At the age of 27, I have survived 14 years of school, 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of a masters. But despite the ridiculous amount of time that I’ve spent in the classroom, somehow I still do not know the value of x.
How is that possible? Am I that bad of a student? Well I might be, but that’s neither here nor there.
It has taken me 20 years to realize that knowing the value of x is not the point at all, and it was actually reflecting on this class plus a little inspiration from Suli Breaks that made me realize why.
Educational institutions often ask us to find the value of x, to memorize and recite the periodic table, to regurgitate someone else’s opinion on Shakespeare, all with the end goal of putting a checkmark beside your work and giving you your D or your A. I used to love this type of education. I loved math because there was a right answer and I went into Engineering because there were problems to be solved. I love coding because your code either compiles or doesn’t. It either does what you wanted it to do or not. It’s very simple, it’s very black and white. You’ve got lines to stay in between and you’ve got instant validation, and for someone with a deep rooted fear of failure, the transparency is extremely comforting.
Life is not black and white though. As we have learned in this class, in life and in technology there is a rather large grey area, affectionately known to us as the creepy-cool line.
My initial expectations of this class were that we were going to use technology to learn about technology. We would tweet and blog our way into an understanding of blockchain, AI and the internet of things. I thought that there was going to be a checklist of things that I would know at the end of this class, that had we had an exam on, I’d ace !! I thought I would be learning the value of x.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes we did tweet and blog, and yes I do know a little bit more about blockchain and AI and IOT than I did before we started, but those are just side effects.
I recently read an article on Disney and the Future of TV. In the article, the writer explains the disruption that the internet had on TV. He suggests that traditional TV did multiple jobs for people. “It informed, it educated, it provided a live view on sports, and other breaking events, it told stories, and it offered an escape”. The advent of the internet however meant that anyone could reach everyone with anything. Thompson, the writer, said that to win the competition for attention, meant developing a business model that was aligned with the job to be done. For example, Netflix’s primary job is to provide an escape (“from boredom at the very least”). That calls for providing content that viewers want, when they want it, without annoyances or interruptions. The best way to do this is through streaming on a subscription service. Sport on the other hand is highly differentiated and best consumed live. It also has natural breaks in play which are ideal for advertising. This means that sport is perfectly suited to the traditional business model.
This idea, that different jobs call for different business models, applies to technology too.
This class made me realize that solving for x isn’t the challenge. Technology has given us a million and one ways to solve for x. Knowing why we want to solve for x is so much more important. Being able to question why we are using specific technologies to solve problems is the challenge. This class taught me that the intentional use of technology to reach a goal or purpose is far more powerful than the blanket replacement of all existing processes with technology.
Technology is a tool. It is a powerful medium with which we can use to achieve your end goal, but understanding what that end goal is, and which, if any technologies can and should be used to achieve that goal, is the real task.
“This one is for my generation. The ones who found what they were looking for on Google. The one’s who followed their dreams on Twitter, pictured their future on Instagram, accepted destiny on Facebook”.
So no, I still do not know what the value of x is, and the most technical thing I learned how to do was to tweet. But teaching me to code was not the purpose of this class. For me this class was about getting out of my ‘correct answer’ comfort zone and instead thinking for myself about the promise and perils of technology, about the good, the bad, and the unnecessary applications of AI, and about the humans behind a good digital strategy.
Oh and I learned that the robots are most definitely coming for us all!