May 22 • 07:04 PM

Future shock, here and now

March 05, 2008
In the late 1960s writer Alvin Toffler published a book called 'Future Shock' which attempted to describe the impact of social change on the individual.

As I recall he defined the term as the dissonance which takes place within the individual when confronted with the rapid nature of social change and the inability to adjust to its impact. Future shock is still a useful concept when we see segments of society and ourselves confronted with not only the impact of technology on our lives but the corresponding assault on our value systems and the differences between generations.

This thought came to mind when I watched at a recent Imlay City School Board meeting a presentation by the district's technology coordinator called 'Did You Know?' I thought I would share some of the ideas from that presentation as it indicates very well, in my opinion, some of the educational challenges our students will face in years to come. If nothing else it will help to explain why it is necessary to maintain consistently high standards for graduation in our global village.

In the next eight seconds 34 babies will have been born in India, China, and the U.S. College graduates in India will be 3.1 million, in China, 3.3 million and in the U.S. 1.3 million. In 10 years the number one English speaking country will be China.

According to the U.S. labor department one in every four workers has been working with their current employer less than five years and by the time they reach age 38 today's students will have had 10 to 14 different jobs.

Many of today's college majors did not exist 10 years ago. Such majors include new media, organic agriculture, e-business, nano-technology and homeland security.

Today's 21-year-old will have watched 20,000 hours of television, played over 10,000 hours of video games, talked 10,000 hours on the phone and sent or received 250,000 instant messages.

The Internet came into wide public use in early 1995. Today one out of eight couples married in the U.S. met online. This month there were 2.7 billion Google searches and eBay, founded in 1996, made $6 billion in profit.

In 2006 there were 730,000 new MySpace users and if MySpace were a country it would be the 8th largest in the world with more than 60 million visitors.

There are more than 30,000 books published today. The amount of technical information available doubles every two years and by the year 2010 it will double every 72 hours.

More than 50% of the 21-year-olds in the U.S. today have created content on the World Wide Web. Seventy percent of today's 4- year-olds have used a computer. It took 38 years for radio to reach the market, 13 years for television to do so and the computer only four years.

Third generation fiber optics push 10 trillion bits of information per second down a fiber. That is equal to 1,900 CDs, 130 million simultaneous phone calls every second and this is tripling every six months. The first text message was sent in December 1992. Today the number of such messages exceeds the entire population of the Earth.

After seeing this presentation I began to feel somewhat obsolete. Perhaps future shock had at long last caught up with me.

The basic message of all of this of course is that we are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don't yet exist in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.

The challenges to our educational system are obvious and while the Imlay City Schools are satisfactory it is clear that we cannot rest on our laurels. Students, teachers, parents, staff and board members alike have their work cut out for them. Between the challenges of No Child Left Behind and the ongoing Michigan Department of Education requirements, the challenges to the schools are almost unending so long as the various constituencies of the educational community continue to believe that the schools should be all things to all people.

Under the circumstances it is perhaps wise to recall the words of Albert Einstein, who wrote "we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to create them."

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