How not to stand still at Bett 2011

I remember a Bett show at Olympia (1996?) where Microsoft had a suite of computers introducing us to Windows 95 (for which I actually queued) and the dying Acorn ARM PC was demonstrating its belated Ant Browser. Sometimes you know the world has...


I remember a Bett show at Olympia (1996?) where Microsoft had a suite of computers introducing us to Windows 95 (for which I actually queued) and the dying Acorn ARM PC was demonstrating its belated Ant Browser. Sometimes you know the world has changed, or rather I should say the small world in which I live has changed. Today was one of those days. The week, after Facebook got a $50bn valuation and its server count approached 1000,000, I asked my students (18 year olds) who amongst them carried a mobile device with a permanent net connection? ... All of them, even me. Next, who had a Facebook account? ...all of them, but not me (too paranoid and no friends). Finally, I asked them how many of these wonders of the 21st Century are used in education? ... None of them ... Ooops I had forgotten, they’re banned in class. We slyly returned them to our pockets and checked they were on vibrate. Just before we got back to our work with MS Access (a database thingy around since 1995) we checked how many of the servers and mobile clients mentioned above used a Microsoft operating system? … None of them. In a final twist of irony on the eve of Bett 2011, all of their mobile devices happened to sport ARM chips! Umm, hang on, when did this all happen? Here I am teaching these kids in a network room full to busting with ageing Dells running Windows XP (which has 95% of the schools market) and trying to work out how to make a meaningful mark on the Interactive Whiteboard. For thirty years I have been involved in introducing computers into classrooms, But has it come to this? ... A dead beat bloke teaching dead beat technology to a wired generation? Sigh, looks like it has. But (I’m cheering up a little) what a journey we had... Cue wobbly windows and spooky music as the old teacher nods off and reminisces... I remember the fun we had in DT with the first CAD software and PIC programming tools; how we marveled. And the lovely layered art work we ‘Photoshopped’ for our first in-house DTP’d magazine... not to mention those memos from the Head in four different colours and five fonts; how we laughed. Then there were the midi-keyboards lashed up to those transparent Macs running Sybelius; so cool, so creative...aah those were the days. Finally, nothing prepared us for the World Wide Web with Netscape’s hypertext leaping around the globe and how we giggled at the Head of IT when he said ‘I don’t really think it’s up to much lad’. It all looked so good 15 years ago, no one had the temerity to challenge us ‘ITistas’, even if they wanted to, we were masters of the universe...where did we go wrong? ... Returns with a jolt to the present... Oh yes I remember now, that bl***y network. We all thought it was a cool idea at the time but little did we realise that it spelt the death of innovation and the start of boring. With hindsight it was blindingly obvious... for two reasons:
  1. The network can be used for the work of bureaucrats.
  2. The network has to be upgraded en-masse
. The first point means that low-skill adults will be core users of the system. Unlike children they learn slowly and are strongly averse to ‘disposable skill sets’ i.e. they like to learn something once and for all. The second point means that the sheer cost and effort to change an entire network combines with point 1 and really puts the freeze on change. The problem is technology does not freeze in time. The PC (personal computer) revolution came about because it is about the individual; no one who remembers the ‘before’ has any affection for the original ‘Mainframe Network’. It strangled innovation in business and science. Ditto, the modern network does the same and all of the new development is in the personal mobile market where it has no part to play. So, I am sitting here now, trying to decide which pad to buy on my mobile contract (occasionally fielding desultory questions about data-types in table structures) must have Android 2.3 I know that much... patiently awaiting the Second Coming. Ah the promised Second Coming. This will be the fabled ‘SuperCalc’ moment when in times of yore young execs of the world bodily carried their PCs into the office, ignored their mainframe terminals and started doing things that revolutionised business practice. I am ready, so are my students; we need a sign or maybe an Android to lead us to salvation. PS: it will not be the latest iteration of MS’s word processor or even Libre Office...sorry old chaps but nobody cares about you anymore.

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