Monday, August 22, 2011

Higher Education in the 21st Century

The ever-increasing rate at which technology develops and becomes part of day-to-day life is just blowing my mind. I'm completely astounded at how life today looks amazingly like life in science fiction novels of yesterday.

A few years back, I read the 1999 novel "The Gumshoe, The Witch & The Virtual Corpse" by Keith Hartman. The story takes place in 2024, and teenagers at school all carry around a "notebook" which can be a word-processor and self-managing searcher of the Internet, all interfaced by voice.  They also can make sub-rosa video phone calls during class. People have "agents", AI's with names, and personalities that range from manic-depressive (Sherwin) to horribly perky (Mindy). These agents conduct Internet research, make phone calls, and print invoices. Folks walk around with speakers in their ears, and, in the case of The Gumshoe, printers on their belts. Everyone makes use of available technology as a matter of course. Parents are even able to program the locks on the house to record what time the kids get home from school.

Now to current reality. It is (for those not paying attention) 2011, 13 years prior to the setting of Hartman's book. Teenagers are carrying around MacBooks, with which they can make video phone calls, hopefully, not during class. Internet searches still need to managed by the kid, though. People do walk about with speakers in their ears and we have wireless printers which are getting smaller and more portable all the time. There are electronic locks on the market now that will tell you when they have been opened and with whose key or password it was opened with. (Gotta get me me one of those....)

What set me down this reflective rabbit hole was listening to the Teenager talking to her already-at-college bestie via Skype t'other day. She was able to see her friend's dorm room, including the view out the window, and even meet her friend's roomies, fer crying out loud. And remember the communicators on Star Trek? 10 years ago we had flip-open cell phones that did a lot more than Kirk's device ever did. Folks, the Future is Now.

What will life with technology look like when the Wee Lassies get to college in 12 years?!?


  1. The iPad matches the "notebook" described in the book pretty closely. It is amazing to think about the educational power devices like an iPad or Macbook have, yet depressing to know that they are rarely being used to the their true education potential. What is equally disturbing is that those technologies are becoming widely available when education seems to be taking a nose-dive due to failed concepts like No Child Left Behind (a.k.a. No Child Left Untested for useless rote information and thus never inspired to want to learn more about anything) and the decreased funding for primary and secondary education which will prevent proper integration of these technologies in any classroom (except for the elite, private schools).

  2. Here is your front door lock that keeps an audit trail. It is unlocked with a fingerprint. Still a bit pricy at $600.

  3. Speaking of door locks, I always wanted to invent a lock that goes on all exterior doors which has a keyboard and display screen facing inside the building. To be able to exit the building the system would ask a few "simple" questions (e.g. What is the speed limit in a school zone?, How many States are in the Union?, If the Express Lane in the grocery store states "15 items or less" can you use it for 49 items?, Is the Moon made of green cheese?) and if you cannot answer them correctly, you cannot leave your house. Think how much safer and nicer society would be with such a lock built into every domicile. Of course, this would also lead to individuals having to "call in stupid" to work because they cannot leave the house, but that might be a good thing overall.