I wanted to offer another “day in the life of a futurist” installment. I did a couple in 2017 and 2018, so this is overdue.
To make up for the delay, I chose an extreme day:
October 6, 2022, 12:01 am EST – I am somewhere over the Pacific Ocean or Central America, as the United Airlines flight carries me north from Santiago, Chile, where I’d addressed and met with staff and users of a big ed tech company. It went well, I think. Good conversations, a chance to tour a local university, networking. I’m fascinated by similarities and differences between Latin American universities and those elsewhere.
Spanish-speakers were very kind with my fumbling language practice. I repeat: “Estudio espagnol, pero comprendo muy mal!” I tried to improve by listening to presentations in both Spanish and English, thanks to hard-working simultaneous translators and little earpieces.
On the plane I sleep fitfully, turning to Richard Powers’ superb Overstory (2018) when I could.
At one point lightning ripples through the dark clouds underneath the plane. I try to capture the spectacle with my beaten-up Android phone, but keep flubbing the timing. I try to remember passages from Edmund Burke on the sublime (1757) but fatigue and travel scramble my brain.
At another point, I muse about the psychological insulation of air travel. How distant I feel from the countries we scud over, from the physical environment. This is obviously not an original insight, and it’s an older one, given the history of air travel. I think about incremental innovation in aeronautics, wanting to get back online so I can check out the latest ideas in improved jet fuel, engines, and fuselages.
I also feel my frustration at not being able to decarbonize my professional travel effectively.
Also: I am one of a handful of people on the plane wearing a mask.
5:30 am, CST – reach the United States, deplaning groggily at Houston’s airport. Homeland Security is much more interested in my Chilean activities than Chilean security was. I stagger through IAH as it gradually opens up, hunting vegan food and resorting to trail mix.
Most importantly, in an anonymous tunnel/hallway, I find seats and power outlets, then get on the airport’s WiFi. This gives me some time to work on emails while catching up on news. Specifically, I fire up Inoreader and Google News on my phone, then a set of tabs on the laptop (little Windows box): Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Shindig.
(Much as a I use my phone, I *need* a keyboard to work. I can only peck out so many words on the Android.)
Time runs out. I pack up and saunter to the gate, where I enjoy talking with a real estate lawyer about federally-backed flood insurance.
11:30 am, EST – I deplane still groggily at National Airport (am old and political enough to never say “Reagan”). Now it’s time to hike to the happily adjacent Metro station and train north, tweeting along the way and relishing this very kind note from Joshua Kim at Inside Higher Ed via mega-editor Greg Britton:
"This decade’s second-best-timed higher education book is What Universities Owe Democracy. The first-best-timed higher education book will emerge when @BryanAlexander’s Universities on Fire (also @JHUPress) is published this coming March. https://t.co/gGxL8Ue6Ql
— Greg Britton (@gmbritton) October 7, 2022
Noon – exit Metro at the Rosslyn station and get a decent salad at a nearby Chopt. Then walk the chilly Key Bridge over the Potomac towards Georgetown University, luggage in tow, thinking about how to organize several events coming up. To wit:
2 pm – based in a campus conference room, I launch this week’s Future Trends Forum, where we host the authors of a fascinating proposal to redesign higher ed, high school, and the labor market all together. The writers are great, thoughtful and deeply engaged with discussion. The Forum audience is, of course, amazing. I’m not sure if I think the Blur will work, but I’m still considering it and admire its vision, plus the authors’ commitment.
3 pm – a climate fiction book club meeting takes place in Zoom. The book is a collection of solarpunk short stories, and I enjoy some of the writers’ comments and readers’ reactions. I’m interested by many themes: an insistence on nonviolence, the problem of thinking through such a vast hyperobject.
4 pm – I relocate down the hall to a fine classroom for my future of higher education seminar. Tonight’s futures method is the Delphi. Our example: the 2022 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report. Discussion nicely ranged between how Delphi works (I give examples from my own experience with the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Reports) to some of ways technology shapes the future of higher education. The students are excellent. I owe them readings for next week.
6:30 pm – I skip dinner to walk back over the river to the Metro again, this time to ride north into Maryland, to Silver Springs. Along the way I notice the first significant numbers of people wearing masks; not sure why that’s so. We arrive and I climb out of the train station, still hauling my luggage and wearing a suit, to meet my friends at the Kiss-and-Ride (yes). They have brought me clothes, which I change into sneakily, then we walk to a music venue. That’s because the last event of the day is my first Sabaton concert, the first time I’ve been to a live show since February 2020.
The history-obsessed metal rockers do not disappoint.
1 am, roughly? – finally make it home by car for the first time in a week. My mind’s racing, but the much-abused body sabotages thought and drags me to sleep.
One thought: I’m happy to work on the road, but so much depends on local conditions. Santiago was good to work in – great when my hosts were in charge – but not all locales are so supportive. Airport wifi remains variable and not reliable for high end work, while power outlets can be scarce or difficult to use. Working on planes remains agony for me outside of first class, due to no or bad wifi, sometimes no power, and too often no room for me to crack open a laptop and write.
Bryan, from my working-class perspective, I see tough times ahead. And little being done about it. The rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer and more vulnerable. The middle-class people you talk to may be well meaning, but they don’t have the power to do much about it. Even more concerning, they aren’t willing to push for substantive change. Being sponsored by big business and big banks keeps people from being too bold. In terms of labor rights and labor reform, I hope you can get Gordon Lafer or someone like him on your Future Trends Forum. At least he tried to make a difference through his work.
The Big Blur proposal is interesting. Certainly we need to think and do differently then what we have done in the past and break those models and systems that served us in the past but don’t now and into the future. I don’t come from an education background, my background is corporate and business. However, I do see a need for a more collaborative approach between them – both are as rigid and locked into their own systems at the moment. The fear of experimentation and failure is too great so it’s good to hear of an initiative willing to break it.