Future Thinking

David Stuart sent me a link this morning to a summary of the 2006 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index – titled Teens predict gasoline-powered cars obsolete by2015 that reports on recent survey findings that a third of teens (33 percent) predict the demise of gasoline-powered cars by the year 2015. One in four teens (26 percent) expects compact discs to be obsolete within the next decade, and roughly another one in five (22 percent) predicts desktop computers will be a thing of the past.

Commenting on the findings of the report Lemelson-MIT Program Director Merton Flemings said, “Perhaps more than any preceding generation, today’s young people are completely comfortable with rapid technological change,”

I really wonder how many of us can say that? Surely such ‘comfort’ is related more to where we are located in the present (and by implication will be generational) than our grasp of what lies in the future? In the weekend Christchurch Press I read an article by Hayden Walles titled “Future Thinking” in which he contrasts the thinking of two well known futurists.

Ray Kurzweil promotes an analysis of the history of technology that shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. According to Kurzweil the vast changes of the 20th century amount to only about 20 years of research at the 2000 rate – he predicts that this century will see the equivalent of 20,000 years of change at the 2000 rate! A frightening thought indeed!

Kurzweil represents one dimension of futurology that empahsises the directions of technological change and its impact on society – with bold predictions and an agressive timetable for change.

In contrast, Walles points to Jared Diamond who extracts lessons for the future from ancient and modern societies that fell apart in his book, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” . Diamond’s work reminds us that the seemingly inevitable timetable for technological change is affected by the way that we as individuals and as societies adopt and (mis)use these technologies and the opportunities they create for us. His work is a salient reminder that our current prosperity is no guard against immenent collapse.

I found some interesting thoughts and references to Diamond’s work on Dave Pollard’s “How to Save the World” blog.

Two thoughts about the nature and scope of the curriculum we are planning for our schools emerge from me from reflecting on these ideas:

  1. a study of history must be included within the framework of any “subject” area, and
  2. we must engage our learners in discussions about and sharing their visions for the future

The ability to understand and reflect on the lessons of the past, and use these as a means of predicting and coping with change in the future must surely be one of the essential skills we should be providing our learners with for the 21st Century?

3 thoughts on “Future Thinking

  1. Thought proviking Derek.

    I remember back when I wrote a script for that Learning Federation money cow… what was the brief… that’s right, innovation, enterprise and creativity. We had to script a scondary school resource that induced consideration and a value for those three things.

    We wrote a pretty out of this world script that of course didn’t get a run past the pretty straight forward crew running Learning Fed, but the main thing I remember from our work is our realisation that these three things align respectively with past, future, and present.

    Innovation draws from the past.
    Enterprise projects into the future.
    and creativity lives in the present.

    That was the basic theme and interpretation we were trying to run with. I thought it was thought provoking.

  2. Hi Derek.

    Weirdly I was having a conversation about the importance of history with my wife last night. She was schooled in a kind of gifted class at a pretty conservative high school in the US. In history, instead of studying the Roman Empire etc… the class considered the concept that “All empires eventually fail”. This got them studying previous empires’ rises and falls but also reflecting on how/if/when the American Empire might go the same way. I studied history up to 2nd year university but can’t remember once taking this approach.

    This example just highlighted to me the importance of developing an historical consciousness that can help frame the present (be that the current way the community looks and operates, political systems etc..)and be extrapolated into the future to guide current decisions.

Leave a Reply