Friday, April 20, 2007

Insights from two really smart people

Howard Gardner, professor at Harvard, and Steven Berlin Johnson, are two very smart guys. I have no idea if they read each other's work, know each other, or what they might think of each other. But I recently read some thoughts from each of them and found them quite amazing. Here they are:

On Johnson's blog he has a post about the relationship between the size of cities and their resource use. Essentially, the bigger the city, the more resource-efficient it is. In addition, the bigger the city, the faster its rate of creative production grows. Read his post, and its links, here.

Over on the MacArthur Foundation's spotlight blog (focused on the foundation's work in Digital Media and Learning), Gardner is pondering the implications for us as people in a digital world. He takes on such issues as time, space, objects, identities, and ethics. He claims there are life-altering changes underway and notes that there will be a time when we look back and say "the new digital media have changed everything."

Both Johnson and Gardner turn to history as they ponder the meanings of these insights for the future (maybe that's why I think they're so smart). Johnson's book (The Ghost Map) on cholera, epidemiology, and the rise of modern cities should probably be categorized as "history-for-those-who-think-about-the-future." Gardner quotes Frederick Jackson Turner and Alexis de Tocqueville.

My question is: how do the two observations fit together? - will big cities continue to be resource-efficient and creative if the new digital media changes everything (specifically time, space, objects, and identity)? Will one change the other? Which ones? Which directions? And, given the American/British focus of these two writers and the historians they turn to (and the stories they tell) for whom will these changes come? Who might have a very different future history?

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