This New World

Changes are occurring because of new technology which has enabled the ability to rapidly acquire massive amounts of information on any topic. These changes have affected not only how organizations train their employees and how the role of teachers will change, but have also created differences in thinking in the individual.  There has been a lot of debate and speculation about how everyone constantly being “plugged in” to so much information and communication all the time is affecting our lives.

Like most people who are adapting to this new world, I have no idea what I would do without instant answers or access to years of research at my fingertips. My smartphone and my mobile tablet are almost always within reach. I can take an online course at my own pace under the umbrella at the beach–or near a warm fire at the ski lodge–in lieu of a semester of attendance in a classroom 50 miles away. The advances of eLearning and new technology have made my day… or days.

In those rare moments when I am stranded with a magazine and no internet-connected device, during the course of reading an article, my right index finger inadvertently moves to touch the page–the picture? the title?–to learn more.  When the realization hits me that there is no other information source, well, I’m disappointed. Like wishing my best friend had come along with me.

I used to live in that other world, before technology hit the fan, so to speak. I guess you could say it was a slow world in comparison…yet, for a few exceptions, I don’t remember it that way. How did I handle information before Google was at my disposal? I reasoned, inferred, connected with my experiences, came to my own conclusions or discussed it with others. If I was really interested in the topic, I experimented or did more research… at the library… or bought a book at the bookstore.

Things are different now.

We are inundated with tons of information… but all this information also has the capacity to weigh us down.  There’s both celebration and challenge concerning this fact. Having access to a wealth of information on any topic is a learning addict’s “dream come true,” but it can also be overwhelming. How do we handle it? How do we deal with vast information resources always just a touch away?

Well, some deal with it better than others. Some are suggesting that, because of the enormous amount and variety of information thrust at us at such a rapid pace through the use of multiple  technologies, more new tech enthusiasts are exhibiting symptoms of ADHD and other learning/social issues–what have long been considered learning disabilities. I can believe it. After researching on the ‘net for several hours, I recognize my long-time associate only because he is at the desk I expect him to be. It takes a while for other identifying elements of “true” recognition to kick in.

It’s this way, we can take in only so much information at a time.  Then we have to process it in some way before we can ingest more. When a variety of balls are thrown to us at one time, we find ourselves stressed, diverted, jumping from one ball to the next, kicking or catching, whichever is appropriate, trying to keep up. Sure, some of us have become really good at juggling. But, sometimes we have to let the balls drop and focus on just one, because all-at-once is just too distracting and too difficult to maintain. As one elderly gentleman confided in me, ‘All of this knowledge makes my head hurt.’ Yes, we probably are changing how we think and process information. The question is, do we want to change? Well, we’re always changing.  Maybe the bigger question is how do we want to change?  Our new online world can be used in a variety of different ways, and we have to decide how we want our brain rewired.

In research, the rules have changed in that we now have much more easily accessible information to look through much more quickly. Now, we have to find what is important in a massive word count…and then connect it with other information. It gets down to this: no matter which tools we use to acquire information, we still have to know how to sort it all out–how to be discerning information readers, collectors, and connectors–and how to build upon this information to make the point.

Indeed many people believe that almost our entire education system has been made obsolete, and that we need to substantially rethink our strategies to train people who are able to better succeed in this modern world.  Some things that we consider to be core subjects in schools may well be able to be eliminated entirely in favor of the skills necessary to process and understand the flow of information we are being fed.  After all, it’s pretty rare that we ever have to remember fundamental concepts or knowledge anymore.  We can just look them up online.  What we have to do instead is be able to understand, interpret, judge the merits of, and utilize the wealth of information at our fingertips.

The world has become a vastly different place in only about 20 years time. It’s possible that we have not seen such a major change in people’s daily lives since the move from an agrarian society with individual family farms to an industrialized one where people live in cities with tons of other people around them all the time. This movement is primarily a change in the way people communicate and the way people learn. Therefore, those of us interested in learning and teaching need to take notice.  We should make sure that our methods are not outdated, that not only how we teach but what we teach is in keeping with this new type of person who is being formed in this new world.