Some of this week’s stories for the future of education

As some people head off to the weekend, here are some stories that point to possible futures for education and technology.  I’d like to draw your attention to rising income inequality, internet of things problems, and the transformation of a media villain into a hero.

ITEM: The wealthiest Americans, the ones soaring away from the rest of us, have also reached down quite energetically to share some of their wealth.  Yes, philanthropic giving is on the rise, according to a new report.   And by “those wealthiest Americans” the Chronicle of Philanthropy means billionaires, the “superrich.”

The median annual giving by the 50 most generous donors last year reached $97 million — nearly double what it was in 2000, the first year The Chronicle conducted its Philanthropy 50 analysis — even after adjusting for inflation. Collectively, this group of philanthropists gave away $14.7 billion — the largest total since 2008, when the Great Recession began to strait-jacket philanthropy. It’s also the third-largest in the 18-year history of the survey.

Note the generational transition, which is very important:

The 2017 giving spree was fueled by huge donations from many relatively young major philanthropists who are still accumulating great wealth — and who are likely to make big gifts for years to come.

That has not been the case with previous Philanthropy 50 spikes, when multiple bequests or the largess of a single donor drove the number higher.

For educators – and I mean not only higher ed, but those working in museums, public libraries, and other cultural heritage organizations – this reminds us once more of the vital importance of the “superrich” for our funding purposes.  They have been important for a while; that’s just going to become more so.   Consider the implications for fundraising, recruitment, outreach…

ITEM: a Gizmodo article on an internet-of-things home, or “smarthome,” has made the rounds due to its catalog of problems.  To begin with, the authors, Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu, identify a major security problem at the ISP level, as those firms has check out an awful lot of traffic, much of which is unsecured.  So does the router:


There are plenty of basic operating problems, ranging from electrical power issues (one house didn’t have enough power outlets) to unpredictable device pinging to poor interoperability:

I had to download 14 different apps to my phone to control everything, which meant creating an account for each one of those apps. (Yes, my coffeemaker has a log-in and a very long terms of service agreement.)

Once more the vertical stacks assert themselves, staking out information stovepipes.

The article is also revelatory for the ways people imagine smarthomes.  For example, a mix of science fiction and fantasy power fantasies:

Why? Why would I do this? … It was appealing to imagine living like the Beast in the Disney movie, with animated objects around my home taking care of my every need and occasionally serenading me.

Also, the assertion of either class privilege, the aspirational American Dream, or simply dreaming oneself into the plutocracy: “Thanks to the Internet of Things, I could live in my very own tech-mediated Downton Abbey. That’s the appeal of smart homes for most people…”  i.e., it’s a dream of aristocratic power.  They aren’t thinking about living as a manor house’s waitstaff or scullery maid.

The article offers another crucial issue concerning the social unfolding of the IoT:

Getting a smart home means that everyone who lives or comes inside it is part of your personal panopticon, something which may not be obvious to them because they don’t expect everyday objects to have spying abilities.

In short, we could assess this is a technology or technology movement in its early days, and watch to see the race between its improvement curve and public patience.  We could also view it as another instance of expanding dataveillance.  Alternatively, we can see this as the vertical stack technology business model growing in new domains.

In education, we can scope out how all of this plays in residences as one model for how the IoT deploys within institutions.

Cinema break: enjoy Jaques Tati struggling with a smart home a half-century ago,

ITEM: a Buzzfeed article argues that Rupert Murdoch’s reputation is changing, which matters very much for technology.  While once many media people saw Murdoch as a crass and/or dangerous capitalist, it turns out that some are starting to favor him as a counterbalance to Facebook and Google.  “[T]he 2016 election changed everything”, argue Steven Perlberg and Mark Di Stefano.  As Murdoch properties fight Facebook and Google, they become nigh unto heroic.

This matters in terms of media – specifically, journalism – but is also important as an example of how the social media wars are largely being fought.  As I’ve written previously, the rising wave of anxiety about Silicon Valley continues to unfurl as a largely intra-elite battle.  It’s not so much about brave scholars and lone critics, but more about struggles between giant businesses and very, very wealthy people.

Villains and heroes, broken smarthomes, generous rich people: a few present currents to watch as they push into the future.  Datapoints for trends to observe carefully.

(thanks to Jesse Walker for a link)

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2 Responses to Some of this week’s stories for the future of education

  1. John says:

    The future for learning is so exciting. There are so many more techniques available that didn’t exist just a couple of decades ago

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