The Pace of Change or “I hate being wrong”
Over the last few months I’ve heard and read time and again that “things are changing more rapidly than they ever have before.” I wasn’t buying. In my mind there were just too many things that are the same as they were 50 and 100 years ago.
We still use phones (though not tied to the wall or party lines), watch TV and listen to radio (though with higher fidelity and more options), and travel in vehicles powered by fossil fuels.
The one major change that I’ve acknowledged over and over (since the telephone and telegraph) is the computer processor. It’s the common thread in most of the advances I can pinpoint over the last 50 years: advances in space travel, science, engineering, communications, the internet. But I wouldn’t admit that any other change was more than cosmetic, or a shifting of emphases.
Then I asked John Dyer an open-ended question: “What do you think about the idea that things are changing faster than ever before?”
“I think it’s statistically verifiable.” Then he proceeded to walk me through just how wrong I was.
His main illustration was this: if you took Father Abraham, and transported him to Abraham Lincoln’s house (before he was President, of course), he’d get along just fine. You still get your water from a well, your food from farm animals, and your existence was primarily local. But if you brought them both to our time, they wouldn’t be able to function. Life today is just too different.
It turns out that even though all of these changes (from the 80’s kitchen phone with the loooooong cord to ubiquitous cell phones, or general store to supermarket) are relatively small by themselves, together they’ve changed life immensely; and those changes are coming more frequently.
My example is this, the change from “party lines” (single phone lines shared by groups of families) to individual lines took a few decades. The move from bag phones to the first camera phone i got in college took about 12 years. The social changes caused by this single technology arc are far reaching and mostly unstudied at this point. Add the hundreds of other technological changes—the most surprising one John mentioned was the interstate, which accelerated suburbanization, created commuting culture, and allowed people to move further from home with less inconvenience—and life really has changed.
This has a lot of interesting implications on ministry and community in our generation. The question from my perspective is this: what does this change about the nature and practice of education? The conventional wisdom is that things are changing so fast that there’s no value in teaching “facts”, which will be obsolete by the time a student graduates (one teacher said, “In five years everything but the Bible will be out of date, anyway.).
That’s been the conventional wisdom for about 80 years. And in those 80 years American education has gotten progressively worse. So what’s the value of the conventional wisdom? More on that in part two.