Opinion: Renaissance of learning will drive interactive future

Drew Williams is director of marketing for CTV Television Network in Toronto. He is also systems operator (SysOp) for the Inside CTV interest area on General Electric's GEnie online computer service. In 1980, he bought one of the first Apple II...

Drew Williams is director of marketing for CTV Television Network in Toronto. He is also systems operator (SysOp) for the Inside CTV interest area on General Electric’s GEnie online computer service. In 1980, he bought one of the first Apple II computers.

The following is the first in a four-part series taken from a speech to the Electronic Data Interchange Council of Canada last November at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto.

We are now in the middle of the information revolution.

Ironically, it is precisely because this revolution deals with so much information that most of us feel overwhelmed and confused.

There are many theories. There is a lot of money being spent.

In what follows, I would like to try and convince you of one view of our interactive future that is shared by many of the pioneers of the information age – pioneers like Bill Gates, of Microsoft, and Andy Grove, of Intel.

I warn you this point of view may be different from much of what you’ve been reading.

Let me start by setting up a paradigm shift that frames the balance of this discussion.

The information revolution will entail an interactive future, yes, but that interactive future is not about delivering more television. It is not about 500 channels; it is not about video-on-demand, and it is not about home shopping.

The information revolution is about an interactive future that is driven by a much more hopeful and optimistic goal – a goal that many of you will probably dismiss as hopelessly idealistic.

Our interactive future will be driven by a renaissance of learning – a belief that we will choose a different future than the one we are now heading towards: a decline in individual creativity and innovation.

Allow me to try and persuade you that a renaissance of learning is integral to our interactive future.

Who are we?

Let’s begin at the beginning.

We are a learning species. The point has been made elsewhere that as a species, our base of knowledge doubles every seven years.

Today, we can include more computing power in one car than there was in an entire Apollo spacecraft. That we learn explains why.

My friend George Davie, at Toronto’s Hazelton Research, drew an interesting analogy concerning our desire to learn and the types of vacations we take.

Two common holiday destinations are Europe and the Caribbean. They are very different experiences.

Europe is usually an active experience, involving absorption and learning. Caribbean holidays are typically passive experiences, involving lying on a beach.

Most people, when asked, would express a desire to do some of both in their lives. At times, we are active; at times, we are passive.

Our enemy today is time. There is time only to work and then to rest.

It is difficult, most people find, to pursue active experiences such as reading, exploring and learning. These active experiences require effort, and so the couch potato images thrives.

But, let’s say learning became much easier, more fun, something we could share, and even became highly entertaining beyond the value of the information concerned.

Let’s say that learning became as entertaining and engaging as the best movies or video games today.

Technology is about to enact this change for us, as I will try to demonstrate.

We are a learning species, and, given the means, we will learn. Then, we’ll rest.

Do we want an interactive future?

I believe we do.

About 39 million North American adults aged 25-49 today are considered to be tech-thusiasts. They are the ones leading all the rest of us into cds, laser discs and home pcs.

They are excited by the enabling aspects of new technology, and so they embrace it. By 2006, this group will be aged 35-61, providing a broad, wealthy base with more time available to pursue the new, empowering technologies.

Pushing from the other end are today’s 66 million North American 12-24 year olds, who are more techno-able than anyone else has ever been, driven by an installed base of more than 50 million Nintendo, Sega and school pcs across North America.

By 2006, these individuals will form the key, high-spending consumer group aged 25-49 that has traditionally moulded the behavior of all society.

If an interactive future is available, there will be huge numbers of those both older and younger ready to give it life.