Today I got to hear Thomas Frey, Executive Director of the Da Vinci Institute, speak. He talked about the past -- things like Greek mathematicians, Roman numerals, Johann Fust, Philip K. Dick and the Jetsons. He also talked about the future of things like libraries, literacy, RFID, and the end of technologies.
A typed out version of his presentation can be read here (it's not exactly the same as I heard today but covers most of it). I enjoyed listening to him speak to us -- in his snazzy med-faire feathered hat and garb (he says he did that so he appears less threatening). Some of the ideas he covered included libraries becoming centers for culture, offering podcasting and blogger stations (IMHO the latter already being any public computer terminal presently), art studios, and meeting spaces for those who have home offices. None of Mr. Frey's suggestions were extremely revolutionary -- but it was nice to hear someone else say the things I have been thinking for a while.
Perhaps the statement that drew the strongest reaction from the audience wasn't even an idea of Mr. Frey's -- but rather a colleague of his:
Dr William Crossman, Founder/Director of the CompSpeak 2050 Institute for the Study of Talking Computers and Oral Cultures, predicts that as we say goodbye to keyboards we will begin the transition to a verbal society. He also predicts that by 2050 literacy will be dead.
When Mr. Frey presented that the air was sucked from the room and you could feel the green monster stir in many of those present. I will say Dr. Crossman's idea was an interesting thought-- but I don't agree with him. I believe he's operating with a very narrow definition of literacy. Actually Wikipedia has a decent working definition:
"Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society."
The standards for what constitutes "literacy" vary, depending on social, cultural and political context. For example, a basic literacy standard in many societies is the ability to read the newspaper. Increasingly, many societies require literacy with computers and other digital technologies
And if you use the Wikipedia definition then you'll see that literacy won't die but rather adapt to the emerging technologies. And that's basically what Mr. Frey was saying about libraries -- libraries need to look at the technologies out there and both incorporate and adapt. Also we may try to do a little innovation. Truth be told -- The only thing stopping us is our own imaginations.