Smart Mobs

by francine Hardaway on August 25, 2002

In the last five years the world has witnessed
simultaneous digital media and Internet revolutions.
It has also begun to understand the impact of media
and telecommunications convergence. The promise of
digital media, internet and mobile communications
has captured the imagination of the public, and
solid business opportunities have been created. No
one would like to go back to the way things were
before; in fact, people eagerly await things like
broadband in their neighborhoods, wireless networks,
and streaming video. People in China are sitting in
Internet cafes chatting with people in Chicago.
People in New Zealand are sending products to
Phoenix. In Europe, teenagers are sending instant
messages to each other over cell phones. Over 800
million teenagers and young adults have been born
into the highest video and audio standard ever
known. Their power to communicate and interact with
us and with each other is enormous. One writer has
labeled this huge wired network as a “smart
Most traditional educational systems fail to
engage smart mobs. American teenagers have to be
told to shut off their cell phones in class, because
what’s happening outside of class, whatever it is,
is always far more important (to them) than what’s
happening inside. And almost no one is studying
these days without headphones, listening to music
while doing math, and perhaps also watching TV.
Despite all the talk about education reform, little
is understood about the convergence of education,
entertainment and technology and how it could work
for us rather than against us, as I believe it is
now.The education sector spends billions of dollars
a year on IT and the significance of digital media
in education is growing. Educators fight about
whether computers really enable education, even as
states like Arizona try to connect every school to
the Internet with broadband. Once bandwidth is
really solved and memory leaps to multiple squared
capacities from what now exists, will we have
ubiquitous video streaming? Will it take the place
of the classroom? It already has. We are
inadvertently spreading information over the
Internet that is much more compelling than what is
taught in our schools: how to make bombs; child
pornography; race hatred — they are all out there
being taught to the global audience of teenagers and
young adults who are willing to listen and learn.
For the past six years, my friend and mentor Paul
Elsner has led a dialogue called The Sedona
Conferences,at which he has tried to gather
educators, Hollywood types, and technologists to
discuss the issue of how education, entertainment
and technology are converging, and what we should do
about it. While the discussion is often in Sedona,
it has also been in Barcelona, and this fall will be
in Dublin, Ireland.
Why Ireland? Because Dublin is creating a Digital
Media District, which includes the Liberties
Learning Initiative, a digital media showcase
demonstrating synergies between learning,
creativity, innovation, technology and community.
Confimed attendees include Europeans, Americans, and
delegates from the United Arab Emirates. They are
coming because in our age, education is not a local
issue of school boards and school books; it’s a
global issue of what philosophical and analytical
systems we want future leaders to embrace. If we
want to make bombs and kill ourselves and each
other, as we seem to be doing in the Middle East,
the current global education system inadvertently
promotes this by failing to offer anything more
compelling to our young people. Institutionalized
education cannot and does not compete with
entertainment and technology, and thus it is
fighting a losing battle for mindshare of the young.
I’m not saying that everyone should hop a plane to
Dublin this October for the Sedona Conference
(although many people probably should); I think I
*am* saying that we need to consider more carefully
what education really *is* in the twenty-first
century, and–�hopefully–�what it *can* be.



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