledge that didn’t exist when he graduated from Oxford in the early 30s.”

So wide-spanning was the influence of Toffler’s work that it inspired an entire Curtis Mayfield album, the title track of which was even famously covered by Herbie Hancock.

The rate of change reflecting the fact that where we live means less and less as we breed a new race of nomads. Few suspect how massive, wide-spread and uprooting these migrations are.”

As the pace of technology accelerates, as the pieces are laid into place, the pattern seems clear: We might create an artificial man. As work proceeds on the brain, it may one day be possible to combine all the elements into a life-like duplication of flesh and blood. The momentum is established, but the direction is up to us. Is there danger in the path we are taking? What happens to the definition of man, who is he? What is he?”

Considering present scientific knowledge, we may soon be able to create carbon copies of human beings. Imagine the implications — to duplicate a human being, genetically, down to the last detail.”

Our children. Will we save them from future shock, or are they destined to suffer the same illness that rocks today’s society? The directions we choose have consequences not merely for us. The choices we make will determine the nature of their world. There is still time.”

The film, darkly dystopian and oozing techno-paranoia, is a valuable reminder that — as our friend Nick Bilton keenly points out — societies have always feared new technology but ultimately adapted to it. Or, better yet, adapted it to their needs. Future Shock is an excellent companion to contemporary books tackling the same issue, such as Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants, putting our modern fears in perspective and grounding our present techno-paranoia in its proper historical context.

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11 JANUARY, 2011

Retrofuturism Revisited: The Past Imagines the Future

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Flying cars! Spinning buildings! Voice AND color! …or what Disney has to do with Eve.

Last year, we looked at the 2020 Project, which invited some of today’s sharpest thinkers to imagine tomorrow. But how will their visions look to future generations? To get a taste for it, we looked to the past: Here are 6 charming visions for the future, from the past — a delightful exercise in retrofuturism that embodies humanity’s chronic blend of boundless imagination, solipsistic foolishness and hopeless optimism.

THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL

In 1936, Japanese magazine Shonen Club published World Transportation Invention Competition — an illustrated series envisioning the future of transportation, based on concepts by inventors from around the world. From high-speed monorail to tank-like battle boats to a car with spherical wheels, the images embody a fascinating blend of technological urgency and artistic imagination.

Mountain monorail -- Kikuzo Ito, 1936

A powerful airplane propeller balances a precarious-looking two-wheel bodice, while a tail fin keeps the train upright and stable.

sphere-wheeled car -- Reiji Iizuka, 1936

Based on a concept by a German inventor, the vehicle's oversized rubbery tires promise a smoother ride than the conventional tires and act as a cushion in the event of an accident.

WALT DISNEY’S TOMORROWLAND

Last month, we featured Walt Disney’s Man In Space — an entire series of retrofuturist visions for space exploration, part of his Tomorrowland program. In the following mashup, digital artist David Phillips remixes footage from the program to capture Disney’s legendary optimism about the future.

CLOTHING OF THE FUTURE

In the 1930s, Pathetone Weekly asked leading fashion designers to imagine women’s clothing in the year 2000. From an electric belt that adapts the body to climatic changes to a wedding dress made of glass to an electric headlight “to help her find an honest man,” the Eve of tomorrow is as delightfully retrofuturistic as they come.

As for [the man], if he matters at all, there won’t be any shaving, colors, ties or pockets. He’ll be fitted with a telephone, a radio, and containers for coins, keys and candy for cuties.”

Just about describes your average Brooklyn hipster.

Thanks, Meredith

HALLUCINATORY ARCHITECTURE OF THE FUTURE

Dark Roasted Blend, one of our favorite portals for eclectic interestingness, has a wonderful roundup of “hallucinatory architecture of the future” — architectural retrofuturist urbanism that leans on the side of the far-fetched.

More here and here.

VISIONS OF THE FUTURE

Vision as well as sound, oh my! When British telecommunication giant BT imagined the future of communication technology — from videoconferencing to high-definition document transmission — they made their most conceptually innovative proposition, the notion of telecommuting, with a kind of facetiousness most ironic in the context of today’s remote-everything workplace.

Given all these facilities, the businessman will scarcely need to go to his office at all. He can do all his work in the comfort of his own home.”

TELEFUTURE

In 1980, a TV segment entitled Telefuture envisions a world of television-based information services. While at its core lies a fascinating and, in retrospect, remarkably accurate exploration of the exponential progression of technology — including transmedia experiences that even modernity can’t get quite right, like Internet TV — the excitement and language used to describe technologies we now find primitive is a disarming source of amusement. We held it together quite admirably, until the vintage-voiced man described basic 8-bit diversions as “incredibly complex games” — at that point, through tears of laughter, we wonder how his vocabulary of superlatives would hold up against the latest Halo 3 or Guitar Hero.

But don’t think of it just as a receiver of programs from networks or local stations — it’s becoming a central display terminal, able to show pictures from a growing number of electronic sources, including traditional broadcast stations, 40 or more channels of cable television, video cassette recorders with timers to record programs to watch at your convenience, video disc machines that don’t record but play back records of films, specials and so on, and games people play, incredibly complex games now programmed into your sets by small cassettes or cards or memory discs.”

For some quality present-day retrofuturism, we highly recommend What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science — a fantastic, and not necessarily fantastical, anthology of 18 essays by leading scientists across evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience and psychology exploring the future of ethics and the human mind.

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