Sunday, 25 November 2012

Each smart phone, iPad and laptop is a roving entry and exit point to a vast network. How does this fact change society?

The new normal: the smart device electronic campfire.

Smart portable Information Age techniques are changing how we think and interact with each other.

by Tom Thorne

The techniques of the Information Age are personal and portable. Users can rove anywhere, anytime and be in touch with the world. No time in human history has provided such a series of techniques devoted to constant always on personal communication.

Now many young people do not have a hard wired telephone connection. They use cell or smart phones as their primary and often their only telephone. Twenty somethings see this as perfectly normal. Analogue telephone systems are largely unknown to them.

Roving with a smart phone really means you have a series of sophisticated computer apps or programs at your finger tips where ever you are. Cellular telephone service, email, web searches and texting are always available.

So what else is new you say?  Well if the new normal is roving everywhere with a small computer in your hand or pocket then I say that is a profound change for society. These techniques are possibly changing our cognition and how we view our contemporary social environment.

The first observable change I see is how smart phone users interact with real humans. If the phone indicates a text or call is coming in that trumps talking to a real human. Real humans can be put on a type of limbo hold while the smart phone user deals with a text message, Tweet or a call.

Jobs are now 24/7. Bosses think nothing of emailing and texting employees outside of  9-5 business hours. If a smart phone user is "unavailable" then the person trying to contact them is put out. Therefore many smart phone users are always available to friends, family and especially their bosses. 

If a boss contacts you then it is important today to respond on your time. Work is also now portable and 24/7. Many more hours of work are chocked up this way. Personal time is depleted by constant communication. Many companies provide smart phones for this very purpose.

Then there is the attention span issue. I know twenty somethings who work on their computer, talk to humans and answer their smart phones all at the same time. They multitask and life is a series of Tweets, texts, real humans and work. They are never fully focused on any moment because any part of their communications network can interrupt their current activity. They even eat with their smart phone on.

As I said in a earlier piece this creates mini-celebrity. The multi-tasker is at the centre of all this attention and therefore doles out time dollops as needed to the smart phone and the real humans that are sharing that moment. There is a lot of being placed on hold in such a lifestyle. To complete a task means going through a series of interruptions that interlope constantly in real time. 

Users talk to humans, ring, answer phone, text a reply, then go back to real human conversation, look up a movie time on the internet that came from the email and then maybe finish the real human conversation if the attention span hasn't fallen victim to the process.

This situation I believe destroys linear continuity of the old pre smart phone world. It replaces it with a multitasked outcome which by its nature have a different goal or no goal at all. No longer is there a beginning, middle and an end. It is replaced by mini and even micro events that in some cases have a beginning and may have a middle waiting for an answer in cyberspace set between two other messages.  The linear world of old with a beginning middle and end is a fleeting experience. 

The nature of electronic communications technique is the fragmentation of life as we know it. If you can be found anywhere anytime 24/7 then you get a bit here and a bit there and only infrequently does it all come together. Fragmented input and output from constant information bombardment destroys communication continuity.

Life once knew the joy of a story that was told without interruption and these stories all had a linear beginnings, middles and ends. Now we live with dollops of data and information that infrequently never tell a full story or contain any substance. 

Human interaction is now what can be packaged in 140 text characters or spelled out with two thumbs in a semi literate text message such as "2day u hav 2 lern txting". It's a time where the linear world of print, film and television is being replaced by the multitask world of 24/7 highly personal communication. It is the cult of the mini-celebrity.

Already we are seeing movies where the plots cannot be advanced without the use of smart devices. The technology is integrated already into popular culture. Characters in films are seen as smart users of these smart techniques. Popular culture reflects our times and reinforces the smart 24/7 world as normal.

Imagine the baby born in 2012. That child will grow up completely in a smart environment and that smart environment will be the new normal. How does this level of technique interface with our culture first and perhaps even our evolution as a high technology species?  That remains the open question. What are the effects of this world we have created?  In my view it is a nanosecond world where attention spans last about as long as a nanosecond. Remember, techniques define how human culture develops.

© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The techniques of the Information Age define its social outcomes.

The Gutenberg Press: The birth of the Information Age

Some ideas about our current digital media experiences and how they never stand still long enough to devise a history.

by Tom Thorne

When The Information Age took root with printing in the 15th Century it produced the concept of the literate educated generalist. Electric communications and its development into networked digital media after 1990, ensures that no one can ever be an educated generalist ever again. 

The strategic directions of a society that has evolved to a ubiquitous digital communications model are harder to define in the glut of data and information that is produced each nanosecond.

For much of my working life the online electric extensions of the mass media Information Age was at first a promise and then a shabby image of what it could be, and finally it all morphed into the World Wide Web incorporating mass media broadcasting and print into new narrow casting medium capable of producing endless streams of data, information and sometimes knowledge.  

This full fledged Information Age has been a long time coming tied as it is to the invention of  electric and then finally to inexpensive microelectronics and universal software protocols to make a digitally driven Information Age work. It took from 1940 to 1990 to really get rolling.

The Information Age started long before the Electric Age of telegraph and its  important antecedent microelectronics came about in the 1970's  It really began with the development of hand set movable type in the 15th Century. Gutenberg and others invented movable type set in motion an age where content was democratized and vulgate languages began to appear in print and Latin was sidelined as a language of a passé elite. Movable type created versions the Bible in vulgate languages and set in motion the Reformation. It leveled hierarchies of control in the Church and in the state. It probably also set ideas about democracy in motion.

Printing made universal primary education possible. By primary I mean the possibility was created  where anyone could learn to read and write because the low cost school books could be standardized and distributed. The 19th Century McGuffy readers made  primary education happen culminating before the Age of Television began with primary education classic book series such as Fun With Dick and Jane.

At the begiining of printing it became fashionable for kings and nobles to learn to read and write a function usually reserved for scribes since ancient times. For more common folk it took about a 200 years before primary education ideas and its implementation in society began to surface in places like Scotland. Print is a medium than ensures that copies are exact and standardized. This technique gives birth to the idea of standardized primary education.

The spread of printing took 300 years and over that time two major social changes began. The first change was the birth of the periodical and news sheets in the late 17th Century began in earnest. A system that copies easily  becomes a medium for news, a content concept of the print world. It provides an active voice where there was only static status quo before. It is a change element. 

The idea of a periodical means that information is speeding up and needs to be provided in daily periodical dollops rather than in manuscript or printed book form. It is a natural development of movable type. It is a sheet of paper that is here today and gone tomorrow. To make this new development work and really take off the providers of periodicals need readers and a wider audience of readers. It's a chicken and egg situation. Printing periodicals and reading are mutually intertwined events that create change. Only in the Age of  Print, by the 18th Century,  can ideas like primary education and daily newspapers take hold.

When media are used for information and education there is a transformation of perception and learning that is influenced by the medium's presence in the lives of people. In the case of print it all happens slow enough to study. In the digital media world of our times it is all in nanoseconds and its social effects are fleeting and probably quite profound but difficult to grasp long enough to study.

The introduction of printing is easy to see and follow because it took so long to take root and influence society. It provided a literate culture with a sense of history. In fact it resulted in the growth of social science and the development of the scientific method, something that only happens when knowledge is printed, shelved and used as a reference for the culture and then added to over time. 

When electric media are introduced to the media mix a new acceleration of information, education and knowledge takes place. Information and knowledge snowball and grow quickly. It is much more transitory than a book. Sometimes it is here today and gone tomorrow finding no tangible place to become a reference source. In its worst incarnation it becomes a mere sound or video bite. A fragment of the original event. A wisp of information that can never aspire to be history.

When electric communications technology goes digital the acceleration of information and knowledge is so rapid that it creates experts in small fields of study. Strategic goals for society are harder to define and problems harder to solve because there is too much information to process. Very few participants in an electric environment can grasp the general sociological impact and direction of society. In short there are few generalists with enough savvy to really fathom changes wrought by the new digital media bring to society.

However, just as other media have altered society, politics, economics and a created new ways of seeing the human experience, the effects of digital information is so fast and so fleeting that it never creates a trail of coherent information. Much of the traffic on the World Wide Web is transitory with no contextual record that it really existed. It is information like Tweets. Tweets can change opinions and do tasks like turning out votes or crowds in Tahir Square, but it does so without content or depth. It is almost pure form without substance. It rides a nanosecond of time and place.

© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Social change in the Information Age is more complex and focused on individual needs.

A focus on "me" is the result of the nature of the Information Age.

The Information Age creates the Me Generation. 

by Tom Thorne

After the Information Age landed on us in the mid 1970’s with the introduction of the important concept of “personal computing” it also spawned the Age of the Individual  or as it is often known The Me Generation.

The Me Generation can only exist when there is a ubiquitous digital network linking personal hand held computing devices that are equally ubiquitous. No one is ever out of touch when connected to such a system. No one is ever away or alone. You are always connected unless you make a conscious decision to turn off. But even when you are turned off the system is still taking messages from those who still want to reach you.

As a result of these techniques, employers get thousands of extra hours out of their employees who feel duty bound to stay in touch 24/7 with work. The work day doesn’t end at 5 PM as it did in the Industrial Age. In the time before personal computing the work day ended and the personal day began. 

Now the work day is never ending and it is seamlessly melded into everyone’s personal day. In fact, personal time is now largely nonexistent. Work is always potentially where you are. As a result work is now redefined. The Industrial Age idea that work is 9-5 is now passé.

This technology has simultaneously created the Me Generation which has the following characteristics. The focus of this development is the individual and their needs.  It is completely normal to be in constant touch and on-line with the world. Most of the people 40 and younger don’t know a time without this situation. Your connection to the networks is the most important aspect and focus of your life. You are a kind of mini celebrity who is constantly bombarded with information all focused on you. 

This situation creates a kind of ego tripping as mini-celebrity takes hold. What you are doing is the most important thing at that moment. Real humans wait or are interrupted while Me Generation people satisfy their needs in the instant they are on. In the Industrial Age such behavior would be considered rudeness. In the Me Generation world someone else’s time and space as a real human is just like another email or Twitter and is out there for the next answer even if it interrupts someone else’s focus on a book, TV show or movie they are watching. Real life is treated as another message to deal with instantly. 

There are emails, text messages, Facebook and Twitter. You are the centre of what I call Pseudo Celebrity the receiver and clearer of a constant information flow available 24/7 and where ever you are. Your focus is you and your needs. Real life situations are seen with the same value as a text message. The focus is now and in this instant.

The effects on the human psyches who practice this lifestyle is to become dependent on their smart devices. The users are hooked on information.  They are never seen without their smart phone, tablets or laptops. Even while talking to a real human they will be texting a response or filtering their emails from someone else in real time. Me Generation people are by their nature multi-taskers and that is normal although it often destroys attention spans. 

They are always turned on and live in a world of pithy texting and small dollops of real life that are fitted in between their life on the network. Real life (flesh and blood humans) are seamlessly woven into their time receiving and transmitting on the network with cyber friends.

In this world there are many young people who have low or non-existent attention spans. More kids are being defined with Attention Span Disorders  by educators and experts. However few people who find this growing problem have made the connection to the 24/7 networked lifestyles of contemporary life or children’s addiction to iPods and Game Boys. It is my contention that the techniques of a networked world are taking their toll on attention spans of the young.

Then there is the discovery of many more learning disorders and the extension of personal computing culture to create personal learning plans. That also happens only in a culture called The Information Age.  Personal learning plans can only exist and be managed in a networked culture with personal computing at its core. Mediated learning enables the teachers to handle individualized education plans and remedies. 

Otherwise you have the mass education of the Industrial Age educational models. Only in a world of personal computing focused on the needs of the Me Generation can you have or even discover ways for personal education plans. In the Industrial Age this concept could not exist.

My point is, I think, clear. Humans are defined by their cultural techniques. Culture, especially high technology cultures, are defined by ubiquitous communications technologies. Marshall McLuhan warned: the medium itself is its own message. Networked life both creates knowledge and remedies the problems that an Information Age culture discovers by its rapid compounding of information, data interpretation and creation of new knowledge bases. No wonder we now have so many names and definitions for contemporary learning disabilities.

© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Information Age has its effects on education by its constant change point of view.

High technology alters the goals of education in this planning model. 
Can educators manage all this change well?

Trends of the Information Age: 
Is the goal of public education always social change? 

by Tom Thorne

Four of my five children ranging in age from 42 to 23 are teachers. This gives me a unique opportunity to see first hand what teaching and education is all about these days. At family events I listen to their discussions with interest. When I relate my experiences in the schools of my time I am treated as a aging curmudgeon who still believes in instilling students with personal discipline and leadership principles. I am an educational fossil in their eyes. 

My experience as a 16 year veteran of teaching at a college during the establishment and growth of personal computing and the Internet gives me a unique perspective I keep telling them. I point out that I can remember a time when there were no personal computers and how their introduction has greatly altered life on this planet. Yes, dad, they respond we’re certain that is true but look at what we as teachers deal with today. That is what really counts. 

They tell of the increase of special needs students in their classes. I point out often to deaf ears that in a high technology environment where the focus is on the individual the growth in numbers of special needs students is inevitable. Special needs is a product of an information oriented society where everyone’s needs are categorized into finely honed definitions of one syndrome or another. With more information you get a tighter focus on the person and their personal needs. And the technology to do this work is the personal computer tied into the Internet. The techniques define how we think. The “medium is the message”. They all sigh.

The schools I went through before the Information Age really took root, were mass education institutions. They reflected their society too and the focus was on “fitting in” to a mould and surrendering your individuality to the common good. If you were out of step with mass education objectives of fitting in you simply failed, left school and started work. Special needs didn’t exist  except as a separated Opportunity Class. In fact the concept  special needs integrated into the regular classroom was not possible because the information about the various special needs syndromes, if they existed at all, were still in the hands of un-networked experts.

Mass education was not at all tolerant of individuals or unique people. If you were bright and had original thoughts you were chastised into a category of a “trouble maker”. If you were challenged intellectually you went to special classes and even schools. You would be paraded to the principal’s office and told to fit in or else.  I know this from sad experience and I fitted in as needed to get my high school diploma and my ticket to university.

It is my contention that education is now developing into a social change laboratory. In the old pre information age system education was seen as a place to discipline people into good citizens with some notion that the common good of society was a worthy goal of the system. It was all a bit rigid but at least we could all do numbers, write a paragraph and spell properly which sadly is no longer the case.

Now the education system is highly individualized. The common good of society has been replaced by the need for the individual to feel good about themselves. This change is only possible in a high technology society like the one we have forged over the last 30 years. This concept of the individual is a direct outcome of the techniques that make it possible to manage information found at everyone’s finger tips.

When mass education is replaced by personal education plans then the common good drops in value. The individual is more important than the common good. It creates entitlement and rights and the paramount of the individual’s needs over the common good. It swings the pendulum of change a way over from the centre. It builds anticipation that society can provide each individual with their needs. Its worst incarnation is the growth of political correctness and the dropping in value of the common good.

My teacher daughters also tell me about the stresses and strains this is creating on the contemporary classroom and I wonder how this situation makes students aware of their social obligations and the common good of society. Today educators are in a state of transition to some other delivery system other than the classroom. What kind of society that will build is anyone’s guess but the medium is always the message.

© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Economic stagnation in US means whoever wins the US Presidential Election has his hands full.

Who ever wins today has the same job to do.

The US Presidential Election: a prediction about implications for Canada. 

Canada needs a strong United States so we can keep China off our natural resources. 

by Tom Thorne

It’s Election Day in the US. President Barack Obama will likely remain President of the United States for a second term. Governor Mitt Romney will do very well but when the dust settles in the Electoral College, Barack Obama will squeeze by with enough states siding with him to just make it. The magic number of Electoral College votes needed is 270. The closeness of the vote says that the US is polarized and no clear set of policies for economic reform are apparent from either candidate.

There is probably very little difference for Canada whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama becomes president. That’s because of the US Senate and House of Representatives remain  in political grid lock. A Democrat dominated  Senate and a House of Representatives ruled by Republicans will likely be retained after today. 

The real threat to Canada is not who is in the White House but what they do about the mounting US Government debt now at $16 Trillion plus. To this point there is no will apparent to cooperate for a solution.

If the US literally prints its way out of its economic mess, the mess will be compounded.  Such an action is guaranteed to create inflation and a rise in interest rates charged to service the debt and also generally for business and lenders of all kinds. The US may be called an economic basket case like Eurozone countries who overspend. Lenders will want more interest to cover the risk of carrying US Government debt loads expressed in diluted valued bonds and currency.

Serious debt reduction is needed in the US Congress and Administration.  And there is very little wiggle room to cut US government expenditures. However failure to do so will mean in the middle range of time that the US will become more and more an economic lightweight and hence its world presence will be diminished. That is bad for Canada.

The current financial situation faced by the US offers powers such as China immense strategic clout on the world stage. That is what the Chinese Government wants today as they also choose their new slate of leaders behind closed doors. The US is making itself militarily and financially vulnerable. Canada, no matter how well we manage our financial affairs, will be forced into the same situation as our major trading partner.

It will be tougher for Canada to retain our natural resources.  Potential deals like the Chinese State taking over Nexen in our oil sands, will become more likely if we want to maintain our own economic performance independent of a financially errant US. We need to sell our oil to the US not to China. President Obama nixed the pipeline to US markets for domestic political reasons that deal needs to come back on the table if he is re-elected. Mitt Romney says he will bring back the Canadian pipeline to the US.

It really is time for the United States Government and its politicians to bite the economic bullet. Failure to do so means a downsizing of the United State’s influence on the world stage and that can only mean that Canada will need a more independent economic policy as China grows in influence. In short the lack of action on the economic front by our major trading partner is taking us more to Europe and into the arms of the Chinese Government’s hegemony.

© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.