Back to the Future? Let History be a Guide.

I agree with Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “The future influences the present just as much as the past.” But I would argue not enough people consider the future and its potential impact on our lives and truly discern its potential consequences, both good and bad.  I find Futurism a fascinating area of study when I draw direct connections to eras of history. I am especially interested in the comparisons between historic exploration and colonization on earth to what will likely occur when humans venture to the Moon and Mars. 

Perhaps it was the combination of childhood visits to the Xanadu Home of the Future in the Wisconsin Dells (the video above is pretty hilarious with the dramatics) and the “Back to the Future” movies that triggered this interest. Or maybe it was my oldest brother who has always been able to master and explain the latest technology with unbelievable ease. Regardless of its origin, teaching has provided me the time and energy to dive a little deeper into Futurism and I was excited that the San Antonio ISTE Conference last week hosted several presenters with ideas on what the future may entail which I will attempt to unpack here.

Dr. Howie DiBlasi, an “Emerging Technologies Evangelist,” presented “10 Future Technologies Changing Your World: What Comes  After What Comes Next.” Dr. DiBlasi’s goal was to highlight impending technological developments and illustrate how society and education will need to adjust to these advancements. One striking video DiBlasi used was of an Apple Knowledge Navigator video from 1987. The video portrays a professor talking with his “computer book” on the future date of September 16, 2011. What is interesting is that Apple’s I-Phone and Siri arrived October 4, 2011.

I do not remember this video but I can imagine that it reflected the futuristic, pop culture of the 80s referenced above but had to seem like something people would use several decades in the future. Well, it took 2 1/2 decades as most of us cannot live without this technology everyday. My students can’t comprehend a time like 1987, when the i-phone was a far fetched dream. The video showed me how keeping aware of predictions during our time is fascinating (if you can remember them later on, of course). But it also shows that many of today’s ideas that predict tomorrow should not seem so far fetched or be totally discounted.

The more we pay attention to technology advancements, the more we can discuss them in forums like this and in the Social Studies classroom. Should society accept all technology and who decides? Are there moral implications to technological developments? Is this era of technology like any other period of time of human advancement like the Bronze Age or Industrial Age where the Have’s will prosper and move on the Have Not’s will fall behind? The following is a brief summary of the conference’s take on the future which perhaps due to time constraints, did not discuss questions posed here.

Deep_Brain_StimulationWhen it comes to medical advancements, Dr. DiBlasi discussed regenerative medicine but one that stuck out was the potential for brain transplants by 2030. Indeed, many disabilities could be helped or cured through this type of technology. I do not pretend to know anything of substance when it comes to biology or medical engineering, but there seems to be an ethical question here after we get over the amazement that this might be possible.  Because we can, does that mean we should? Should we be tinkering with brain transplants and how does it, for example, impact the dignity of a person? Is there a point when ongoing technological advancements in medicine may lead a person to stop being “human”? It may turn out that brain transplants will be the greatest medical accomplishment ever but there still should be a discussion of its merits and risks.

Other advancements that gained my attention was a space elevator to the Moon and that gesture based technology (think Nintendo Wii) could someday eliminate the touch screen. Google Glass (watch video below showing one person’s day wearing google glasses), one of Howie’s several highlighted tech gadgets was actually in use during the conference. I was fortunate to speak to one person who won a contest to test the eye ware. He said the glasses were comfortable and you get used to the camera above the eye and you are not (as I imagined) always looking at it. When you do use the camera, the image appears like a flat screen tv about 5 feet in front of you. Kudos to this volunteer as he turned off the option that takes a photo each time your eyes blink out of respect to the conference attendee’s privacy. These glasses have already sparked debate about the role of technology and privacy in our society. What would…wait, what will these do in the classroom?

Finally, I was introduced to literature’s take on the future as well. During my presentation Monday evening, an attendee introduced me to the author, Kim Stanley Robinson and his Sci-Fi Trilogy of futuristic novels describing Mars settlement. I found the descriptions of these novels to be fascinating as it relates directly to our global “Dreams to Mars” class project. For example, Robinson tackles the social, political, scientific and yes, ethical questions, that will demand answers when humans leave earth to settle the moon and Mars. I do not typically read Science Fiction but the connections to D2M seem too close to pass by. Again, these books are one person’s voice, like Dr. Diblasi, but interesting nonetheless as we are close to realizing many of these ideas. I wonder, by the way, if we can get Robinson to skype with D2M project participants?

To me, these questions about the future are important but they are not unique to our era. The world has undergone advancement and change before and it is interesting to compare these eras. Are there common themes between them? Are there examples in previous world exploration and colonization to show the benefits, failures, successes and perils these missions can provide humanity? Were there similar fears of previous medical advancements and were they founded? I think Social Studies classrooms, often left out of 21st Century education discussions, are critical to help educate creative, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning individuals to help navigate the torrent of technology coming our way. max Headroom

Of course, a great deal of the projections discussed at ISTE may turn out to be ill-fated or just look “corny” as much of my beloved 80s appear today. Take Max Headroom, the first Artificial Intelligence tv Host (who really an actor), the VCR and the first cell phone (this video is awesome). But then again, I am positive there are certainly some current ideas, like the 1987 Apple concept video displayed, that will bear fruit and perhaps drastically change future society. Will it be for the better? I would say that is for us to discuss today with historical perspective so we are equipped to answer those questions tomorrow.


One thought on “Back to the Future? Let History be a Guide.

  1. Pingback: Viewing History Through Google Glasses | HistoricaLese

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s