Only connect

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

Margaret Schlegel, in Howard’s End (EM Forster, 1910)

This year’s Edge Annual Question is:

What Will Change Everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?

As usual, there are a large number of excellent essay responses, over 150 in all. I’d strongly recommend you read all of them: at 109,000 words, reading them might seem a bit like reading a couple of small novels, but it’s worth it.

Let me try and entice you further by pointing you at a few of the essays. I’m going to pick six in particular:

Alison Gopnik’s Never Ending Childhood

Stewart Brand’s Climate

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s The End of Analytic Science

Keith Devlin’s The Mobile Phone

Marti Hearst’s The Decline of Text

That’s five. But I want to place all five in the context of a sixth, the essay which for me is the Number One answer of the 151 provided. Chris Anderson’s A Web-Empowered Revolution in Teaching.

I make no secret of my passion for education. Regular readers will be well aware of my intent to build a school as and when I “retire” from normal salaried work. My interest in School Of Everything stems from the same root. In fact, my interest in working for BT stemmed, at least in part, from my belief that ubiquitous, affordable connectivity will transform education, and through that transformation, affect health, welfare and society in general.

We stand at a crossroads today, and we don’t have the Yogi Berra option (when you see a fork in the road, take it). We have critical choices to make. What choices?

Are we prepared to change our worldview to one of good stewardship? Where we make ourselves accountable and responsible for the use and enrichment of the talents we are born with, the talents we are given, the talents we acquire? Are we prepared to encourage, develop and enrich the talents of our society, our peers, our children and the generations to come? Do we care about the legacies that each of us will leave?

As curator of TED, Chris Anderson has been instrumental in giving us the opportunity to listen to some wonderful lectures by many other people about many things. Right now, it’s time we listened to him. Read his essay. Then read it again.

We have to change the way we think about many things, stop looking at stuff in isolation: The Csikszentmihalyi essay is a good place to start. We have to approach this need to change with the openness and freshness that a child brings to learning: The Gopnik essay should help us do that. We have to appreciate the technological changes that are taking place, changes that will help us become better stewards of all that we are given to look after: the Brand, Devlin and Hearst essays provide a worthwhile context for that.

But what brings it all together is Chris’s essay about the need for us to “contribute more than we consume”, the importance of education in doing that, the role of technology (particularly the web) in supporting that.

So please read the essays. And then read them again.

10 thoughts on “Only connect”

  1. I live in a country where so few people seem interested in being educated that I wish the government would drop the school-leaving age to twelve, and let people back into school once they’ve discovered a motive and a passion for something (…anything, as Todd Rundgren said).

    Chris Anderson’s ideas excite me. There are people who want to contribute, many of whom haven’t even the self-esteem to realise they can contribute, let alone the resources. What infrastructure, and institutions and politics do we need nto connect those people?

  2. These are fun, and not overly technical. Some are randomly silly:

    “Where are our flying cars? My answer is clear: we haven’t developed them because we couldn’t be bothered,”.

    “Never Ending Childhood” may have been unwise to talk about neotony and “evolutionary strategy”.

    Sadly, “THE USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS AGAINST A CIVILIAN POPULATION” seems more appropriate at the moment.

  3. thanks for your comments.

    @mark, I will make sure I let you know when I get closer to starting my school.
    @gordon, I think the evolution of mobile and wireless will give us the infrastructure we need.

  4. JP,

    Many of these essays are hugely thought-provoking, thanks for bringing them to the attention of your readers. Clearly Chris Anderson’s topic is close to your personal goal of creating an education establishment, but I do wonder how with such excellent material in many of the others, how did you whittle your selection down to just 6?

    Paul S

  5. Paul, what I actually did was recommend you read *all* of them, and then said I would try to entice you by selecting a few. I guess I chose to select thematically, and the theme I chose was around connectivity and education.

  6. “Only connect. That’s all, and that’s community.”

    Michael Linton wrote this to the Schumacher Society in 1996. He was writing to The Future of Local Currencies Conference which he was unable to attend. http://www.gmlets.u-net.com/go/focc.html

    Since 1982, when he designed and developed LETSystems, the most widely used mutual credit currency system in the world, Michael has been at the leading edge of community currency (cc) development. For example, he suggested using smart cards for cc transactions in that 1996 piece.

    That work is all about providing a free, open source system that enables people to contribute more to their communities than they take/receive – building common wealth.

    You ask “what will change everything”? Having our own money, community currencies that circulate within the millions of networks, associations, and communities around the world, not as alternatives to existing national currencies, but in addition to normal money which comes and goes without our having any control whatsoever.

    Over the last few years, he and his associates (i am one) have developed an open money platform that enables the creation of these cc as easily as creating and maintaining egroups on google/yahoo, facebook, friendfeed. Imagine a cell phone in an african village providing access to om/cc “banking” for merely the cost of the call, people managing their own accounts online.

    Consider the possibilities in education. People being able to pay teachers wherever they may be in ways that aren’t possible with limited conventional moneys. Similarly music and the arts in general will flourish as never before.

    I’m hoping you will explore these ideas and move the meme. http://lets.net

  7. Ernie, thank you for this. You have me thinking already, my mind’s buzzing. I will follow this up with a post on LETS for sure.

Let me know what you think