Monday, December 18, 2006

I'm (We are) TIME Magazine's Person of the Year

TIME Magazine has had a good couple of weeks in terms of advancing the conversation we've been having on this blog for the last couple of years. They named me (you, us) Person of the Year:
And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.
I suppose if I was cynical, I would say this was just an attempt by the mainstream media to sell a few copies of their magazine in a web 2.0 world. But, considering it's all free online, I imagine most of "us" just might read it there. And they had some interesting lines, both in the main story and in the message from the editor (I haven't had time to read all the other stories yet).
But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.
Hmm, "change the world", I think I've heard that somewhere before . . . But I also think the idea of "change the way the world changes" is an interesting one to consider. It makes me think of exponential growth and second derivatives (sorry, but I used to teach math). We live in a time of rapid change, where the pace of change itself is increasing. If we live in exponential times, then how can the world not change?
We're looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it's just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.
Friedman's flat world meets web 2.0.
This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them.
As I mentioned, I used to teach math, not history, but I wonder what social studies teachers think about this? Citizen to citizen is a powerful idea and is a step beyond our current representative government. I vaguely remember discussions about how true democracy could never, ever work - and I wonder about the implications of this. Is there a point where we could be too democratic?
There are lots of people in my line of work who believe that this phenomenon is dangerous because it undermines the traditional authority of media institutions like TIME. Some have called it an "amateur hour." And it often is. But America was founded by amateurs. The framers were professional lawyers and military men and bankers, but they were amateur politicians, and that's the way they thought it should be. Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger, and Ben Franklin was essentially loading his persona into the MySpace of the 18th century, Poor Richard's Almanack. The new media age of Web 2.0 is threatening only if you believe that an excess of democracy is the road to anarchy. I don't.
Now if I could only find Thomas Paine's RSS feed . . .
We chose to put a mirror on the cover because it literally reflects the idea that you, not we, are transforming the information age. The 2006 Person of the Year issue—the largest one Time has ever printed—marks the first time we've put reflective Mylar on the cover. When we found a supplier in Minnesota, we made the company sign a confidentiality agreement before placing an order for 6,965,000 pieces. That's a lot of Mylar.
Almost seven million pieces of mylar. How much does that cost? What effect does it have on the environment? And I've read the story before any of those pieces of Mylar have even been delivered . . .


  1. My response was one of jealousy; I want my son to attend such a school that studies Japanese and Spanish, but in the context of speaking about anything: math, social studies, etc. No offense to foreign language teachers, but my teachers only taught me terms and then had me apply them in superficial scenarios. We weren't required to speak French in class, only on oral exams. I took 4 years of French and yet, can barely say: Je ne parle pas francais.

    I wish that politicians would hear this message about global education. Instead, high schools and colleges require you to know all sorts of information about the geography of a state, the history of a state, etc.--all of which I can find in 2 seconds on Wikipedia. What would be fascinating to learn is what caused the events and what happened because of them, not just memorizing facts for that day and deleting them from my brain the next hour.

    Am I being too cynical?

    I want to be the kind of teacher that this article talks about, but where do I go from where I am?

  2. I agree. Can't we find any fact that we want/need in almost the blink of an eye now? So the need to memorize a million facts that you could look up in less than a minute seems more than just unnecessary. Even in foreign language. Can't you find an online translator in a second? Or better yet, you can speak into a computer using the new Nuance voice recognition software and translate it into Spanish in 1 second. Does that make my job obsolete?

    I don't think so. I agree with Michelle that students need to know the causes, the effects, the psychology and reasoning behind all of these facts. They need to go beyond memorization. I agree that students in my class should be required to constantly communicate in Spanish while engaged in other learning. What a concept, I love it. Now the trick is to impletment this into my classrrom and start speaking Spanish to learn Spanish and learn about the world.