I just read a short article by John Naughton entitled, Thanks, Gutenberg – but we’re too pressed for time to read and this concept of the ‘First Law of Technology’ made me think.
I see the point of the argument (that the short-term impact of new technologies is overestimated while the long-term effects are underestimated). In fact, I’ve personally experienced its truth in my adventures as a learning technologist. Take the virtual learning environment (VLE) for example. Imagine a university that is just introducing it into its teaching infrastructure. Budgets have been allocated and money’s been spent. The VLE is anticipated to change the way the whole institution operates. Everyone is going to start using it right away, at least 50% of all modules with be delivered in blended learning using the VLE within 6 months. Sound familiar? I know!
As a result of the overestimation of the potentials of the VLE, interest drops to near zero adoption, and although training and development staff are hired to support the integration of the VLE, there is little hope that any use will be made of it. The new appointments are really just political moves.
Now imagine it’s one year later. Predictions of VLE extinction were wrong. It isn’t a raging fad, but pockets of users have mushroomed and a new realisation has surfaced:
‘Perhaps the VLE wasn’t used from the beginning by everyone because no one (except a few tech savants – closeted, of course) knew how to use it or even understood what it was in the first place.’
The long term effects of the technology were vastly underestimated – the integration of a VLE had the potential to stimulate the develop of technology-based skills that tutors never used because the skills were never needed. The VLE changed teacher’s perspectives of technology – how it works, what it can be used for (in the classroom as well as in their personal lives) and the implications of its evolution and scaling. A tool that was intended to streamline the online storage and delivery of information (cringe) turned into a teaching tool about technology that broadened and deepened teachers’ views of technology.
Something else struck me as I was going through this article. As I was reading about the birth of the printing press, and books (I vaguely remember what those are…) I found myself thinking about the different ways in which we read print-based text vs. online text. Has the Internet fundamentally changed the way we read? Has it redefined literacy skills? Should reading be taught differently in schools? Should ‘power browsing’ be added to the curriculum? If so, at what age should we start teaching it?
And I know, I know what you’re asking yourself now. “How does all of this digital information processing affect the development and functioning of the human brain?” Well, no need to worry. The answer may soon come from this research conducted by Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA.