Linear, as we know it, is over and this by no means is a linear account of what I experienced at the SUNZ summit.
Linear is self indulgent - it’s assuming that the restrictive lens (the lens that can’t even capture all the goings on in one room) is an accurate account of what has happened. In our own eyes, it is the Truth. However, a linear recount is impossible and somewhat unrealistic.
Interestingly, we train linear thinking into our youth, from a very early age. In primary school nearly everything is measured by ‘progressions’. Further, we train our young people to write stories through the tiresome genre called ‘recount’. We claim that it is some how ‘developmental’. We facepalm when we get to that inevitable end - “and then we got McDonalds and it was yum” (unless, of course, this is the first time the child has written a full sentence) then we punch the air and give the kid a sticker - then wonder why she doesn’t move on.
Well kids, McDonalds is not yum. It is instead a result of what we call “Cynicism”. Not the *hair-flick* “Don’t be so cynical” (as-in-suspicious) sense, but Cynical in the Zygmunt Bauman and Peter Sloterjik sense of the word.
The easiest way to think about this kind of cynicism is our wonderful human ability to know that things like smoking, drinking, and eating crap food is bad for us, but we do it anyway. Likewise, we know that people in the world are starving while at the same time knowing that world has an abundance of food. Yet we walk away and shrug it off. What can we do? Scraping mashed potato into the environmentally unfriendly waste disposal and even muttering to ourselves at times “There are children starving in Africa!” whilst grabbing the spray and wipe and cleaning all the evidence away. Hardened gravy stains on the formica will not do!
Often we hear that being human is the one thing that separates us from the machines. Even the most wonderful machines don’t have that human capability. This was demonstrated beautifully by Captain Sully’s human ability to turn that plane around - and land it on the Hudson - AI couldn’t do that. Well actually it probably could now because it would have learned from Sully… but that’s beside the point. We are humans. We can make good decisions. That’s what makes us better-er.
Baby X was a good girl. She doesn’t have a snotty nose. Quite likeable.
Now where was I? So we are sitting on the edge of incredibly disruptive and awesome technologies.
Think about the way that cars replaced horses. Yes, we still have horses, but we don’t ride them to work anymore. But it takes a while to happen. The first car cost the equivalent of $500,000 so they didn’t really catch on. The price has to get to that ‘sweet point’ where it makes more sense to buy a car than buy a horse, then - boom. Cars everywhere and not a horse in sight. The prediction is that this will be the case for electric vs petrol cars. It will take a while, but eventually the cost of an electric car will become affordable. Then - boom.
Same can be said for phones. Any computer with the capability of an iPhone 6 would have cost $5 trillion in 1984 and $4,830,000 in 1997 but now that they are at an affordable rate (for a certain elite) 15 year olds are walking around with them in their pockets. And they are great! Just today while sitting in a cafe I said, “Hang on, let me figure out when the Vic 20 came out”. I wasn’t really figuring it out - I was asking google. But I caught myself. I really did think that I was figuring it out! And maybe I was.
Incidentally the Vic 20 came out in 1980. I had one for about 5 minutes until the power supply just about burnt the house down and then Dad took it away. But the Vic 20 is one of the many reasons as to why I very much object to the term ‘Digital Natives’. Especially when digital natives are defined as children who were born after the year 2000. It’s nonsense and a ridiculous term. And I thought we had all dealt with this atrocity over 5 years ago.
But back to cynicism, because this is really why I am here. I came to the summit thinking that all this change is great. It is futile to fight it, we have to go with it. I am an eLearning advocate, I am an early adopter. I believe.
When I think about future focused pedagogy I am sensible. I do not believe in children mindlessly consuming technology. I believe (and I think that my school does it very well) that technology is a seamless tool. We have taken the ‘shiney factor’ off the device, our kids use devices for good. They use devices to learn about how to clean the streams, how to give to the community, how to create a better world - you know the drill. And I have also stood by the fact that our school will use technology to make enviro-ethical decisions, to connect with communities around the world, and to organise and give to our own community to make the world a better place. And this was a safe and comfortable place to be in.
I thought that the thing that separates us from the machines is our humanness. We are humans, we are beautiful, we see beyond the spreadsheet. A computer, for example, will make someone redundant. A computer will close a business - not realising the impact that this will have on the entire town - (think Flint Michigan). But a human, a human has the capability to see beyond the numbers, to see the stories behind the data and to make the human call.
But what scares me and what I have come to realise, are the implications of that pesky little thing called Cynicism. If cynicism is combined with the exponential growth of our machines (eg A.I) then I have an increasingly scary feeling. This is because the machines don’t suffer from cynicism. If the machines could consume, the machines wouldn't smoke. Simply because they know it is bad for them. The machines would chose synthetic milk over ‘natural’ milk. And the machines would know that synthetic meat is far better for us (and the animals!) than ‘natural’ meat (not that there is anything remotely natural about our mainstream meat and milk).
Suddenly I find myself standing at the bottom of the exponential curve in some kind of existential crisis.
And there is a new urgency.
We can’t rely on teaching our children that they have 'humanness' which makes them stand out from the machines.
Our children instead need to learn that the machines will soon be able to make more human (or cynically free) decisions than them.
So schools need to figure out how to deal with and eradicate out the out-of-control human cynicism. This is the next step for education. We can no longer rely upon and celebrate the fact that we are human, instead we need to explicitly teach strategies so that we remain human. It's a tweak, but an important one.
And I have a sneaking feeling that it is not going to be achieved through spelling and calculation.
And when I got home from summit I had a Thai take-away and it was yum.