Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Back to reality. Returning from the Horizon Retreat.

February 1st, 2012 by Seb Chan

Last week I was at the Horizon New Media Consortium 10 Year Retreat – The Future of Education. It was a fascinating glimpse into the world of bright-eyed educators and a few museum people who want the future of education to be something far better than it is now. If that sounds a little utopian, it should.

The Horizon Reports have always made for good reading. I contributed to some of the Horizon.Au reports in and have had a fair number of my projects included over the years as ‘examples’. These reports have more-or-less predicted most of the technology trends over the last decade, even if their timeframes are too optimistic. Their methodology – a wiki-made document compiled by hand selected specialists works especially well and avoids a lot of the traps of most futurist predictions. What is especially useful is that these wikis remain available after the reports are published – so it is possible to read the internal discussions that informed the creation of the report.

Summing up the predictions of the Horizon reports over the past decade was this great chart from Ruben Puentedura. You’ll notice recurring themes and the emergence of the social web, then mobile, then open content in the reports over the last decade.

The retreat, set outside of a stormy Austin, Texas, locked 100 people from several continents in a room with huge sheets of butcher’s paper and some great facilitation. Over two days meta-trends were identified and ideas shared. Thousands of tweets were tweeted on the #NMCHz hashtag, and many productive discussions were had.

Ed Rodley sums up the event nicely – day one and day two – over on his blog. Ed and I spent a fair bit of time throwing around ideas around the role of science museums in the modern world (from his experience at Boston and mine at Powerhouse) which should become the topic of a future blogpost.

But gnawing away at me during the Horizon Retreat was this article from the New York Times on Apple and its supply chains, and a broader follow up opinion piece in The Economist.

For all the talk of digital literacy, educating for megatrends, and the role that museums can play in fostering creativity – all this talk of open content and collaborative learning – these words continue to concern me.

The most valuable aspects of an iPhone, for instance, are its initial design and engineering, which are done in America. Now, one problem with this dynamic is that as one scales up production of Apple products, there are vastly different employment needs across the supply chain. So, it doesn’t take lots more designers and programmers to sell 50m iPhones than it does to sell 10m. You have roughly the same number of brains involved, and much more profit per brain. On the manufacturing side, by contrast, employment soars as scale grows. So as the iPhone becomes more popular, you get huge returns to the ideas produced in Cupertino, and small returns but hundreds of thousands of jobs in China.

Maybe it is just pessimism brought about by having two consecutive winters creeping in.

You can grab the summary ‘communique’ from the Retreat from the Horizon site.

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