Let's Slow Down the Faster Future
Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab & Jeff Howe
Grand Central Publishing 2016
Kirkus calls this book “exhilarating and authoritative,” two cybergurus offering a “user’s manual to the twenty-first century.” As a longtime teacher, I find the manual to be flawed. I was interested in the authors’ observation that the failure of Microsoft’s professionally designed Encarta encyclopedia contrasted with the success of Wikipedia’s amateur-led platform as examples of push-pull consumerism, with suppliers “pushing” goods toward consumers and consumers “pulling” goods according to their needs, with Encarta being push and Wikipedia pull. Similarly, AOL, with its traditional push approach originally faltered and Twitter’s pull flourished.
Certainly it’s not surprising that the director and visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab would be cheerleaders for technology, but I guess I’m too old to embrace Moore’s law, which the authors explain thusly: “everything digital gets faster, cheaper, and smaller at an exponential rate,” and this results in “wearable computers. Robots building robots.” We are told that we live in exponential times and “Change doesn’t care if you’re ready.”
One assertions strikes me as particularly whacky. The authors insist that compasses are way more useful than maps. “A map implies a detailed knowledge of the terrain, and the existence of an optimum route; the compass is a far more flexible tool and requires the user to employ creativity and autonomy in discovering his or her own path…..a good compass…will always take you were you need to go.” I’d say it depends on where you are and where you want to go. I’m comfortable watching the compass when my hand is on the tiller only because of my husband’s careful study of the charts that have given him detailed knowledge of the shallows and hazards of Lake Champlain.
It seems astounding that authors who have extolled compasses over maps can be so enthusiastic about KIPP schools, gushing,“KIPP schools have achieved admirable results in communities saddled with failing public schools. They focus on discipline, longer school days, and a steady diet of math, reading, writing, and homework.” The authors choose to ignore devastating research by scholars such as Professor Jim Horn whose Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses”documents what it’s like to teach and be taught in KIPP with its straightjacket classroom conditions. No compasses here, only strict schedules that must be obeyed. With breathtaking and heartbreaking examples, Horn shows that teacher behavior becomes reminiscent of subjects in Stanley Milgram’s infamous experiments—all to produce a corps of Blacks who obey orders.
The authors intone about the importance of maintaining “a culture of creative disobedience,” emphasizing that human systems are most resilient at their most diverse. In promoting the assertion that all kids should learn coding, the authors nod toward research Schools Matter: Let's Slow Down the Faster Future: