Fathers Day Technology and Things a Coming

Russ Steele

This morning I received a very nice Father’s Day card from Ellen, my lovely wife, by way of Jacquic Lawson Cards  and a Kindle Fire, which arrived a few days before Fathers Day.  The Kindle Fire has changed my reading habits, I am spending less time on my laptop and more on the Kindle.  In addition to changing my reading habits, Kindle and Amazon are changing commercial economics as we know it. More in this below, but first let me tell a story that started with an e-mail.

Last night my son-in-law Darrin Jones who is the Director of Server Intelligence at Microsoft sent me an e-mail, and asked if I had read the May Issue of Wired, especially the Interview with  Marc Andreessen. We often share information on the latest technology and technology driven commerce. I had not read the article.  Remembering a recent e-mail from Amazon offing magazines for the Kindle, I picked up my Kindle, turned on the WiFi and checked the Amazon Market Place. If I down load a Wired app, I could purchase the May issue of Wired.  In 20 minutes after receiving the e-mail, I was reading the May Issue of Wired and the recommended  Marc Andreessen interview.  I had not left my very comfortable chair.

In the Interview Andreessen had this to say about Amazon and Borders, which was my favorite book store in Roseville, before it was driven out of business by Amazon.  Borders was my best hang out when Ellen was shopping in the Mall, or when we had time between appointments.

“Amazon is a force for human progress and culture and economics in a way that Border never was.” 

Now between appointments, and while Ellen is shopping, I hang out a Starbucks with my Kindle. Where I can read books, WSJ and Wired or hundreds of other publications without leaving my chair.

In Andreessen’s view technology is going to remake the whole economy. It has changed shopping and in his view “the next stops are eduction, financial services, health care and ultimately government. . . “

CNN has more support for the Andreessen’s view that technology has changed commerce, in an article on “showrooming” this morning. Brick and mortar stores sales are down and online store sales are up.  According to Lisa Hill, Buxton, in her presentation to the ERC earlier this month 30% of all sales are now over the Internet. Brick and Mortar stores are seeing more people come into their stores to look over the merchandise, taking notes, photos on smartphones and leaving the store without making a purchase. This is ‘showrooming.” Those photo and note takers are then going home, or to the office, and logging on to the Internet and ordering the very product they saw in the show room, often delivered the next day right to their door.  More information on “showrooming” HERE.

I think that education will soon be swept up and changed by technology. Consider this article in the Wall Street Journal: Sebastian Thrun: What’s Next for Silicon Valley?

. . .  Mr. Thrun set up a company, Udacity, that joins many other companies attacking the problem of how to deliver the optimal online education. “What I see is democratizing education will change everything,” he says. “I have an unbelievable passion about this. We will reach students that have never been reached. I can give my love of learning to other people. I’ve stumbled into the most amazing Wonderland. I’ve taken the red pill and seen how deep Wonderland is.”

But Wonderland is also crazy!” I interrupt.

“So?”

Ah, another Thrun project that can radically disrupt the old way of doing things. “But isn’t that exactly what we should be doing? I’m going part-time at Google to pursue this. I really care. Isn’t this the American history? Can’t you pinpoint almost everything that happened back to some technological breakthrough?” Indeed, this is going to disrupt public schools and teachers unions and universities and tenured professors and so on, Mr. Thrun effectively interjects: “The dialogue always focuses on what’s going to happen to the institutions. I’m totally siding with the students.”

I ask why he always takes on these quantum changes instead of trying something incremental. “That’s what Google taught me. Aim higher. Udacity is my playground—to radically experiment and find out. I’ve seen the light.”

Now Mr. Thrun is talking like a true Silicon Valley entrepreneur. “The AI class was the first light. Online education will way exceed the best education today. And cheaper. If this works, we can rapidly accelerate the progress of society and the world. If you think Facebook is neat, wait five to 10 years. So many open problems will be solved.”

I’ve met a few others like Sebastian Thrun. When you ask them why they took on a huge challenge, they ask: Why not?

The real problem is that Education is an entrenched bureaucratic organization that is being blindsided by the technology just like Borders and Brick and Mortar stores are by Amazon.   More on the blindsiding of education in a future post!

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About Russ Steele
Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

4 Responses to Fathers Day Technology and Things a Coming

  1. RL Crabb says:

    Like you, I was a “shopping mall widower” who spent a lot of time at Borders while the wife was seeking out bargains in Roseville. The showcasing aspect was the nice thing about bookstores. While browsing you would run across books that you would never search out on your own with a computer.

  2. Sean says:

    A little different perspective from my end of the world. Revolutioning education and the world with information delivered through copper and fiber optic lines to a 2 dimension screen is completely missing a the third dimension of the real world, not to mention relationships that develop outside of a standard curriculum. You may be able to deliver the content of a book just as well electronically but you how do you convey the smell of the outdoors, the crispness of the air, the fatigue from a long hike and the exhilaration of reaching to top of a high hill or mountain. How do you develop the skill to lead and organize a project, interpret an expeiment with ambiguous results without a little guidance of how to read the nuances. How much better do you learn when you try, fail and try again to do something. Do you teach that through a web site and a 2 dimenstional screen?

  3. Sean,

    My of vision for education in the future is not sitting at home alone with a 2 dimension screen, I am think more of a three dimensional experience with information given over the screen and then teams working on projects to build something as a group effort. One master teacher can reach millions online at about the same cost as teaching one classroom of students. Interaction and leadership comes when the online students come together to build a project from tinker toy robots, cars and bridges, to plant, growing, harvest, and canning. It is a head / hands approach with the head part being delivered by the best possible teacher. An then as the students progress in school they build more complex projects, including those that involve computers, software and 3D printers.

    Our current school systems were designed to produce factory workers, and in the 1990s they were failing that when industry instituted ISO quality control procedures. Industry had to spend billions training workers in the six sigma process and the math involved. The factories of the future will be software factories and we are not producing the needed intellectual material for those factories. Yes, this is only one aspect of the economy, few if any of the Border clerks laid off were qualified to work at Amazon. As more and more commerce goes online, where do all those laid off store clerks find jobs?

    We need schools that are taking advantage of technology that are preparing students for a much different world that we have today. Since it is hard to predict the future we need to teach the math basics at each grade level and train them to use the analytical tool kits they will need for making decisions in that uncertain future, filled with ubiquitous networks, computers in every imaginable device, 3D printers, automated delivery trucks, etc.

    The largest obstacles to be overcome will be the regulations and the unions. These will be routed around by using the free market. Build a better school and parent will be demanding every child have that opportunity. Change will happen.

  4. gjrebane says:

    Sean 1130am – I understand your ‘clean sweep’ argument, it has greeted new technologies since at least the Renaissance. No new technology will come in and completely replace what was done before. All technologies get adopted at their own pace and integrated into our lives in ways that its developers and we who benefit never anticipated. And then we look back and say that not only is it good, but that it is better. For that is the only way we will accept it.

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