Kevin Kelly on technological literacy

Via BoingBoing, here’s a New York Times piece by Kevin Kelly, where he discusses what he learned about technology and education while homeschooling his son for a year:

… as technology floods the rest of our lives, one of the chief habits a student needs to acquire is technological literacy — and we made sure it was part of our curriculum. By technological literacy, I mean the latest in a series of proficiencies children should accumulate in school. Students begin with mastering the alphabet and numbers, then transition into critical thinking, logic and absorption of the scientific method. Technological literacy is something different: proficiency with the larger system of our invented world. It is close to an intuitive sense of how you add up, or parse, the manufactured realm. We don’t need expertise with every invention; that is not only impossible, it’s not very useful. Rather, we need to be literate in the complexities of technology in general, as if it were a second nature.

He goes on to add some more specific aphorism-style lessons – koans for a digital world, almost:

  • Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it.
  • The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.
  • Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?
  • The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.
  • Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.

Some very sf-nal thinking in there… no surprise coming from Kelly, but even so, it reiterates something of Walter Russel Mead’s praise of the genre as the source of a useful way of looking at the world.

It’s also pleasing to see Kelly’s focus on trying to instil an appreciation of (and desire for) learning in his son. I’m far from the first person to observe that the UK education system has long favoured the retention of facts over independent analytical and critical thinking as educational goals, and I’ve seen plenty of reports that suggest the US system has a similar problem. Kelly’s aphorisms underline the point: if you make kids memorise facts, their education is obsolete as soon as it’s finished. Learning how to learn is the most important lesson of them all, and the one that seems hardest for schools and universities to deliver.