03 January 2010

The Age of Connectivity

As a student of history, I am always fascinated by the developments over the course of human events that have led us to our world today. Historians often use 'periodization' to delineate and explain these developments in different ways. So, we end up with the Renaissance, or the Age of Revolutions, or the Age of Progress, etc. Each period in history is unique and has its own spirit.

What will our age be known as?

Various names have been given to our time over the past few decades; the Nuclear Age, the Jet Age, the Space Age, the Information Age, etc. But, I think it has become pretty clear that the 20th century will be know as a time of global and ideological conflict. Beginning with the First World War through the end of the Cold War, most every event was marked either by conflict or ideological division in the world. But, from the period of the 1980s through to around the year 2000, this all started to change. As the Cold War ended, ideology was less of a driving force and for the first time in human history the barriers between most humans were being eliminated (politically, economically, and technologically). Many will point to the problems of the last decade (terrorism, war, economic collapse, climate change) as the defining narrative of our time. But, I think in the long view of history, these events will be far more minor than they seem to us today living through them. I believe that our time will be known as the Age of Connectivity (or what Isaac Mao calls 'sharism, a term I love, but I won't steal... yet. See his amazing article here.)

As the Gutenberg printing press spread the Renaissance, Reformation, and Scientific Revolutions of the 16th and 17th centuries, the development of digital technologies will shape the next several centuries to come. What those technologies do that none have ever been able to do before is to connect people and their ideas no matter the space or time.

This may seem to be a certain path to the future, but not necessarily so. The shape of the future is not certain. The existence of the technology itself does not guarantee its best usage. After Gutenberg, it took visionaries like Martin Luther who said that people should be able to read the Bible in their own printed language to took the first steps toward more independent thought. It would take later centuries and more visionaries to push the bounds of the printed word and education to the masses.

So, who will be our 'digital visionaries?' Who will see the potential of the new connective technologies to create citizens who think, create, and collaborate? Will it be teachers? Will it be you?

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