I woke this morning with rather more solid ground under my feet than usual, because I woke up thinking about the past. I’m a peculiar sort of edgeek, because, unlike so many ed tech’ers who came out of business education and math, I use to be a history teacher. But it makes sense to me. I always taught history from the perspective of technologies — that when we invented the bow and arrow, it changed our cultures in these ways. When we invented agriculture, it changed how we lived. When I saw that first Radio Shack (TRS-80) Model I computer — a machine that you operated by communicating with it, I was sure that this was going to be one of those technologies that would change us.
Out of that context, I’ve always been fascinated by the unique people and communities from which the last 30 year’s of innovation have come. The people include Jobs, Wozniak, Bill Gates, Alan Kay, Jaron Lanier, Tim Berners-Lee, Marc Andreessen, and many others. The communities have also fascinated me, the places where somebody, seeing a need for innovation, would hire a bunch of really smart people, put them in a room (or a really modern looking building), and say, “Play!”. These places have always been something of a Mecca for me — places of pilgrimage. One day, I’ll tell you about serendipitously finding the Media Lab on the campus of MIT. Other communities were Xerox Parc, the birth place of the mouse, WYSIWYG, Ethernet, and a graphical way to operate personal computers, that was given away to an excitable boy named Steve Jobs.
the National Center for Supercomputing Applications was another such community with lots of young, but less famous folks invented user-friendly Internet tools, including the first graphical web browser, Mosaic.
But, for one of the most interesting of these places, let’s return back to the campus of MIT, and The Media Lab. This still vibrant bed of innovation came less from a wire-head sentiment, and instead from an interest in design and architecture — interested less in how machines work, but in how people interact with machines. Much great work has come from the Media Lab, much of it in the field of education. But perhaps the most notable personality is that of Nicholas Negroponte, the center’s chief administrator. His talent has not been in research and invention, but in convincing people that research and innovation were valuable enough to invest in. This has given Negroponte a unique lens on the last 40 years, which has manifest itself most recently in the $100 laptop. But you can read much about this man’s vision by revisiting the early years of WIRED Magazine, a venture that he partially funded in return for the opportunity to write a monthly column about being digital in the early 1990’s. These articles were later compiled for Negroponte’s book, Being Digital.
Anyway, this blog has gotten to long, and it’s time for me to get to work. But all of this has led to something important. At the AZTEA conference last week, a representative of ISTE announced that Negroponte will be one of the NECC keynote speakers this year. Another of my life’s goals, almost achieved.