Dark Matter Theory and the Rate of Technological Evolution

Today’s post is a change of pace from my usual travel material.  While on the road and commuting I often enjoy musing and listening to various podcasts. I’m also voraciously curious which leads to soaking up a wealth of different science news. There have been two ideas that hit me while out and about a few months back and which have been nagging at me ever since. Today during dinner I found myself listening to Priyamvada Natarajan‘s Edge.org talk about “The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter” which reminded me of my hair-brained Dark Matter theory (see below) and which in turn re-surfaced thoughts surrounding my musings on the role population growth has played in changing our rate of technological innovation as a species.

To be clear, these are just very general “theories” based on my musings and a random assortment of connections I’ve drawn between different material I’ve been consuming.  I’m presenting them here, as briefly and simply as I can, because I’d love your discussion, input, and help in finding existing theories that they align with, research that disproves them, or input on what aspects are genuinely of interest to help me progress the mental exercise which both represent. So, I want to reiterate – I am not a scientist. I am not an astrophysicist. I am just a curious Communication Major with a few years of post-degree dust between my ears and a wild imagination.  The “research” and “science” these theories are based on, is only minimally investigated (by me), very possibly utterly misunderstood (by me), and/or my conclusions could be entirely based on causation not correlation.  So, with that heavy disclaimer in mind, my challenge to those of you who are interested is to A) educate me OR B) put on your research caps and see what supporting data you can find for one or both of these ideas.

Galileo Jovilabe

Theory 1 – Dark Matter Black Hole Conversion Theory

Recently Stephen Hawking proposed that matter can escape the event horizon of a black hole. Simultaneously we have Dark Matter which is an invisible form of matter that has a significant gravitational impact on the universe, seems to be increasing, and potentially shapes the expansion of the universe.

The theory, in a nutshell, is that once a black hole is formed, the gravitational pull swallows up matter from the surrounding universe. However, if we stick with the assumption that matter cannot be destroyed, it can only change states, then we re-visit two of the most common explanations for what happens to matter that enters a black hole: explanation 1 has been that it is infinitely compressed as time slows infinitely. Explanation 2, which I’ve always liked, is that it tears a hole in space-time and generates a White Hole in a parallel universe. This essentially creates a Big-Bang like event which is fed by matter coming through the black-white bridge.

Both of these presume that matter cannot escape the event horizon of a black hole.  But, what if it’s not that simple. What if matter CAN escape the event horizon, just not in the state it enters in. Extreme pressure creates all sorts of changes in the state of matter. Take extreme pressure, and combine it with gravity based time-distortion. What if this is actually how Dark Matter is formed – a form of matter that changes states and becomes a new form of matter that then escapes (or is ejected) from the event-horizon of the black hole.

This escaping Dark Matter retains its metamorphosed state after exiting the black hole, but still has sufficient mass to interact with other/existing dark matter and visible matter simultaneously. Only the impact of the dark matter’s gravity is partially cloaked by the pull of the black hole which counteracts whatever ripple or circular dispersion effect you’d otherwise expect to see.

The Dark Matter is not being ejected into a void, but rather into an existing sea of Dark Matter. Similar to the air inside the earth’s atmosphere, or water in the oceans, natural currents and eddies form. These are influenced by the mass and composition of Dark Matter, but also – same as the impact of weather and existing landmasses on the sea’s currents, are impacted by visible matter and black holes with their own gravitational pulls.

In this way, the origin, dispersion and coalescence of Dark Matter is explained while accounting for what happens to matter that has been consumed by a black hole.

Related: Visualizations of Dark Matter “pools”.

Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul, Turkey

Theory 2 – Population Growth’s Impact on Human Innovation

I’ve always been fascinated by Moore’s Law and just how much my paternal grandfather saw over the course of his lifetime (1900-1987).  Why? Moore’s Law, which turned 50 this year, predicts that generally speaking computing power will double every two years. My Grandfather, who was born in 1900, lived during one of the fastest periods of innovation in the history of humanity and saw and adapted to a lot of amazing things. I find the thought of what he lived through to be captivating. Especially when compared to my own life and what I have already witnessed and can expect to witness over the next 60 or so years.

I’ve seen quite a bit of research that focuses on individual efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to innovation. After all, a computer most definitely increases what a lone individual can accomplish. As does a University education. But, at the end of the day, there is no greater or more efficient engine for innovation than the human mind.

The theory I’ve been toying with revolves around population growth:

Population Growth

(Source data)

Throughout the majority of human history population growth has been relatively limited and fairly stable. However, around 1800 we passed the 1 billion population mark.  Not too long after 1900 we doubled that and have seen meteoric growth ever since.  My curiosity and hypothesis is that this growth should also translate directly into human innovation. If in 1800 we had 1 billion people living, working and innovating, and in 2013 we have 7 billion people living, working and innovating even if the base technology and level education remained the same (which it hasn’t) we should in theory see a similarly expansive uptake in innovation across our society. Right?  In effect, meaning that at the very least, we should be experiencing and seeing innovations at a pace 7x faster than we saw in 1800.  Innovative growth which in turn will further be supplemented by each newly invented technology (books, internet, computers, etc.).

Now, I fully realize that you have to take into account various secondary factors – a starving child (or adult) in the Central African Republic may be somewhat less likely to be in a situation where they can take equal advantage of the education and tools that a well-fed child born into a College educated family in the US can. But, that more people currently live in more widely disparate conditions than during previous generations, also means radically more opportunities for innovation. There may be barriers to the dispersion of those ideas (eg: war / poverty) but those are still less likely to be barriers than what humanity faced historically. More voices also does make it more likely that a lone voice gets ignored, but it also provides more ears and opportunities for that voice to find sympathetic ears. Again, another trade-off with as much upside potential as downside potential.

I find it strange that this approach to looking at societal innovation has not been more widely discussed or codified in existing theory or that if it has, it hasn’t made it into our cultural discourse. Particularly around technological and scientific innovation.  This is where I’d love your input and guidance on what theories currently exist that may have expressed, explored, and more scientifically investigated the overlap between population growth and species-level innovation and knowledge creation.

Remember, this is just a bit of fun. So, let’s have it. What do you think?

Preparing for a Trip? Make Sure You Facebook Your Destination!

Colorado-8927

By now you may be familiar with sites like Couchsurfing, AirBnB, Global Freeloaders, and Hospitality Club.  Those of you who are more aggressive social media users also probably leverage Facebook on a daily basis to help organize and socialize your life. When finding a restaurant our generation often fires off a tweet, pulls up Yelp, or posts a quick Facebook status inquiry.  Most of us have read The Four Hour Work Week and books like Never Eat Alone. We understand and appreciate the value of our social network and regularly interact with our friends and contacts on a local level.

Yet, when it comes time to travel, we often set all of this knowledge aside and revert to making the same basic mistakes. We often have travel questions or needs, and would love opportunities to connect socially with long distance contacts.  As we prepare for our trips we talk and post about them in general terms but, almost never make active inquiries.

If you were looking for a job, you’d leverage your social network.  If you needed a new roommate you’d reach out to your social media contacts.  If you had a nagging question you couldn’t find an answer for, they’d be your logical ‘go to’.  So why not make similar inquiries when preparing for a trip?

A plethora of recent startups revolve around connecting us socially with people nearby.  From Foursquare to Facebook check-ins, it has never been easier to keep in touch once you’re at a destination.  These do little, however, to prepare for the trip to that destination.

So, before you take your next trip, don’t just tell your Facebook and Twitter friends that you’ll be visiting a destination.  Ask them who lives there, who can host you, who is free to show you around, meet for coffee, and perhaps even introduce you to other near-by must see places.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a place you’ve never been to before or a place you’ve visited 100 times.  You have an amazing resource at your finger tips.  Use it!  I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the power of your network. And above all, don’t be afraid to act on the introductions your friends and contacts offer to make.  It’s one of the best ways to enrich and enhance your travel – and who knows, it might even save you a small fortune in travel costs.

Still need a conventional resource? Head on over to Amazon and snag a Lonely Planet Guide for your destination.

Reddit, TED and Sir. Ken Robinson

Background

In addition to my passion for travel, I’m actively exploring the professional and academic opportunities presented by virtual worlds and gaming technology.

I have written several widely popular blog posts (eg: Educating Millennials/my explanation of generational gaps). I’m also currently engaged in two major projects which you may not be as familiar with.

The first of these projects is FusionVirtual . While most of what I’m exploring through FusionVirtual isn’t public yet, I will share that I have the conceptual solution to many of the challenges facing web-based distance learning. A major component of this is the use of virtual space as an instructional tool. I am working with/seeking academic and development partners to bring the project to fruition and have recently been engaged in dialogue with a major community college, their President and upper administrative leadership. As well as members of the college’s foundation.

The second project is a book. I am a tech savvy Millennial, despite this and what common cultural dialogue would have you believe I’m not a Digital Native. I’m fresh out of a major university and the world of higher education, but also have nearly five years experience in corporate America. The sum of these experiences means that I’m a member of an incredibly small demographic. A demographic with a foot in both worlds and access to insights that would otherwise be elusive. My exploration of these insights has led me to a unique understanding of tech, education and professional issues. That understanding has helped me decode and identify the answers to issues which have baffled business and professional experts.

The Q&A

With that said, I was thrilled when I saw that two of my favorite resources TED.com and Reddit.com were teaming up to do a crowd-sourced Q&A session with one of my favorite TED presenters: Sir. Ken Robinson.

I submitted my question under my Reddit username (Glamdering) which was as follows:

Distance learning (web based education) is currently the new rage in education. However, the quality of the experience is at best sub par. As a recent college graduate, I cannot help but feel the three major types of online education (static html pages, pre-recorded video, power point slides with audio overlays) are missing the point. What are your thoughts on the future of distance learning, and have you seen any signs of a breakthrough that will replace the status quo, while delivering interactive, powerful, social and visually simulating learning?

After a week, during which users were able to submit and then vote questions up/down – mine made it into the top top 10. You can view the official blog post with all 10 questions and answers on TED.com HERE.

Sir. Robinson’s response was as follows:

I should just say: Distance learning isn’t the new rage in education. We’ve had it for years.

In the U.K., we’ve had the Open University, which was set up in the ’70s. I think it’s now the largest university on Earth. It’s a massive institution on a small campus. The purpose was to offer university-level education to people who were beyond conventional undergraduate aid. A lot of people in the Open University are in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, right up to their 90s. It’s a brilliantly innovative organization, designed to give people a second chance — or a first chance, if they missed it. It’s based on distance learning, with some residential programs built in. But all the programs were initially put on late-night television by the BBC.

So, distance learning itself is not a new thing. It’s the web that’s new.

But I think Glamdering is right. It’s not very good. There’s been a tendency in universities to try and cash in on the interest in web-based learning. A lot of them have been dumping programs online: lecture notes, videos of talks, and so on. They’re of variable quality. Some of them are great, and some aren’t. In a way, TED is a great example of how distance learning can work well. TED doesn’t have a formal curriculum. But it has new ideas about getting ideas across in a powerful, condensed way, with high-quality visuals, and then syndicating that. TED has shown us a dramatic appetite for new ideas presented in an interesting way.

Just dumping stuff online isn’t the answer to it. But there’s a massive thirst for ideas, for this sort of content, as illustrated by the mushrooming of social networking and user-generated content. There’s another interesting commercial organization called Blackboard which is growing very quickly and has been doing work that’s really worth looking at. I mean, I don’t think they would say they’ve got this whole thing sorted at all, but they’ve started to think differently about the best way to use web-based materials and distance learning both in institutions and outside of them.

Microsoft and Apple both have interesting educational programs. They both work with schools. They have educational leadership programs. They, I think, are looking hard at how the technology that they are developing and selling can really be used for distance education. And I think the work that both are doing is really worth looking at, although they’re approaching it in different ways.

As with what I was saying before about video games: I think there’s a massive potential that we haven’t yet fully tapped into. Most schools don’t really have contact with stuff. People who are at the leading edge of thinking about it are coming in with great ideas and possibilities, but the penetration of this stuff into education is still pretty limited. But I’m sure it’s the way we have to go in the future. And for a very good reason. Because we now have the ability to put the best thinking, materials, pedagogy, resources in front of everybody. This should be seen by schools as a massive opportunity to — not to replace what they do, not to replace their own teachers and curriculum, but to enrich and enhance it. And the really good schools know that that’s the way to go. And there are some great schools that are doing it. High Tech High is an interesting one in the U.S.

Thoughts

Sir. Robinson spends paragraph 1 discussing the origins of distance learning. I found this part of the response helpful. It reflects generational differences in terminology. Distance learning is old – very old – Sir Robinson reaches back to the start of the Open University. One might also reference the old Sears Catalog or any number of similar services. Where I used the term distance learning, I took for granted a web-specific context. This gap may suggest the need for a more standardized alternate term. Web-based learning works, but is limiting since it discourages the inclusion of platforms that blur the line (virtual worlds, VoIP networks, combination systems, etc.).

In paragraph 2, Sir Robinson highlights TED as a quality example of how online video delivery can work for education. I agree almost completely. What’s missing, however, is interaction. TED delivers incredibly creative, informative videos and has tried to increase involvement by adding a powerful comment system. Despite this, it remains fundamentally a one-directional medium. While that’s great for knowledge sharing, it is not interactive enough. The beauty of the internet is that it allows two-way exchanges. An outlet like TED is still limited by the old one-way exchange which plagues lecture halls in Universities everywhere.

In paragraph 3, Sir Robinson mentions Blackboard. As a recent ASU graduate I used Blackboard through the majority of my college career. Blackboard is an interesting beast. It serves as a great enabler. It replaced the horribly constructed geocities websites that leading-edge university professors were creating pre-Blackboard. Blackboard created a standardized platform that most professors have been able to use to upload notes and encourage discussion. That said, I detest Blackboard – a sentiment which most students share. While it’s changed slightly in the last two years it’s still largely the same beast. The Blackboard I used was based on an archaic forums system which was obtuse and largely irrelevant. The same can be said about the service’s chat and collaboration features. In truth, Blackboard was little more than a dumping ground for files and an awkward, outdated one at that. All that was made worse by the company’s monopoly on the industry which was illustrated in the DOJ’s recent anti-trust inquiry into the Blackboard/ANGEL merger. That said, I agree that Blackboard has laid the groundwork and helped validate an ideological shift in the way we view online interaction and collaboration.

In paragraph 4, Sir Robinson points to Microsoft’s and Apple’s education programs. Two that I’ve explored casually, but have yet to dive into completely. If anyone has more information on these projects please post it in a comment!

In paragraph 5, Sir. Robinson shares several thoughts which I was excited to see. His commentary on the wall between those at the leading edge and academic implementation is right on the money. One thing he hints at but doesn’t explore, is the resistance from old, entrenched faculty who are clinging to outdated technologies and academic structure while actively working to block new ideas and concepts which are both technological and structural. One of the biggest fears among entrenched academics is that they will be “replaced” – a point which I was thrilled to see him address. I was excited to see his mention of video games (virtual worlds) as part of the equation of the future.

His response is further affirmation of the concepts, observations and projects I’ve been exploring for the last 9 years. It’s exciting to share a vision of the future, and to stand at the vanguard of 21st century education in the company of great minds like Sir. Robinson’s.

I have the utmost respect for him and would like to thank him for taking the time to respond to my question while engaging with Reddit, TED and the community for this Q&A session.

-Alex

How Would The Modern University Educate Plato?

Since the late 1770s education has made significant advances.  Matching the revolutionary changes that occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution, education for the masses has become commonplace in industrialized nations.

The United States in particular has seen fantastic improvements in its education system over the last hundred years.  2007 statistics indicate that some 84% of Americans have completed high school and a record 27% have completed a bachelors degree.  These figures are impressive and have contributed in a significant way to America’s dominant position on the world stage.

However, there is still significantly more that we can and must do to serve the educational needs of millennials and America’s future generations.  Despite the quality and scope of education that industrial era education and the associated systems have delivered, they are quickly becoming obsolete and in some cases detrimental.

21st Century learners live in a period where technology has created a powerful window of opportunity.  Pre-industrial education was limited to the elite and focused on intimate, specialized tutor-peer lessons or direct apprenticeships.  Industrial era education has focused on doing for education what the assembly line did for auto-production.  An ideal learning environment, however, is the synergy of these two models:  Intimate education, deliverable and scalable to all of a nation’s youth.

My alma mater (Arizona State University) is a classic example of Industrial Era education.  With 67,000+ students in the Fall of 2008, ASU delivers a university education on an incredible scale.  They have also proudly labeled themselves the “New American University” and recently released a promotion video advertising how they are breaking the mold and embracing the needs of 21st century students. You can view the video [here]. Yet despite their claims that they are “changing their identity” in response to the impact of the internet and Digital Era – they have barely changed.  For ASU and most major universities, 21st Century education isn’t about improving the educational process – it’s about improving the university’s reach and presence on the global academic stage.

This is a fundamental problem within modern education.  A problem that will continue to get worse as technology advances and true ‘digital natives’ begin entering the university system.   ASU has increased its global footprint – true.  Sadly, it has also increased its class sizes.  As an undergraduate student it was not uncommon for my classes to have more than 50 students.  For many of my general education classes, class size ranged between 150-500+ students. Which brings me to the title of this post.

How would the modern University have educated the Greek philosopher Plato?

Plato’s influence upon our society has been so profound that even the most uninitiated among us have heard his name.  Plato was one of – if not the most famous – of Socrates’ students and went on to become Aristotle’s mentor.  Consider – what would have happened if instead of living and being educated in ancient Greece, Socrates had taught at a major industrial era American university.  What if – as in Ancient Greece – Plato was Socrates’ student.  One of some 499 other students whose entire scope of interaction with their professor is limited to one-directional lecture-based classes.

  • Would Socrates be able to teach using the Socratic Method?
  • Would engaging discussion and debate be possible?
  • Would close student-instructor rapport develop with such power and influence that it would still be credited nearly 2,500 years from now?
  • 2,500 years from now would we know who Plato was?
  • Would the industrial era educated Plato go on to teach and mentor Aristotle?

This question embodies many of the challenges that face 20th Century education.  A system that we are heavily entrenched in and extremely defensive of.

What’s the alternative?  What will the true “New American University” look like?    By introducing modern technology and re-defining the way we design, build and educate in our universities, effective and necessary changes can be made.    The technology now exists to deliver the powerful, focused, specialized mentor-student experience so desperately needed by tens of thousands of students.

We stand poised to embrace education in the digital era.  Yet, to accomplish this transition we need new platforms, new technology and individuals with the vision and willingness to break free from the comfortable, established rules of industrial era universities.   Through my company, FusionVirtual,  I’ve begun planning a project to tackle these questions and challenges.  I challenge each and every one to do the same.  Don’t accept the status quo.  Stop enabling the continuation of 20th Century education – an education platform that has  begun to alienate digital natives.  Emerging learners are not only capable, but ready and waiting for new educational solutions that are not based upon the control of information and limited interaction.  The old models are broken. We have reached the point where we have the technology to truly educate.

Thoughts? Observations?  Eager to share your answers to the questions above?  Please leave a comment below.

January 20th 2009 – Today Was A Good Day

Today is January 20th, 2009 and it was a good day.  It was one of those days that stands out in your memory as history marches forward.  As the paintbrush of time colors in the tapestry of life, what once struck us as broad strokes of the brush fade into subtle outlines. I have no doubts that this day – these memories – will survive the test of time.  As I reflect upon this day in history I know that these past 24 hours will forever stand as a cornerstone in the annals of American history.  Further, though it is perhaps far less significant to the world at large, today has held incredible significance for me personally and not just because of the presidential inauguration of Barack H. Obama.

Leann Rimes – The Star Spangled Banner

Like many Americans today was special for me.  It was the first time in my life that the candidate I had chosen, researched, fought for and supported was elected as President of the United States.   It is an amazing affirmation of a political system that, despite its problems, is one of the world’s modern marvels.  Today, the majority will of over 300 million US citizens was carried out in a peaceful transition of power between two camps of astoundingly different ideologies and principles…All framed by the backdrop of one of the worlds most powerful military and economic powers.   What an amazing thing.

The Necessity

I believe that this transition – this wide stroke of the brush – marks the true beginning of the 21st century.  For the last 8 years we have been in flux.  As a nation we have been lost, forced to adjust. We have been trudging forward while adhering to outdated philosophies and principles. While other parts of the world began to embrace the 21st century the United States stood confused and unsure of its own identity.  The cost has been a devastating economic collapse, a widespread assault on intellectualism and major adjustments across the global political landscape.

I realize that President Obama and his team will not accomplish all that is expected of them.  I also realize that the true depths of his moral fiber and vision are untested. Yet I refuse to give up on the belief that he holds the potential to truly be the man we believe him to be. His track record suggests that he harbors the inner potential to truly lead the United States into the 21st century and his platform offers a framework to help America take those steps.

President Obama’s speech today was not flashy. It did not provide great quotes to be regurgitated across the annals of time – but it wasn’t meant to. Today’s speech spoke to the intellectuals among the American people and the world at large.  It was a speech that said, “I am here now and I will do everything within my power to do what is necessary.”  It was the speech of a humble man with noble character reaching out to his fellows with sleeves rolled up, back bent with the weight of a world that can be.  It was a speech that spoke to those of us who have been laboring furiously to keep America strong, to keep America true and to keep America supreme.  For me it was a dream come true. It was a speech that re-committed America to true Science. It was a speech that re-committed America to protecting the world that sustains us. It was a speech that re-committed America to the constitution and our roots. It was a speech that re-committed America to education, peace, and prosperity. Equally as significant, it condemned the actions over the past 8 years that pulled us towards catastrophe.   Above all, it was a speech that committed America to change – no matter how difficult that change may be – and  embraced the needs and dynamics of the 21st century.

Race

Perhaps it’s my perception of the world as a Millennial. Perhaps it’s the result of my travel or upbringing.  I find myself in an odd conundrum. While today marks an incredible moment in American history and has turned the tide of hundreds of years of blood, tears and agony, I find myself somewhat detached. I’ve never seen a segregated world. I’ve never lived in an America powered by slavery.  Born in 1985, the world I know and have seen is one of hope and opportunity.

I have no illusions as to the presence of stereotypes within myself but I revel in the fact that those are just that…idle stereotypes easily displaced and overcome.  My world is one that offers but a glance to race while focusing its scrutiny on the individual regardless of their sex or ethnicity.  As the world and America celebrate an historic moment that rightfully has profound meaning to those who at one time attended segregated schools and faced the most insidious forms of hatred, I find myself looking forward.  I pause today in profound gratitude to all those who have made this day possible, but equally it’s significance is somewhat reduced for me. For me this is not about the election of America’s first Black President, but rather about what I hope will be one of America’s greatest Presidents.

My Brother

As I sat watching President Obama sworn into office my younger brother, an individual who I am incredibly close to, was somewhere in the skies over Europe.  At the age of 21 he has undertaken an adventure that leaves me awed.  He left the U.S. on the evening of the 19th and began the long trip across the Atlantic to London before continuing down toward Italy where he will begin an internship with the US Consulate. The connection between a new president and my brother’s impending period of service truly strengthened my investment and pride in the all that the US is and has to offer. The resulting feeling isn’t something words will convey – all I can say is that the feeling was powerful, unique, and complex. Today marks the start of a major phase of growth in his life and no doubt, through all that he will share, my own.

Food, Reflections & Capitalism

At 5:00PM I left my office in Scottsdale where I work as a Mergers and Acquisitions Analyst. I paused briefly at the market to pick up groceries and then again to purchase a cigar. By 5:30 I was home and after a brief pause set to cooking a special celebratory, albeit experimental, dinner.

Sleeves rolled up I set to it – angel hair rice noodles, two beautiful portabello mushrooms, 1 package of enoki mushrooms, half a yellow onion, 1 pound of peeled fresh shrimp, 6 saved shrimp heads, 4 chopped and diced cloves of garlic, half a lemon, a hearty mix of spices, salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and 1/3 of a bottle of canola oil. Soon I had a bubbling frying pan full of noodles and delicious smelling food. Somehow, some way, the meal turned out perfectly and resulted in an incredible, steaming plate of a pasta/seafood delight.

After dinner and ready to relax I picked up the CAO Criollo Cigar I’d purchased earlier, poured a sipping glass of Effen Black Cherry Vodka on the rocks and made my way outside into Scottsdale’s beautiful, partly cloudy, 75 degree evening.  The CAO Criollo was perfect: mild and slow burning with just the right hint of taste.  As I sat on the steps of my apartment complex I reflected on the day, the year and all that had transpired.  As I sat there watching the stars slowly brighten across the sky I considered my various entrepreneurial projects and decided to finish the evening out with the addition of a new one – the attempted sale of several domain names I purchased back in August.

Truly I live a blessed life.  One lived in the greatest country in the world.  Today was a good day.

Why The Term “Multi-tasking” Is All Wrong

The term Multi-tasking has become prolific.  If you have read an article about the millennial generation, Web 2.0, or the power and impact of the internet recently, you’ve no doubt come across it regularly.  It’s often referenced as the great enabler of the world’s tech savvy youths and just as often it’s fiercely debated as the great quality inhibitor. Prominent efficiency blogs like Lifehacker deride the term and lambaste multi-tasking as a quality and efficiency reducer. Surveys have been done, books written, and a ferocious flurry of debate has arisen around the benefits, negatives, and great undecideds associated with multi-tasking.  A debate that has spilled onto this blog repeatedly with the most pronounced instance occurring in my 2 part series on Educating Millennials. Unfortunately, we have it all wrong.

The term multi-tasking has never sat well with me.  Sure, it seems to fit some of the behaviors and is close enough in definition and appearance to what’s actually occurring that it’s been the best and easiest way to describe what’s going on – but as a tech savvy millennial the shoe never quite seemed to fit.

Multi-tasking is the simultaneous execution of multiple actions. Juggling is multi-tasking, patting your head and rubbing your stomach is multi-tasking. The way I search the web, chat, watch a movie and write all at once — That is something different.  It is parallel processing. The difference is subtle, but significant.

What is Parallel Processing?

First, clear your mind of any pre-conceived definitions you may harbor for the term parallel processing. What I’m talking about has nothing to do with parallel computing or Amdhal’s law. The fundamental difference between multi-tasking and parallel processing is the way our minds respond to, and deal with, the actions we are handling.  Using my previous examples, when juggling or patting your head and rubbing your stomach you’re performing two actions simultaneously.  As I’m sure most of us will agree, that’s incredibly difficult and our performance decreases exponentially the more tasks we add.

Parallel processing, in contrast, deals with a cycling, structured, hierarchical list which is continuously executed at a comfortable pace.  The speed with which that list is executed and repeated depends on an individual’s familiarity with the tasks and the time/focus each task requires.  A juggler can’t stop to take more time with one ball without losing the other 2.  An individual switching between browser tabs, a movie, and several conversations can. The advantage that millennials and tech savvy individuals the world over have developed is not the ability to do more at once, but rather the ability to handle more tasks almost simultaneously in a more time efficient and effective fashion.

The Skill Set

One of the fundamental components of parallel processing is task familiarity. If I sat you down in front of a massively multi-layer online game and you had never played before, your entire focus would be consumed by trying to move forward while interacting with the spatial environment. Chances are the degree of your familiarity with the action would be so small that it would consume almost all of your attention to execute it. However, fast forward a bit and you’ll have gained familiarity with the process and be able to automate most of it subconsciously. Before long you’ll be carrying on 5 conversations through the in-game chat channels, interacting with other players, traversing the virtual world and engaging in complex actions all seemingly simultaneously. In these instances, there are simply too many actions to be able to manage and participate in them all at the same time.  You can, however, cycle through actions based on the immediacy of their need and respond to each fully in lightning quick bursts.

One of our most incredible abilities is to take certain tasks, develop a familiarity with them, and then transition them into a familiar ‘second nature’ skill set.  When you write, you typically don’t have to think about how you hold a pencil or what muscles make the letters you want.  Further, as you write words, the familiar ones come to you naturally almost without a second thought.  It’s only the ones you’re unfamiliar with that you have to pause and spell out letter by letter, sound by sound. There are thousands of every day tasks we take for granted as developed skills and hardly notice. If you wear glasses, have taken them off, but still gone to push them up on your nose, you’ve experienced a perfect illustration of how our brain is capable of executing and automating ‘second nature’ behaviors almost subconsciously.

Why It Matters

The modern business environment is not the only thing changing.  The world we know, perceive, and interact with is being driven forward by powerful, expansive new technologies.  Understanding the way in which we interact with these technologies and how they change our behaviors is fundamental to understanding what’s really going on around us. The process followed while writing a hand written letter in the 1800s is almost unrecognizable when compared to the steps and process employed by a modern individual writing an e-mail or research paper. Significantly more has changed than the technology.  The very way we relate to, formulate, and execute actions has evolved.  Unfortunately, despite changing our behaviors, our perception of how the processes should work and the advice we offer on how to execute it, has not changed drastically.

This also becomes very significant in our understanding of what looks like a social disconnect. If you’ve ever walked up to someone engaging in heavy parallel tasking and had trouble engaging them in conversation or getting a response from them, it’s because you’re disrupting the process they’re comfortable with and the rate with which they’re executing the sequence. Chances are, whatever activities they’re carrying out are balanced near the uppermost end of what they can comfortably process. They’re in a rhythm, executing a sequence of actions and able to perform at that rate. Enter the parent or roommate who wants to talk about their day in real time, without consideration for the other 5-15 processes the individual has going on, and you end up disrupting the flow of parallel processing. The end result is always a general break down across the board.  I find it interesting that social norms tell us it’s rude to walk up to a conversation two people are having privately about African swallows and begin talking to them about astrological geometry, but not similarly rude to effectively do the same thing when an individual is using a digital device.

I invite you all to join me in changing the dialog surrounding technology and multi-tasking. Before honest dialogue can move forward it’s necessary that we adopt descriptive language like ‘parallel processing‘ that accurately identifies and describes the phenomenon.

Agree?  Disagree? Thoughts or comments?  Please share them in comment form below.  As always I love your feedback and discussion. Additionally, I’d like to thank Dr. John Crosby for his feedback and collaborative ideas on this subject.

Are Virtual Worlds The Harbingers of The End of Society?

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Audio: Are virtual worlds the harbingers of the end of society?

When people discuss the future of online communities and virtual environments it’s the question that nags at the back of everyone’s mind.  Even among virtual world evangelists it’s a topic of concern, apprehension and uncertainty.  A concept and concern so powerful that mega hits like the Matrix have been based on it.

The question begs – are virtual worlds the harbingers of the end of society? Will, as most people fear the eventual march of technology result in environments so immersive, so powerful, and so socially disconnected that our species loses its ability and desire to interact, reproduce and perpetuate itself?  Will virtual worlds and their progeny result in the eventual death of civilization? Experience tells me that most people believe it will.

I disagree.

In fact, not only do I disagree, but I’m not worried in the least. The forward march of technology is an interesting dilemma.  Especially since, with each new invention things previously unimaginable become a reality opening the gateway to future inventions and technology so far beyond the scope of our current understanding that they are, by today’s standards, unfathomable. The side effect of this forward moving evolution is change.  Sometimes a change so fundamental, it re-shapes our very lives. Fire. The wheel. The written word.  Change can make the topic a very difficult one to explore, after all – change is scary or at the very least something that requires a transition period before it becomes comfortable. So, where is the fine line between what we’re afraid of because it’s new or different, and what we’re afraid of because it’s detrimental?

I believe the answer lies in our core nature as a species.  We are, fundamentally, social creatures.  We reach out, build communities, and seek out companionship.  We are not a-sexual and as such by our very biological makeup are hardwired to seek companionship.  Community is at the core of who we are, and our success as a species.  It powers our communities, which have enabled us to overcome great obstacles, eventually becoming the dominant form of life on earth.  It’s for that very reason that the thought of technology breaking down those social bonds is so alarming.  It’s also for that very reason that I’m not concerned. Humans – as a species – will always seek out other humans. In fact, the lengths we will go to are spectacular.  A point I am continually reminded of when I look at gamers behavior.

A few years ago when I was spending a lot of my time playing Everquest and other online games,,, I was constantly amazed at the lengths guild/group members would go to in order to meet each other in person.  It’s not uncommon for gaming guilds to hold meet-ups and while the lions share are more regionally oriented many are international in scope with members from all over the country (and world) flying in for small & medium sized face-to-face gatherings. There’s an important lesson here – even in one of the web’s most immersive environments people still reach out to each other.  Another example of the power of community presence is LAN parties where groups of 3 or more gather in one location and all play/chat/etc. for hours and in some cases days. At these events it’s not uncommon to have X people in a room silently focused on their screens for surprisingly long blocks of time without verbal interactions.  Despite their apparent lack of social interaction, they are using Skype-like technology to communicate with each other and others throughout the world, chatting constantly, and interacting in a rich world with their avatars.  So, why gather at all?  The comradship of being together.  The power and appeal of being in the presence of other humans and enjoying the face-to-face socialization that happens during downtime.  Again, these behaviors make it clear that as a species we thrive on, and hunger for, social interaction.  We are social creatures.

Confident in our social nature, I’m not concerned about the growing influence of technology because fundamentally we will always reach out to connect physically.  The dynamics may change, but the physical presence of someone, especially a romantic partner, is an experience that technology can’t duplicate.  In cases where it comes close it may temporarily satiate our needs, but ultimately even in these instances real world social interaction will always win out.  That’s why – to me – the fears about virtual world technology are a non-issue.

So, what happens if technology does move to the point where it can imitate and replace social interactions and the benefits of face-to-face interactions? That is the imagined matrix paradigm, a virtual reality so complete, real, and believable that you can’t tell the difference between it and the real world.  If, or rather when, technology evolves to the point where it is able to flawlessly imitate the real world, where does that leave us? Staunchly embedded and fiercely loyal to the world we know. It’s a scary thought, but realistically would that world be any less real, albeit different, than what we now classify as the “real world”?  Would it truly be a bad thing if it satiated all of our needs and fulfilled us every bit as completely as the “real world”? I don’t believe it would be bad.  In fact, at that point I believe it becomes every bit as real, valid and perhaps even essential as what we take for granted today.

So, are virtual worlds the harbingers of the end? If you believe that humans are fundamentally social animals and that we need that social interaction to survive, then your answer should be a confident no.  If, on the other hand, you do not believe that we are fundamentally social – what are you concerned about to begin with?

As always I value your feedback, thoughts and discussion.  Please take advantage of the comment feature below and share your thoughts!

Educating Millennials – Part II

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This post is a follow up to my original post: Educating Millennials – Why We’re Doing It Wrong

Since it was posted Part I has received nearly 22,000 views and 80+ responses. At this point in time I think it’s safe to say I hit on a major issue…one we have only just begun to dive into. I’m thrilled by the reception the post received and the opportunity I’ve had to begin dialogue on the subject. The purpose of this post is to serve as an update and to work to clarify several points. Please take it as such.

On the subject of data – I’ve reached out to several government officials and other contacts within academic circles in an effort to locate source educational data to check my hypothesis. However, before I share an update on the progress/issues I’ve had with the data I want to address some background questions.

Background Information

My original post was made as a hypothesis based on observation. I am not an academic researcher, nor is it appropriate that I include all of my research & thoughts in these blog posts.  This is not a research site or news outlet. It is a blog and as such my posts must be limited in length and cannot be as in-depth as many of us might otherwise like. Nor am I a full time academic researcher affiliated with a research institution.  Rather, I’m a curious, passionate millennial observing the world around me, the way my fellows and I interact, and looking at alternative explanations.  It is a place for sharing observations, thoughts, and interesting information. It is my sincere hope that these thoughts and ideas will be picked up by my readership and pursued further.   As mentioned in my previous post, I am more than happy to discuss any concept expressed on this site further/privately.

The Sexes

I received a number of comments accusing me of sexism or being grossly mistaken about the distribution of the sexes in online environments, particularly the realm of video games. While, in most instances, it was obvious from the reader’s comments that several of my main points were missed, or they failed to read the post to its conclusion. I want to take a moment to address this concern. First, I am very well aware of the female presence in online gaming and on the web. I founded and lead one of the oldest/longest running online gaming guilds for 8 years. I am familiar with most of the statistics cited in the comments about web demographics. In fact, I used some of the very same data in my Honors Thesis which I completed a year and a half ago. That said, the male/female demographics of the online gaming community have changed exponentially in the last 3-5 years. That’s not to say that there have not been female gamers for as long as there have been games.  Rather, that the audience who grew up utilizing these games (from an early age) has – until recently – been mostly male and that as a result these individuals will be the most heavily effected.

In addition to the issue of demographics, research has shown that males and females relate differently in social situations.  That same research shows that conventional one-way, top-down, information exchanges like that in most classroom environments is more compatible with the learning styles of women.

The combination of these two factors – as previously explained – is part of why the topic focuses on males. The other part stems from the nature of the post as a response and alternative hypothesis to the commonly accepted arguments for why young males are under represented in higher education. The conventional arguments have revolved around a difference in capability between the sexes and are largely based on notable gender bias. The proposition in Part I of this post, if anything, is far from sexist.  Further, as I’ll discuss later in this topic, one of the greatest issues I’ve had with exploring the data is the lack of unbiased, relevant source data. Many of the official tables provide female percentages and numbers while neglecting their male counterparts.

The Author

Attacking the author is a fundamental part of Internet culture, a fact I completely understand.  While I did not want to spend much time on myself in the original post as I feel it distracts from the actual subject, my credibility and background seems to be a major, relevant, component for a number of readers. Some were concerned I was someone who hadn’t made the cut and wanted to justify my failure. Others assumed it was a complaint written by a frustrated millennial unable to find a job.  Several readers even suggested that my passion and focus for virtual technologies and their impact implied a lack of reading or cultural enrichment on my part. Others suggested that I must inherently suffer from a lack of social skills and connections.  While I’ve responded to each of these concerns independently in the comment section of the previous post I will briefly respond to each of the more frequent comments.

I actually preformed quite well in University. I graduated with a 3.38 GPA from Arizona State University with degrees from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and the Barrett Honors College.  My honors thesis is available for review on the blog roll to the right. It focused on MMOGs and their social impact. In High School I was engaged in the We The People constitutional debate program as well as a Key Club Officer. In addition to my academics, I come from, and grew up in a family heavily involved in academics.

Professionally, I have enjoyed significant success. In the spring of 2005 (summer of my sophomore year of college) I began an internship with the #3 commercial real estate company in the world. By the end of the summer the position grew into a part time position during the school year/full time job in the summer. I was with the company in various capacities (Research, Mapping, GIS, IT) until I graduated in 2007 when I was offered a full time position which I declined.  After a 3 month trip through Europe I returned to the states and immediately accepted a position as an Analyst with one of Arizona’s premiere mid-market mergers and acquisitions groups. In addition to my current position in the M&A industry, I founded the company FusionVirtual.

Socially I have regularly been referred to as a social node.  I’m lucky to enjoy an extensive social network all developed outside of the Greek system.  To use Facebook as a social benchmark, my friends list currently has over 600 contacts virtually all of whom I’m in semi-regular contact with. In fact, I periodically prune the list to keep it up to date and relevant.  To those with doubts, I can assure you I am both socially competent and active.

Culturally I have always enjoyed reading and have tested as post college since 6th grade. I enjoy regular reading, though my recent schedule has made me cut back significantly.  In addition to classic texts I enjoy poetry and the arts. I’ve seen theater on Broadway and in London, opera in Vienna and ballet in Prague. In addition to these experiences I’ve been an avid ballroom dancer for the last 4 years and salsa dance on a weekly basis. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to travel extensively. I’ve been to Europe three times (once for a year, once for 3 months, and once for 6.5 weeks). I’ve also spent a year traveling across the U.S. and been to Alaska, Mexico and Hawaii.

It is important to point out that despite my background and life experiences, the observations raised about the educational system in Part I of this post are every bit as relevant for me as they are for other male millennials. I drilled down and forced myself to complete the higher ed process, but make no mistake, I found myself consciously making the decision to work within the system for the social validation and professional benefit that the degree “check mark” on job applications offered. The system did not serve my needs. It could have done more to challenge on multiple levels. In fact, it also did very little to prepare me for the real world.

So, to those of you who asked, I say;  No, this is not an apology. It’s not a justification.  It’s not an excuse. This is an observation of a failure by the education system. This failure has affected me personally and has affected a large number of my acquaintances and friends.  Read through the comments, look at what the young males of the millennial generation are telling us.

The tragedy is that we are squandering the potential of hundreds of thousands of America’s best and brightest, all because of bureaucracy and outdated tradition. All in a time when we need them the most.

Data

It’s taken over a week for me to make this post in large part because I’ve been having difficulty tracking down relevant data. At this point in time, I’d love to be able to post a few graphs and several tables of data showing clear snapshots of what’s going on in our education system.  The unfortunate reality is, it doesn’t seem possible with the data available.  This would be a great graduate research project. As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve contacted the US Census Department, the US Department of Education, and IPEDS (The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System). I’ve also worked with several other contacts in trying to find/analyze the data in a way that gives real, relevant data.

It appears that the data collected by the U.S. Education System is in such a confused state and so poorly documented that it’s nearly impossible to find standard enrollment and completion numbers broken up by sex and institution type and relative to U.S. population statistics by year.  The data has been gathered and stored in such a way that anything beyond micro analysis is nearly impossible for the casual researcher. If you have information relevant to the discussion please post it in a comment or forward it to me and I’ll add it to the post. Additionally, if you do any statistical analysis please share your results and methodology with us.

Noteworthy Data:

  1. Degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2016-17
  2. Total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control of institution: Selected years, 1947 through 2005
  3. Historical Educational Attainment Reports from 1940 through 1998
  4. US 1990 Census: Population Figures
  5. US 2000 Census: Population Figures
  6. US 2007 Census: Population Figures

Things to note:

  • There is a major data shift in 1995.
  • Enrollment figures provide a % female, but no mention of a % male.
  • Enrollment figures fail to distinguish between the gender breakdown in full/part time categories.
  • Enrollment figures fail to distinguish between higher education programs.
  • Degrees conferred can not be accurate compared to enrollment data.
  • Degrees conferred are not broken down by type of institution, only level of education*.
  • Population figures: I was unable to locate credible year-by-year projections. Only US Census data by year was publicly available. The 2007 figures were generated through a private information vendor and forwarded to me.
  • Population figures: Should be adjusted based on generational differences in population.

*This is relevant because of the widespread success of web-based Universities like University of Phoenix. If included in the above material (which I believe they are) these web-based Universities have been extremely popular over the last 8+ years. The type of education these programs offer (web-based) is drastically different from the class method and environment utilized in major colleges and universities. As a result, I’m concerned that these may offset significant shifts in the brick and mortar institutions this article focuses on.

*EDIT* – Just saw this and feel it’s very relevant given my mention of University of Phoenix above. UofP was ranked as the #1 recipient of federal assistance/aid for FY 2008. According to the list, Arizona based University of Phoenix has received $2,810,085,079 in aid so far in this fiscal year.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately the data is important, but may be more of a distraction. The theory discussed herein is nothing new. We’ve known since the days of Aristotle and Socrates that instructor-student interactions are the best way to learn. As humans we learn best when we can interact, exchange thoughts, and question. After all, what is a question but the search for information and clarity? When the written word was invented we transformed the way knowledge was shared from the telling of stories to a system of written words. Modern technology allows us to increase the level of interaction between student and professor.  It offers the potential to make the material more engaging, informative, and to increase students’ investment in their education. Sadly, that scares a lot of people. Luckily, the demand for multi-level delivery systems will continue to grow until educators respond.  While we can disagree on some of the details and the execution, ultimately ask yourself if a more interactive, ‘immersive’, and vibrant educational experience will be good for the students.  If your answer is yes, I urge you to stop making excuses for a system that no longer works as-is. I ask that you help work toward a modern, 21st century educational system.

Each day we wait another brilliant mind falls through the cracks.

As always, I value your feedback and will respond to all user comments. Please share your thoughts, reflections, and any additional information you might have in a comment on this post.

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*EDIT* I was just linked this amazing video by Mike Wesch which really does an amazing job hitting on/discussing some of the same issues.