Today’s velocity of change seems like something out of Lewis Carroll’s Original Tale.
When my son was born in 1997, only 18% of families had Internet in their homes; we had a dial-up modem for our one shared computer. By the time my daughter was born 4 years later, 50% of families had internet access in the home. In our home, we had upgraded to the world of DSL and routers. In the fifteen years since, we have owned several computers, installed multiple operating systems, learned dozens of software packages that allowed us to search for information, send and receive email, download photos and create documents, videos and graphics. All that software has been updated, patched and replaced too many times to count. Our family of four uses 4 laptops, 2 desktops and various mobile devices, all accessing wireless. And we’re not atypical.
In my children’s relatively short lives, it seems everything has changed, and changed again. They live in a completely different world than the one in which I was raised. Today, a billion people are connected – and this new interconnected world has enabled all of us to learn in active, social, technology-enabled and participatory ways. For my kids and their peers, YouTube, blog sites, Skype, social media and game environments feed their learning through passion and curiosity. They are connecting with learners and mentors from all over the world – and accessing an unprecedented abundance of resources. They are creating their own game environments, websites, blogs and adding to discussion forums and posting videos of things they have made and learned. They are contributing to the world of knowledge as fluidly as they are accessing it.
Learning seems to be a living and breathing thing, with technology an extension of our brains.
In A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown write:
“Information technology has become a participatory medium, giving rise to an environment that is constantly being changed and reshaped by the participation itself. The process is almost quantum in nature: the more we interact with these informational spaces, the more the environment changes, and the very act of finding information reshaped not only the context that gives that information meaning, but also the meaning itself.”
Or, in simple terms, human interaction with digital information actually alters its meaning.
This speaks to an entirely new knowledge-creation paradigm. We all understand that the world is changing rapidly, that we’re in a constant state of flux. And libraries strive to respond to this new world – how to create meaningful, relevant and responsive environments that change and evolve with this changing and evolving world. It’s inspiring to see the extent to which libraries are engaging/partnering with their communities for innovative programs and responsive services. Libraries are rising to the challenge!
Thomas and Brown go on to say:
“If the twentieth century was about creating a sense of stability to buttress against change and then trying to adapt to it, then the twenty-first century is about embracing change, not fighting it. Embracing change means looking forward to what will come next. It means viewing the future as a set of new possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust. It means making the most of living in a world of motion.”
As a digital immigrant from the previous century, I wonder what this means for those of us who grew up in more stable times. The authors also say that “making knowledge stable in a changing world is an unwinnable game”. I expect many of us are starting to feel more like Alice in Wonderland when she says “How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”!
Oh for the little cakes to take us back to a normal size! Oh to channel the bravery, pluckiness and curiosity of Alice! Seriously. What mindset do we need to adopt in order to thrive in this environment? How do we conquer our own stress about constant change? How do we embrace the change and make the most of living in a world of motion?
And that’s what got me reading Thomas and Brown’s book on a new learning culture. They’re talking about the formal education system, but they have nuggets of wisdom for anyone wanting to thrive comfortably in this new environment too: A strategy for letting go of that twentieth century need to provide stability. For adopting the mindset of the digital natives. For mastering the connection economy.
It’s about how we approach work, the mindset that we bring. Learning from the world of young learners, Thomas and Brown’s book talks about embracing change through a strategy of play:
“In a world of near-constant flux, play becomes a strategy for embracing change, rather than a way for growing out of it… The need for innovation – the lifeblood of business – is widely recognized, and imagination and play are key ingredients for making it happen.”
The notion of play and creativity appeals to me. The concept of replacing a culture of fear and compliance with one of openness and wonder is liberating. The idea of celebrating creativity and connections, of participating in communities and the spreading of ideas excites me. Of learning and sharing. Of tapping into our collective imaginations and the thoughts and ideas of others. Of fulfilling an insatiable desire for things that are new and real and important.
I’ve been a librarian for 25 years. It’s a rewarding profession that has always engaged my heart and mind. But this new culture of learning feels like something that engages my heart and mind like never before, much more profoundly. Not only that, it engages my spirit and values the creativity and individuality that I bring to the work. As Alice says, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then”.
And Alice will be a different person again tomorrow.
I look forward to the wonders to come in 2013!