In my Culture, Media, and Education course we’ve talked a lot about how media has evolved in recent years such that students are not simply consumers of media, but also producers of media. Platforms such as YouTube, Square Space, and Scratch have made the means of media producing so widely accessible in a way that is both empowering and transformative for our society.
A recent ideas.ted.com blog post, WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE INTERNET OF THINGS, Karen Eng explores similar ideas, related to the internet that now exists in the objects around us. Thermostats, traffic lights, and Fit Bits are examples of objects that can possess “the internet”; objects that communicate with us and one another in ways that better our lives. For example:
It’s more about gathering intelligence with a variety of different systems. So while traffic lights do currently communicate with light controllers, they don’t yet communicate with approaching cars, for example. But what if traffic lights could tell the car ahead of time that there’s a string of traffic lights coming on, and so the car should take another direction?
While the “internet of things” is becoming more of a reality every day, Karen Eng suggests that we are going about it the wrong way, specifically in a very top-down way. Companies are creating closed off devices with prescribed functionalities to solve specific problems, and then we can then buy them. No customizability, just consuming, no room for producing. See the problem here?
She calls for a world where we “democratize the technology,” or where the internet of things exists in open platforms. Mirroring the recent ways in which students and the general population have become producers of media, we can become producers of all types of technologies. While engineers at big companies will likely design amazing things, people on the ground who are face-to-face with problems may see different problems and come up with different solutions.
One great example of a such a technology, that is not only open platform but also child friendly is littleBits. As explained in another great TED talk (embedded below):
…beyond simple play, littleBits are actually pretty powerful. Instead of having to program, to wire, to solder, littleBits allow you to program using very simple intuitive gestures. So to make this blink faster or slower, you would just turn this knob and basically make it pulse faster or slower. The idea behind littleBits is that it’s a growing library. We want to make every single interaction in the world into a ready-to-use brick. Lights, sounds, solar panels, motors — everything should be accessible.
I’m excited about the day when we begin to bring open-sourced object-based technologies into the classroom, because I can only imagine some of the creative and useful things our students will develop. Additionally, the more we move our students to be producers of technologies, rather than consumers, the more empowered and prepared they will be to function in our ever-changing, technological world.