In a world full of answers you start your journey by asking the right questions
While I was looking at the infographic on language it reminded me of the answer Confucius gave to the question: What would be the first thing you would do if you had the opportunity to be the head of state? His answer was “Rectify the Language”.
This in turn made me think of Nicholas Carr‘s controversial book from last year The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think.
This book was a wider exploration of the theory he published a few year back in an article for the Atlantic called ”Is Google Making Us Stupid?“.
Carr’s proposition is based on the idea that the tools we use (e.g. Google) are changing we think. The only thing that appears to be in dispute is are these “real time” knowledge tools having a positive or negative influence.
“The reality is that after more than 30 years of interacting with the Crtl OCVZXS time machine we have modified our behaviours and expectations to the point where we believe the virtual worlds we are creating by connecting these Crtl OCVZXS time machine together are just as important, if not more important than the real worlds that we inhabit” - The Illusion of Life
Back in the days when it was popular to think that PCs and laptops were going to revolutionize education I would ask the education experts a simple question.
Why didn’t your predecessors put a typewriter on every desk?
The response was always the PC was much more than a typewriter. To which I would suggest yes but it is still nothing more than a typewriter with a memory. At which point the experts would change tact and suggest that thanks to the internet the PC would for the first time in history “give students access to the best minds”.
Again I would suggest they were wrong. Students already have had access to the best minds for centuries. All they had to do was read the books written by the best minds. After all isn’t it books that provide us with the opportunity to hold intimate conversations with people we will never meet? “AH! But multimedia on the PC is so much more stimulating than reading” would be the response. “If so then why did we not put a Radio, TV, Newspaper or color Magazines on every students desk?” would be my next question… and so the discussion would ebb and flow.
I would argue that media – in all its forms – allows us to see, hear or think about the world through the eyes, ears and mind of others. However the skill required to successfully apply any media to the problem of communicating your thoughts and impressions is a very different skill to being the best in your specialist field of expertise. Therefore being the best in your field of expertise is not – and never will be – a prerequisite for creating a successful media message.
For example David Attenborough may not be the world’s leading expert in elephants but he is universally recognized today as the media personality best suited to the task of teaching a TV audience about elephants. Therefore the arrival of the internet wasn’t going to solve the problem of providing students with access to the best minds because that wasn’t the problem that need to be solved.
The real problem was getting students excited about the idea of discovering and conversing with the best minds.
These are the types of discussion I had throughout the 19980′s and 90′s and it was around this time that I thought of the PC and the internet as the next generation bookshelf or library. The only difference was the hyper link would allow you to navigate the library a lot faster than you could have before. In this context I am not sure the internet or the computer changes the way we think. The global electronic bookshelf merely allows us to store, distributed and retrieve the collective knowledge of the tribes on an hereto unimaginable scale and speed.
Google – just like the hyper link that is the foundation stone for its success – is of course not an intelligent agent. It is a navigational tool. This means it is only as effective and efficient as the questions you chose “Google”. Therefore it would appear to be self evident that rather than being less intelligent you need to be more intelligent to use Google efficiently and effectively. After all in a world full of answers you start your journey by asking the right questions.
Which takes me back to the question facing Confucius: What would be the first thing you would do if you had the opportunity to be the head of state? His answer was “Rectify the Language”.
The wisdom of this answer points to something far more fundamental than the collaborative tools and aids we use to help us store and rediscover our collective memory.
It points to the very simple idea that language is the currency of thought – not the tools we use to interact with the language - and that’s why world expressed in the number of characters you can fit on a post card is a very different world to the one expressed through an essay or a book. Here then is the catalyst of the shallows Nicholas Carr writes about. It is embedded in the language or our times reshaped by the most intimate tool we use to communicate our ideas, thoughts, feelings and the world around us… The mobile phone. It is a language that is transforming into a kind of word and picture puzzle (i.e. Rebus) of abbreviations and pictograms designed to express complex everyday emotions (Think : <3 for love, Happy, Raspberry).
What is interesting of course is the awareness that this is just the beginning of something exciting and new as we begin to adopt the Mobile Phone more and more as the tool of choice to capture, store, edit, distribute and retrieve our thoughts, impressions, expectations and memories, to interpret and discover insights into the things we see and hear in the real world and then share, mash-up and explore all these elements as part of the collective memory of the tribe(s).
This then is the promise of Mobile Augment Reality: Your mobile phone as an “all in one tool” to help you navigate your way through life.
Back in the 80′s the keyboard the was the user interface (UI) that allowed us to navigate the collective memory. In the 90′s it was the mouse. In the 00′s it was Google. In the 10′s it will be the Mobile Phone.
Point, click and discover your world through your mobile phone… now how shallow is that?