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A Pattern of Disruption

“A Yale geometry professor attempts to replace rote memorization and mental calculation with a radical new visualization technology.” The students riot. The school stands by the professor. The students were “suspended and treated with expulsion if they did not apologize. Contrite, they eventually returned, and were reinstated to good standing. The chalkboards stayed.” The year was 1837.

“Changing tools disrupt our habitual ways of being. New devices shepherd us toward an unfamiliar and therefore frightening future. There will always be people who see what’s new as a threat to the status quo. This is how ingenuity has always been greeted.” (Shapiro, 2018)

“Picking a strawberry properly, and doing it fast enough to earn a living wage, requires speed, dexterity, and stamina. Using a remote-guidance system, the Harvest Croo engineers rolled the machine out into the G.P.S.-plotted berry field…Each of the robots was equipped with a patented…appendage that does the actual picking. The wheel had six soft-rubber claw-like ‘obtainers’ that are able to cup the berries and pivot, imitating the popping action that human pickers make with their wrists.” (New Yorker, 2019)

21st century kids assume technology will do a lot of the work that humans do today. They accept technology as a cool way to expand human capabilities (McLuhan, 1964). They understand technology can overcome physical, cognitive, even emotional challenges. Younger brothers and sisters swipe a phone or a tablet to find YouTube videos before they read or walk. Anytime/anywhere access to information is a given, or will soon be for the 170,000 kids who first connect to the internet every single day. So, too, is the power of collective intelligence: they know Wikipedia is an organic encyclopedia with contributors all over the world. Wikipedia makes much more sense than a printed encyclopedia, with far fewer topics, that can’t link to anything.

At this moment in time, roughly 4 billion people can access television, and roughly 4 billion people can access the internet. Television’s growth is stalled. The internet is growing by hundreds of thousands of new users every day. Kids perceive television as a static technology, but they envision the internet as part of a unified technology concept that will continue to grow.

Auskun, 11, Southport, England (pictured): “Squirrels, for example. They store nuts in the ground, and if they didn’t have a mind, they wouldn’t remember where they put the nuts. They can remember very specific things. To share an idea, [a human] could write a book, draw a picture, and you could just tell someone. Phones and technology are not really natural—maybe in the future you could get brain implants. In the future, robots might be as smart as humans, but that would be in the very far future. I don’t think we have the power yet to create a robot as smart as a proper human. You can’t really put fake skin on a robot yet, we haven’t got the resources. I think robots can debate. On the internet, there are lots and lots of ideas. They could put that into a robot, so a robot could be smarter than a human that has not learned everything yet. Some people can have best friends online that are not actually real people because there are coders and hackers that are now [experimenting with] artificial intelligence.”

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Copyright © 2020 by Howard Blumenthal. All Rights Reserved.