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People ask me why I started Morphonix in 1990.
Here’s a personal essay I wrote in 1992 that I’d like to share again.
As we begin 2012, these ideas remain relevant. Will 2012 be the year?
Technology, Creativity, Education, and the Future: 1992
Karen G. Littman
Life as we know it is dramatically changing and the only thing that will save us is the creativity we’ve never particularly valued. We’ve seen our weather patterns change and the solid ground beneath us crack. The illusion of security is fading. People once thought that working for the government or a corporation would guarantee them an income, a pension and a secure retirement. But even our government is in turmoil. Kids are afraid to go to school, families are falling apart, and more people are questioning our judicial system. We are living longer, but the quality of life is decreasing because there are too many of us. The old ways aren’t working for many reasons.
Creativity in this country has always been considered a frivolous luxury. Most people don’t associate it with their survival. Yet it’s the lack of creativity in our schools, our government, the workplace, and in families that is contributing to the escalation of problems in our society at an alarming rate.
People can’t figure out what the plan is anymore. How do I play the game to win? A style is set that every one is supposed to embrace. There are small differences, but for the most part we’re all molded to behave in certain predictable, acceptable ways. We learn the same things in school regardless of our own unique talents or interest; we’re supposed to sleep, eat, work, and play at certain times. We’re brain washed by TV and commercials that tell us what to eat and wear, and how to be cool. Feelings like sadness or anger are suppressed with over-the-counter and prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The individuality we are born with slowly melts away and we are molded until we fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The puzzle now has too many pieces and it’s cracking like the earth beneath us.
We need to look at our world in new ways, to question the rules we’re following and decide if our ideas are based on a system of logic that is becoming archaic. We need to look at the problems we’ve created with young, creative eyes. Wisdom comes from experience, but it also comes from innocence. Our children are the most undervalued and disregarded resource we have for coming up with fresh solutions to our problems. Many young children have not lost their ability to see objectively. Beginner's mind, as the Zen Buddhists put it. The wisdom and insight of children will become more valued in the future.
I’m interested in using technology to change the way we communicate and understand reality. My work is focused on young children because they still have open minds and are growing up with computers and technology.
What we call language is changing. People have always expressed themselves through art and music in addition to writing and talking, but now multiple ways of communicating are becoming a new language. As the world becomes smaller and we see ourselves as a global community, language must become more universal and technology is helping us do that.
New Media and Technology-Where is it leading us?
Every night I close my eyes and remember what I've forgotten only to wake up nine hours later and forget again. In dreams there are no boundaries. I move from one place to another like someone browsing the web. Going from one dream to another, mixing bits of people I know with parts of other people to form combinations of the two. No longer is there a past, present, or future. I'm five years old one minute and sixty-five another. I'm the dreamer and the lead character. My role changes from dream to dream. When I come back to the “real” world, all the limits are back, the net is up and I can no longer fly or change characters unless I go off to my creative world where there are no boundaries -- my so-called fantasy world where I hide at the blink of an eye when I want to remember what is possible in a world without boundaries. Time as we understand it is an illusion that keeps us from seeing and understanding the whole picture.
Technology is our teacher. It is showing us what we forget about ourselves every morning when the alarm clock rings and we begin a new day. We are moving from viewing reality as linear to understanding that it’s multidimensional. Most of us have been stuck on one channel. We get glimpses of the other channels when we’re sleeping and daydreaming, but most of us quickly forgot what we've experienced.
The shift is happening gradually. In the last century, radio introduced the idea of tuning into more than one frequency or channel. You could only tune into one at a time, but you knew there were others. Movies and television added the visual dimension. Telephones connected us to one another so we could instantly communicate verbally with another -- anywhere, anytime.
Next came computers, interactive video, multimedia, video games, and virtual reality. Not only could you tune into more than one information source, you could take a little piece, add it to another and create something new. Hollywood had been creating illusions for decades, but suddenly everyone can be the director of their own movie, tune into various realities and snip a piece here and there to construct a new version. We don’t have to tune into the three major networks. We can create our own show. The power shift continues. Hollywood called it editing, the computer world calls it cutting, pasting, and morphing, and the idea of creating your own reality has a long history in various wisdom traditions. All of a sudden people realize that they can decide exactly what they want to tune into and when. We can even create our own virtual worlds. The idea that there just may be more than one reality is now played out everyday on computers and in virtual reality.
This is all complicated by our perception of time. We think that time is linear, but maybe everything is happening all at once. Just like we can’t see channel 4 when we tune into channel 7, perhaps we don’t see the life that’s always around us in other dimensions. There’s a blackout in our local neighborhood. We’re out of phase and can’t see beyond the veil.
Now we’re being connected to one another by information highways. Soon we’ll be using these networks to send pictures, sound, and text at the speed of light to anyone in the world. The implications for this are pretty amazing. By connecting our computers, we’re connecting our brains and minds. My reality and yours are blurring. For a long time our reality has been controlled by a small group of powerful people who decided what we’re going to watch. Now we’re cutting out the middleman. I can send you my ideas directly and am no longer limited to words. I can communicate in a multisensory way with pictures, sound and text. Our language is changing. The information highways are our metaphor for the morphogenic fields all around us. So where is it all leading us?
Children and Technology
Children will benefit the most from the advances in technology. New technology involves the user in the learning process. It teaches the student about decision making by showing the effects a decision has on an outcome. By experiencing a situation from another's viewpoint, the learner can obtain a better understanding of another’s perception of the situation. Children learn that there are infinite possibilities and when they choose one over another, the outcome simply changes. When a problem occurs, they can see the opportunity it presents for learning instead of the error.
This technology will change the way children view the world. For example, if I have the opportunity to play out a situation and choose from a number of outcomes, I can see how my life would be affected if I chose differently.
The non-linear capabilities of the technology show us that we always have choices, but the outcome changes when we choose one action over another. We see how everything is related and that our actions affect more then us. For example, if I’m participating in an interactive program about pollution, I can see what happens when my friends and I continue to drop garbage on the beach every day. What is the long term effect? Where does that garbage go and what does the beach look like in 20 years? Students growing up with this technology will understand how they create their world. They will have the opportunity to see that world in many different ways. Children grow up to be adults who don’t feel responsible for their world. They don’t take action, because they were not taught to problem solve and come up with new solutions in school.
Why the Current Education System Isn’t Working
We have to change the way children are educated because our present system isn’t working. One reason it’s not working is that we’re changing from a world of words to a world of pictures. Visual images have become the most powerful way of communicating information and ideas.
Today’s children are brought up on television and movies. After experiencing television's fast-paced visual environments, using a remote control to change channels, and playing video games, a teacher doesn’t have a chance. Within five minutes of sitting in a traditional classroom, the student is ready to change the channel.
Many children don’t pay attention in the classroom. They daydream and look out the window until the teacher’s jarring voice brings them back with a question. Children pay attention and learn more when they are actively involved. New technology involves the child so they are constantly thinking and using all their senses.
My own experience as a student was very frustrating. I grew up thinking I didn’t have a good memory because I had trouble memorizing what I needed to know in school.
If you have a good memory you probably did well in school. Traditional learning is dependent on good memory and logic, whereas new technology teaches us to look at the whole picture and to synthesize information. A long time ago, we stopped teaching children how to think.
I was very good at creating new things from what I learned and had a great imagination, but I had a difficult time in school. Traditional learning doesn’t encourage creativity or putting ideas together in new ways. New technology does. It allows for creativity and individual differences.
In the traditional classroom we are all taught the same way. Teachers lecture and students listen, take notes and ask questions. We read an entire book, even if we we’re only interested in part of it. We don't take individual needs and interests into account because it’s too difficult to put together an individualized program to meet each student’s needs.
How Technology Will Change Education
By reclaiming the media we can use it to empower children instead of enslave them. Because of television, students are highly sophisticated in visual processing, but film and television are linear mediums. They don’t actively involve children; they mesmerize them.
New technology will actively involve students in all facets of their education. It teaches from an early age, “your involvement makes a difference.” Children who grow up with this medium will have a better understanding of the way the world really works. The ability to link ideas and access information shows us that everything is related to everything else. If children can understand and appreciate this interconnectedness, we will see our values change. They will not experience school as a series of isolated subjects that are unrelated, but as patterns in harmony. New technology is transforming our view of who we are and helping us to see the interdependence of all living things.
Even young children will become researchers as they discover and explore new information at their own pace. New technology is multisensory. It allows a student to use his or her curiosity to learn and develop his or her own personal understanding of the world. Students can choose to express ideas with words, pictures, and music.
In the classroom of the future, students will work on individualized programs tailored to meet each child’s interests and needs. They will learn how to problem-solve and synthesize information. Creativity and personal exploration will be encouraged.
Teachers benefit, too. They’ll be able to use their time more effectively. They won’t have to constantly repeat information, and they won’t need to know everything about a subject. Teachers will be able to spend more time working with individual students or small groups. They’ll have more time for research and getting involved in the process of learning, rather than simply the content.
As the costs of computers continue to decrease and students have computers at home and in the classroom, there will be less of a separation between learning at home and at school. Learning will be a continuous lifelong adventure that takes place in both places.
Computer networks will give us a new way of communicating. They will ultimately close the gap between what is you and what is I.