How Much Information?

Here is something from my seemingly endless preparation of The Quiet Revolution.  It’s a story that I often related to audiences to illustrate the changing nature of the information that we are using today and our need to redefine literacy.

VEB Carl Zeiss Jena, 1-Megabit-ChipThere was a study conducted by the University of California at Berkley called “How Much Information.” They discovered that the world generated five exabytes of information in 2002.

You are probably thinking,

If I knew what an exabyte was, I’m supposed I would be impressed.”

To clarify, if we added five exabytes of information to the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, it would require the building of 37,000 more Libraries of Congress to hold that year’s additional information. The kicker, however, is that only one one-hundredths of one percent (00.01%) of that information ever got printed. All the rest of the new information was digital, existing as 1s and 0s and residing on the memory cells of magnetic tape, disks, optical discs and integrated circuits; and requiring digital technology and technology skills to access and use that information. If more and more of our information is digital and networked, then we can take the paper out of our future workplace.

This also begs the question, “Why are we continuing to spend so much time continuing to teach our children how to use paper when we need to be teaching them how to use light – to use digital information?

Tricks of Photography & Teaching

Brenda (my wife) and I are having a continuing “conversation” about photography.  She’s a purist, a once passionate photographer in the age of film.  Like many things, she set aside her passion for picture-taking for motherhood.  Yet, she continues to have an opinion about what’s good photography and what’s…

Bottom line, digital processing of photos is not photography.  She wants the photos to look like photos and the other stuff can be enjoyed by people who enjoy.. well, “other stuff.”

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain to her the joy I have playing with the photos that I take, using a variety of computer applications, to continue to make the picture – and I think I’ve found an angle.

It started a while back when I was watching a photography podcast, a session about HDR (High Dynamic Range) (see this previous article). The speaker said that,

“HDR enables the photographer to capture what it was that inspired the taking of the picture.”

The more I thought about it, the more sense this statement made.  You see, when I look up this mountain, the house, and the distinct cloud formations above it, I’m struck by both the distance and the closeness, the sheer quantity of ground, covered by giant spruce trees standing before me and the changing hues that all seem eager to claim their place, I am overwhelmed by the awesomeness of it – and I aim and snap.

The original photo, where the brightness of the sky and clouds darkens the mountain-scape

Two more exposures, an over exposure (light) and an underexposure (dark)

The software combines the three photos, and enables me to bring through the qualities of each that recapture what it was that inspired me to snap the photo.

I can even push some of the qualities beyond their reality to make a picture even more interesting, and perhaps more inspiring.

But, when I finally display the photo on my computer screen, it comes out pretty much as it was, though not as I saw it. My mind, you see, saw more than my eyes did.  It saw the multiple distances, the sunlight swimming through millions of spruce needles, the warmth in the clouds and coolness in the mountains’ shadows.  My mind amplified the vibrant colors and registered that the scene was only part of a 360º panorama of sameness and diversity.  

My brain made the vision something that no camera could adequately capture, both functionally and technically.

But, when I take three different photos of the scene, at three different exposures, and load them all into my HDR software (Photomatix), I can bring out specific qualities of each exposure, overlap them, bleed them through and accentuate, approaching the vibrance and space that inspired me to aim and snap.  I can also exaggerate qualities creating a surreal version of the image, perhaps making interesting something that simply wasn’t to start with.

Now, there’s a reason why I tell this story here.  I use to have a bulletin board in my classroom that read, “This classroom is a lens through which you can see the rest of the world,” and I meant it.  But there was only so much of the world that I could show my students through 5+ year old textbooks, a 1948 world map, and three cracked chalk boards.  To be sure, there was not a lot more I could have done with more recent textbooks, a brand new map and shiny new white boards.  The purist would say that I was doing my job, and perhaps doing it well.  I was playing my role – educating my students and teaching them skills.

It was also during those first years of teaching that I started paying attention: to the news, to people who weren’t students or teachers, to science (became fascinated by quantum physics), to geography (we owned the book, Europe on $10 a Day (now Europe on $85 a Day) and dreamed of summers, vagabonding across the old continent).  I came to realize just how exciting and mysterious and vibrant the world really was, and was inspired to become a better teacher and better lens for my students.  

Closest that I could come. It’s so hard to find pictures of things that predate the World Wide Web.

But, I couldn’t do it.  I went back to the classroom, continuing my traditional role as teacher, expecting my students to sit still, pay attention, and remember.  My passion as a lecturer wasn’t nearly enough.

Here we are today, with a new kind of classroom.  Our personal learning devices give us access to networked, digital and overwhelmingly abundant information.  We are no longer teaching from information scarcity.

Are we now teaching in a time when we can HDR our classrooms.  Might we finally capture and share what it was about our world experience, that inspired us to teach.  Might we even exaggerate hues and contrasts and blend colors in weird ways.  Can we make knowledge flow and glow and grow and cause learning to energize our children – rather than steal it from them.

Can we push reality into our classrooms and inspire our learners to become members, participants, and shapers of their future? – and ours?



It’s The Information (Revisited)

Plugged in with iPod, head set to communicate with game guild members, game controller, game keyboard to text players without broadband, and a laptop for IMing.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog article describing a picture that I'd taken of my son, in the TV room, wrapped up in his “technology.” I'm including the picture here, since he is no longer a minor and I can no longer so easily peak in on his techventures.

In the article I suggested that it wasn't technology that defined his experience nearly as much as it was the information that he was playing with. It continues to be a central theme of my work, that it's a new information experience we should be facilitating for our learners, not simply applying technology to old teaching pedagogues.

A few days ago, an old friend from my state agency days, John Spagnolo, gave me reason to revisit that article, when he commented with some questions that got me to thinking.

Among them was:

How have “smartphones” and cellular connectedness changed the nature of information over the past 8 or so years since this was written?

I think that one significant change that has occurred over the past seven or eight years, is that I, and many other seasoned adults have, for various reasons, begun to utilized this networked, digital and abundant information environment. I often say to friends, as I slip my phone back into my pocket, that we live in a time of no unanswered questions. The answer is almost certainly waiting in our pockets or on our laps. My cellular iPad has become a welcome and valued companion as my wife and I drive across North Carolina to visit with family and old friends. It helps us to continue conversations about the news, movies, the best route around Charlotte and settle minor arguments.

For my son and daughter, I suspect that their use of these connective tools has not changed significantly over the past several years. They cultivate networks of friends and acquaintances, which have probably grown with my daughter, whose interested have expanded, and grown smaller with my son, whose interests have narrowed and become more focused. They use Twitter more and Facebook less, and are probably more likely to be interacting with friends via a specific application, such as a game or Pinterest category.

I also wonder if, in many instances, we might be finding more creative ways of using this new info-landscape than our children.

Spagnolo also asked,

How does your son connect to and interact with his information today?

I suspect that both of my children interact with information more through games and through specific applications. I was so terribly disturbed a few years ago when smart people started suggesting that the Web was dead, that apps were changing the way that we used the Internet. But apps have certainly changed the way that my children use information and I find myself preferring to use Amazon and Craigslist apps instead of their respective web sites.

Apps have become an intriguing new avenue of economy, that I've suggested to me son, where people are making a living by designing highly specialized and compelling tools for using and playing with information.

Finally, he asked,

Has the nature of information influenced the emerging “appropriate technologies” like the digital learning object called an iBook?

My knee-jerk response is, “Not nearly enough.” This current push toward digital textbooks, urged on by our Secretary of Education, concerns me. I worry that we're engaged in a race to modernize schooling, rather than a sober and thoughtful imagining and designing of learning materials and practices that are more relevant to today's learners (ourselves include), today's information landscape and a future that has lost the comforts of certainty, but become rich with wondrous opportunities.

What I enjoyed, though, about my experience in publishing an iBook was learning to hack some features into the book that were not part of Apples general instructions for using their publishing tool. This is the ultimate opportunity of digital learning objects and environments, that they can be hacked into new and better learning experiences by information artisans who see what's there and what it can become.


My Extrapolations from a Washington Post Graphic

Click to link to the original Washington Post graphic

In 1986, I was the director of instructional technology in a rural school district in North Carolina, a job that hadn’t existed when I’d started teaching only 10 years earlier. Thanks to researchers at the University of Southern California, we now know something about the state of technology ten years into my career.

For instance, In 1986, 41% of the world’s computer processing power was in pocket calculators. Personal computers made up 33%, with 17% going to servers and mainframes. A whopping 9% powered video game consoles. According to that study things had changed dramatically by 2007. The amount of the world’s processing power residing in personal computers had doubled, to 66% and calculators had disappeared from the picture. Video games accounted for 25% of the processing power and new comers, mobile phones and PDA (which didn’t exist when I was director of technology), held 6% of the world’s computing power. Servers and mainframes dropped to 3% and supercomputer weighed in at 0.3%.

But the real sign of change is in information. Back in 1986, the world held 2.64 billion gigabytes of information — and 2.62 of them resided on analog media (paper, film, audiotape and vinyl and videotape.) The growth of information soured over the next 16 years, when, in 2002, the amount of digital content exceeded the information we stored with analog technologies.

By 2007, our quantity of information had risen to 294.98 billion exabytes of information, and only just less than 19 of them still resided on analog media. If you took only the paper — and film, audiotape and vinyl used to store information today, it would account for only 0.004% of the world’s content. That means that anyone, whose schooling and experience has not included the skilled, responsible and practiced use of contemporary information and communication technologies, well for more than 99.6% of the worlds information, they are practically illiterate!

What it means to be educated has been flipped on it’s side!

Are you Willing?

I just had an interesting experience with my in-laws. We met them at a diner in Shelby for breakfast and over eggs, toast, and grits, Alvin told me that his Internet wasn’t working. So we agreed to stop by their house on the way out of town.

When we arrived, I went straight to his boy-room (the man never got over his childhood, and has always bought interesting things for himself) and pulled out my laptop to test his WiFi. No problem. Then I went to his Toshiba laptop, and again, no problem. We talked a bit more, and I discovered that it was his iPod Touch he’d bought himself for Christmas that was the problem. (I’ll say here that I hope that this stuff is a lot simpler when I’m 92)

So I ended out solving his problem by reminding him of the button he needed to touch to bring up Safari. We continued to talk and I did the whole, “Now here’s my current killer-app.” And then it occurred to me.

“Have you ever used YouTube, Alvin?”

He thought for a minute, and then mentioned a video he’d used to learn a line dance (I also, hope I’m dancing when I am 92). He told me that he had found the video through a Google search. So I pulled up YouTube, talking about what a wonderful learning tool this was. I typed in iPod Touch tutorials, and a whole slew of videos came up. I clicked into a number of them, including one on how to move YouTube videos into your iPod Touch.

And here’s the interesting part. All of the videos were produced by boys, around the ages of 10 to 12. So I turned to Alvin and said, “You can learn to do most any thing you want with your iPod Touch her, as long as you’re willing to learn from a 10 year old.”

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad