Ten years on
With the new year upon us, I suppose it’s not surprising that media outlets everywhere have been killing us with “best of” lists, for both the year and the decade. I’ve been trying to think of an interesting thing to post, but seeing as I’m no less lazy than most media outlets, all I can think of doing is my own decade wrap up:
Moore’s Law still a law: electronics get cheaper, faster, smaller, etc. Was it really a surprise that this age-old law pretty much kept pace? There were a couple pundits on the most recent episode of TWiT who brought up how Moore’s Law has managed to continue. I suppose it is personally mindblowing that I can buy a 1 TB drive for about $100, or that broadband internet has finally reached a price that I can afford (at the start of this decade I was still slumming it in 56K). But I really hate it when people start saying stuff like, “back in my day sodas cost just a nickel.” Just because people do it with tech doesn’t really make it interesting. So I’ll leave this one alone.
The power of “good enough”: I suppose this is not as surprising, given the shambles our economy has been in, but it’s interesting how it has changed the computer industry. Nearly all non-Mac computers sold in the past year falls in the super low-priced and small-sized netbook category, from which we can probably infer a couple things: 1) When it comes to computers, people (aside from gamers and the one or two graphic designers who haven’t had their jobs outsourced) don’t really need much power. 2) The web/cloud has taken over much of what we do on our computers. I won’t go so far as to say application-based computing has been completely replaced by the cloud (I doubt it ever will be), but it’s likely that the more interesting things that come out of the next decade will be cloud-based.
It’s also interesting what this will mean for the education space. Historically, the drive is towards bigger, better, faster, but I think this move towards “good enough” may drive down the desire for more complex, immersive learning spaces. Whenever there is talk about the future of learning, it almost always ends with some discussion of virtual reality, Second Life, etc. (I know I have been guilty of writing some papers that end like this). It’s not surprising, since I think we all yearn in our hearts for that super-cool holodeck experience that science fiction has taught us to hope for (we all yearned for the flying car, and look how that turned out). But reality is a bit more complex. Second Life is not exactly the most intuitive system – both for the end-user and the developer – and it demands a computer with some power behind it. The few Second Life classes I have been in have been in were so wracked with technical difficulties, I barely got anything out of it. I think by the end of the next decade, we’ll drop the hype surrounding immersive learning and realize that it’s only worth the hassle for a few specific applications.
Of course, this doesn’t apply if you happen to be a student athlete at USF, where they give away computers for nothing.
The ubiquity of mobile devices: This is probably the single biggest change that we’ve experienced in terms of technology. Cell phones were already pretty common back in 2000, but now they’re everywhere (case in point: I now have one), and they do far more than just make phone calls. For this, we can probably thank the iPhone for making simple and user-friendly what was previously complex. Browsing the web with Mobile Safari is nearly identical to browsing on the computer, and it is a far cry from the clunky, tiny, text-based mobile sites that you would have to access on a dumbphone. Additionally, the growth of low-cost applications for the iPhone platform has transformed the phone into what is essentially a handheld computer. There’s some interesting movement in the education space with this aspect, as some medical schools are using iPhone apps to provide instruction and Stanford is using iPhones to make music.
In terms of cost of access, however, the cost of a mobile data plan is still to high for the likes of me. This is probably the reason that, despite its impact on technology as a whole, the use of mobile devices in an educational context is still fairly limited. There’s been a lot of hype about podcasts, mobile applications, etc. in this space, but it hasn’t amounted to any significant change. A lot of podcast in education research found that even though students can listen to them practically anywhere on their mobile phones or media players, most of them still listened to them at home, on their computers. In order to take advantage of the mobile nature of these education technologies, the context still has to be right – if you’re just listening to a lecture, you’re probably going to get more out of it while listening in a quiet room than anywhere else. With some of the more advanced GPS capabilities on Android phones, I’ll be intrigued to see if educators will take advantage of these technologies for more location-based instruction.