Monday, May 05, 2008

The Diminishing Importance of Fact

You don't have to ask a futurist how quickly the volume of all known information is doubling. The answer is too fast for most people. And the fact of the matter can be found in the speculative literature of the futurists who subscribe to the Technical Singularity.

Along with this phenomenon is the diminished value of what we believe to be fact at any given moment. For higher education this means that all of the rhetoric and presumably good-intention of corporate spokesmen there is little that anyone can do to prepare our students for THE future. That future is passing us all by in a matter of a few years or even months.

A recent New York Sun article, Reckoning With New York's Rate of Change about architecture brings this point home dramatically.
Architecture critic Paul Goldberger focused on the rapid pace of change in New York Friday night at the New-York Historical Society's Chairman's Council Weekend.

Here are the highlights of his remarks, which I recorded in my reporter's notebook while covering the event:

Not long ago, in a meeting in a relatively new midtown skyscraper, I spent much more time than I should have looking out the window. I do this often, as an architecture critic, so nobody thinks I’m a daydreaming instead of working.

Two-thirds of what I saw was built after 1972. In 1972, Lever House was not yet 20 years old. Rockefeller Center was 35 years old, the Seagram Building, 14 years old, and the Empire State Building was younger than Lincoln Center is today. ... We don’t realize how much history we’re living through ourselves.

In 1972, New York was smaller. If you were an upper middle class white person, your city was relatively confined to south of 96th Street. Maybe you got to the Lower East Side as a historical curiosity. You were unlikely to go to Chelsea or Times Square. ...

We tend to view change in the city as something that happens in a long arc. But the New York of our time is also different from the New York of our own time. The city changes out from under us at dramatically and powerfully. Each of us has already experienced several New Yorks.

Old New York is the city of Edith Wharton, the city of John Lennon, and the city of Peter Stuyvesant. The city we lived in a short time ago, that is Old New York. There are hedge funders who weren’t alive when Lennon lived in the Dakota buying new condominiums in Williamsburg.

The city of our memories is the city of the past.
The NCLB merchants who insist that high-stress, high-stakes testing will make schools magically accountable are frauds, stuck in a morose Ludditopia that continues to strangle the ability of public schools to adapt.

But even if we don't care about schools in general we should care about what this is doing to our kids who are leading technologically schizophrenic lives.

On one hand they are trapped in classrooms run like 18th century Charles Dickens nightmares and on the other they operate and communicate using technology their teachers fear but don't understand.

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