George Will has a hugely important article in Newsweek. It lays out the raw numbers on the impact of technology in the recent years.
Robert Weissenstein’s Exhilaration
George Will – Newsweek
Long ago, in 2008, Americans bought 1.4 billion books made of paper and 200 million e-books. By 2014—perhaps sooner—sales of e-books will equal those of the paper kind. This could save 1.5 million tons of paper made from, possibly, 25 million trees, affecting the price of timber. But the books (and other stuff) bought in e-commerce come in cardboard boxes. So some of those trees will not be spared after all. Furthermore, because of e-commerce and e-books, perhaps half the nation’s bookstores will be gone in four years, vacating at least 50 million square feet of commercial real estate.
Connecting such disparate dots is how Robert Weissenstein’s interesting mind finds fascination in the quotidian. We are, he thinks, in an accelerating process of pervasive global restructuring—regional, industrial, and behavioral. Today, as chief investment officer in Credit Suisse Private Banking, Weissenstein’s theme is “the enormous iterative impact of everything we hold and do.”
Weissenstein thinks we focus on the first, disruptive half of social change without noticing the second, creative half. Fixated on job losses in the Great Recession (from December 2007 to June 2009), we miss germane events that began earlier and continue. New “growth drivers” include “teenage tech companies.” Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, and Google, founded in 1994, 1994, 1995, and 1998, respectively, perform functions that did not exist 25 years ago, and employ, cumulatively, 75,000 people. Their existence enables new growth drivers. An entrepreneur with a few thousand dollars can use the Internet to publicize a new product to a target market.
Today, three years is an eternity. In October 2007, 81 percent of Facebook’s 50 million users were younger than 24. Today, 45 percent of its more than 500 million users are 35 or older. What starts in a Harvard dorm room can quickly conquer the world.
Nothing would be more creative for America than to have our public education system go the way of the horse and buggy industry. The sum of human knowledge can be delivered to our childrens’ eyes and ears via internet/networks. Textbooks, desks, and chalkboards are nearly an anachronism, to be replaced by Ipad, Kindles and Smartphones. Our large, expensive, unionized and protected bureaucracy can be replaced by 1000s of on-line content developers like The Khan Academy. Testing can be replaced by on-line measurement, which can test for subject mastery while simultaneously measuring the best content providers and standards.
There will always be a place for learning, as there will be for talented conveyors of content. We just don’t need the system we have now. Frankly, we can’t afford that system – financially or culturally. Let the creative destroyer run free through our education system.
Let’s keep the baby, and toss the bathwater. The baby – our children, good teachers, and good content, will survive. The bathwater – districts, buildings, bond dealers, bureaucrats, administrators, unions – won’t survive. That’s the way it should be.