Next Generation Literacy

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on June 28th, 2010

Next Generation Literacy 761

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read & write,
but those who can’t learn, unlearn & relearn.” – Alvin Toffler

So what is literacy?
The first time I listened to an audio book I thought I was cheating. As a child, reading for me seemed like a lot of work, and my teachers kept piling on more reading assignments, continually feeding into the notion that reading is hard work.
Later, I rationalized that the process of reading is the process of taking characters on a page and turning them into mental concepts and images. Listening to an audio book is a little different process where we convert sounds into mental concepts and images.
Today, when someone talks about literacy there is an instant assumption that they are talking about the ability to read and write – basic ink-on-paper communications 1.0. However, communications is evolving and our ability to craft words and preserve them on paper is being replaced with digital forms of communications, and the options people now have to communicate with each other have exploded into thousands and thousands of nuanced variations of what was formerly called language.
Tomorrow there will be even more.
Understanding Literacy through the Words We Consume
In 2008, Americans consumed 1.3 trillion hours worth of information. This information consumption translated into an average of 12 hours per person, 100,500 words, and 34 gigabytes each day.
If we base the notion of literacy on the number of words that flow into our mind on a daily basis, we suddenly realize that the incoming words are coming from a variety of different sources. Today the vast majority of our “word intake” comes from television and computers with only 9% coming from print media. In 1960, print media accounted for 26% of our word consumption but has shrunk to 9% today, with the prospects of getting even smaller in the future.
For many people working within the book-centric world of today, it’s difficult for them to wrap their mind around the changing attitudes of today’s information consumers. And even for those who can, it’s not clear what the next steps should be, and how fast the changes should be made.
Programming as a Language
In 1972, I was a young engineering student at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD and for my first computer programming class I was trained to “speak” the language of Fortran. We were taught a basic form of machine communications to “talk” to the giant computer through punch cards that were fed in and out of the beast through a card reading input-output device.
In this class our training involved such sophisticated tasks as sorting numbers, basic addition, and putting lists in alphabetical order. The whole process was very time-consuming with very little to show for the effort.
At the end of the class, being the true visionary that I am, I concluded, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there would be no future for the profession of computer programming.
Computers spoke a different language. In many ways it was similar to the language differences of people in Europe or Asia. While learning French, German, Mandarin, or Japanese required learning foreign words, definitions, and vocal inflections, the mastery of a computer language required the writing and interpretation of computer code, Boolean algebra, and many long and frustrating hours of dealing with non-human, no personality machines.
Next Generation Literacy
So going back to my original question, what really is literacy?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.
Going beyond the textbook definition, literacy is evolving, and deep inside this evolution we can begin to understand some of the underlying complexities associated with the options currently at our disposal.
1. Reading and writing
2. Computer literacy
3. Web surfing literacy
4. Cell phone & telephone literacy
5. Smart phone literacy
6. Body language literacy
7. Financial literacy
8. Cartooning
9. Online commerce literacy
10. Online security literacy
11. Graphical literacy
12. Animation literacy
13. Audio literacy
14. Video literacy
15. Social networking literacy
16. Gaming literacy
17. Virtual world literacy
18. Cultural literacy
It is a common trap to associate our talent for communicating with our ability to read and write. However, texting is different than cartooning. Audio podcasts are different than video podcasts. Each new form of communications comes with its own unique style and attributes for conveying thoughts and ideas.
Literacy will continue to evolve along with every new system and each form of technology that gets created along the way.
Basic reading and writing forms of communications will no longer be sufficient for the workforce of the future. People will still need to read and write, but they will also need and a whole lot more.
By Futurist Thomas Frey

So what is literacy?

The first time I listened to an audio book I thought I was cheating. As a child, reading for me seemed like a lot of work, and my teachers kept piling on more reading assignments, continually feeding into the notion that reading is hard work.

Later, I rationalized that the process of reading is the process of taking characters on a page and turning them into mental concepts and images. Listening to an audio book is a little different process where we convert sounds into mental concepts and images.

Today, when someone talks about literacy there is an instant assumption that they are talking about the ability to read and write – basic ink-on-paper communications 1.0. However, communications is evolving and our ability to craft words and preserve them on paper is being replaced with digital forms of communications, and the options people now have to communicate with each other have exploded into thousands and thousands of nuanced variations of what was formerly called language.

Tomorrow there will be even more.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Country of 90,000 Governments

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on June 17th, 2010
A Country of 90,000 Governments
The total number of governmental bodies in the U.S. is approaching a staggering number – 90,000. During normal economic times there is plenty of money to go around, but now every city, state, county, parish, township, and special taxing district is competing for the same tax dollars that the federal government is.
Governmental entities are living, breathing organisms, each fighting for survival. With tax shortfalls cropping up in nearly every corner of the U.S. economy, most are struggling to preserve their own piece of the pie. With money declining, many are compensating with unusual policy decisions that they hope will shore up their balance sheet.
But it’s not just about money issues. Along with taxing authority, each one of these governments has its own ability to create and enforce new laws, rules, and regulations. Working with a limited set of tools in their toolbox, governments have resorted to using new laws and regulations to solve virtually every conceivable problem. The volume of new laws being created are truly stunning.
Abraham Lincoln once said, ““The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.” Similarly, the quickest way to bring America to its knees is to strictly enforce all of its laws.
Sales Tax Battles
Most of the governmental entities are funded through some form of sales tax, a system designed during an entirely different era, a system that is now on the verge of collapse.
At the heart of many of the current debates is a 1992 landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that determined retailers are not required to collect sales tax from shoppers unless they have a physical presence in the state where customers live. Initially, this ruling applied mainly to catalog companies and home-shopping channels on TV. But it also applied to the emerging online retail industry, giving them a distinct competitive advantage, and consumers a reason to change their buying habits.
Local retailers who have invested in their community, who send their kids to local schools and volunteer for local charities, find themselves competing with faceless online companies, most of whom have never set foot in the town. The problem with current sales tax laws are that they create a disadvantage to those who are local. But here is where it gets complicated.
If an online business has a physical presence in a state, such as a store, office or warehouse, they must collect sales tax from the customers who purchase items in that state. Without a physical presence, no sales tax needs to be collected. That sounds simple enough, until you get into the definition of what constitutes a physical presence.
Some states now claim that anyone doing affiliate sales, placing referral ads on their blog sites and receiving a commission, can be construed as being a local sales agent, and therefore the entire transaction is subject to sales tax. As a result, companies like Amazon and Overstock who count heavily upon the no-sales-tax advantage have cancelled affiliate relationships with anyone doing affiliate sales on their behalf in those states.
Maximizing the Failure Points
Rest assured sales tax issues are but a small piece of a much larger problem.
Complexity creates failure points. Every decision point along the way increases the odds that something will go wrong, and we have moved into an era of non-stop decision points.
A country with 90,000 governments, whose primary tools for solving problems involve creating new laws, is a country that has maximized the number of failure points.
As I’ve often said, “The health of a nation is inversely proportional to the number of laws needed to govern it.” From this perspective, we live in a very sick nation.
Over time, these complexity-laden systems that will invariably descend into the lower levels of disfunctionality, with anger and finger-pointing setting the stage for more graphic battles to follow.
In a tough global economy, the good people of the U.S. have chosen to tie ankle weights of complexity around their legs as they attempt to swim towards a better economy.
The Futurist Perspective
Backcasting is a tool used by futurists to look at the present from some point in the future.
In much the same way we stand in amazement as we read about the Salem witch trials, or 18th century doctors who used bleeding to cure diseases, or Polynesian tribes who sacrificed virgins to appease the volcano-gods, a country comprised of 90,000 governments is destined to appear equally ludicrous in the future.
One hundred years in the future, people in 2110 will look back at this era of history and marvel at the insanity of our times. They will be amazed at how people managed to live in a country with more laws than anyone can count, a tax code that, according to NPR, is over 67,000 pages long with 1,638 different tax forms, and a justice system that controls one out of every 31 people in the country, and has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in history.
All of our defensive posturing for maintaining the status quo will quickly deteriorate into the equivalent of modern caveman thinking as future generations make us the punchline of their jokes and the universal symbol of “what not to do.”
Reining in the Unreinable
So how do we reverse the avalanche of complexity that is cascading around us? In philosophical terms, how do we create the immovable object to deal with the unstoppable force?
The short answer is that abrupt change is simply not possible. Systems that have evolved over decades cannot instantly be traded in for something newer.
With a society that is already heavily invested in our current systems, and people already pre-programmed to think and act accordingly, the operating system can only be changed by rewriting the source code. In short, we need to create systems for changing the system.
We currently have no check-and-balance system for impeding the excessive law-writing now taking place. Simply by adding friction to the rule-making process will slow it down. Adding a lifespan to the laws will help force decision-makers to focus on the highest priorities.
Here are a few examples:
1. All laws must be posted in one central location online. As a first step towards getting a handle on the runaway law-creators, we need to create a law that requires all laws be posted on one central website online. Any laws not posted will be deemed unenforceable.
2. Any laws that have not been enforced in that past 20 years become unenforceable and must be removed from the list. Time spent getting rid of the clutter means less time for creating new laws.
3. All laws must be written on an 8th grade comprehension level. No laws can become law until they are certified as having been written on this level.
Aspiring to Synergy
History has taught us that governments can only exist if there is an adversarial relationship between a government and its people. For this reason, few have bothered to question the abrasive relationships that have developed.
However, business and government need to maintain a synergistic relationship. Governments provide the operating system and businesses shares the wealth, proving the revenue streams upon which governments operate.
Companies in the U.S. are continually facing new forms of global competition, and anything that makes it more difficult to conduct business, makes them less competitive.
For a country to prosper, it’s not necessary to be perfect. When we find ourselves being chased by a bear, we only need to be faster than the other guy.

Maximizing our own failure points

The total number of governmental bodies in the U.S. is approaching a staggering number – 90,000. During normal economic times there is plenty of money to go around, but now every city, state, county, parish, township, and special taxing district is competing for the same tax dollars that the federal government is.

Governmental entities are living, breathing organisms, each fighting for survival. With tax shortfalls cropping up in nearly every corner of the U.S. economy, most are struggling to preserve their own piece of the pie. With money declining, many are compensating with unusual policy decisions that they hope will shore up their balance sheets.

But it’s not just about money issues. Along with taxing authority, each one of these governments has its own ability to create and enforce new laws, rules, and regulations. Working with a limited set of tools in their toolbox, governments have resorted to using laws and regulations to solve virtually every conceivable problem. The sheer volume of laws emerging from these 90,000 rule-making bodies is truly stunning.

Abraham Lincoln once said, ““The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.” Similarly, the quickest way to bring America to its knees is to strictly enforce all of its laws.

Read the rest of this entry »