1: the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity; especially : coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas
2: the state or property of being convergent
3: independent development of similar characters (as of bodily structure of unrelated organisms or cultural traits) often associated with similarity of habits or environment
4: the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole
I often wonder if the mystics, gurus, shamans and prophets of history had some inside scoop on the social, technical and historical convergence within their own periods. I also often wonder why more of our world’s leaders don’t take the time to reflect philosophically upon the readily available data of trends. This data is about as up to the minute as it gets…IBM was quoted as saying over 90% of the entire world’s server storage was taken up with data gathered in only the last two years. This is quite a mind boggle in itself, especially if one has any eye, interest or experience with recorded history.
My friend James Robertson sent me a link to one of the YouTube promotions for the rock band Led Zepplin’s one show reuinion in Great Britain . Here is a one of the seminal bands of the contemporary era, doing a very late in life concert. In fact, they are so advanced in age that their early-on-dearly-departed-original-drummer, John Bonham (31 May 1948 – 25 September 1980) had to be replaced for the show — by his son, Jason Bonham. Talk about convergence…genetic, social, artistic, atmospheric. Jason Bonham has been quoted as saying it was “life changing” as has Jimmy Page, the band’s famous guitarist. The trailers (look for the song Kashmir. I can only imagine the mood in London’s O2 Arena during the show.
Last year, MIT’s Sherry Turkle published a book whose title alarms me ever so slightly: “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other”. She was the subject of an interview by Krista Tippet not long after, which can be heard (or the transcript read) at the Onbeing.org website.
One of the prime take aways for me in the interview is the following excerpt:
“…I have exposed children — so I’m very interested in the question of when the great psychologist Piaget was interested in the question of how do children decide what’s alive and not alive. In the world of traditional objects where you have bicycles and stones and dolls, he interviewed children about what was alive and not alive. Ultimately, they decided that things that could move, physically move—without an outside push or pull, were alive.
So that meant that, for example, they would incorrectly classify clouds as alive until they could figure out that the wind pushed the clouds. When the computer came, I studied a radical shift in how children went about solving that problem because they no longer cared—and this was dramatic—they no longer cared about whether or not something was pushed in terms of its movement. They cared about how this thing thought, what its psychology was, whether its psychology came from the inside, and that was stunning. That was stunning to watch.
By the time of the Darwin [museum] exhibit in 2006, I think, my daughter saw a Galápagos turtle, which had been brought up from the Islands. This was the life that Darwin saw. She looks at this turtle — and she’s been exposed to robots ever since she’s been a baby, the Tamagotchis, the Furbies, the AIBOs. She looks at me and she says, because this turtle is sleeping, she says, “For what this turtle is doing, they could have just had a robot.”
It struck me that, from her point of view, the fact that it was alive mattered not at all. And I begin to interview—and actually went back to the museum several times and begin to interview kids and parents about the question of the turtles because the kids began to use a locution phrase to talk about the turtles, and the phrase they used was “a robot would have been alive enough,” which was a phrase that by that time I’d been at this study over 20 years and I’d never heard that.
That’s when I started talking about a new pragmatism among this generation of young people. This is no longer philosophical. Life becomes a pragmatic quality. Is this alive enough for this purpose? And this is important because we’re now talking about robots that will serve as companions to the elderly, robots that will serve as companions to children as kind of nanny-bots. This is the question being asked of them. Are they alive enough for this purpose? And I, of course, think this is the wrong question in many cases and that moment at the museum helped me frame, you know, helped me frame my thinking.”
Turkle expands onto many different levels of how we as a society have placed communication technology, and has documented the reality of email, text and social media (Facebook) overload.
Turkle is one of many inviduals quietly documenting the “toddler steps” in the much broader Convergence of which technology, sociology, biology and psychology are part and parcel. Toddlers frequently misstep and fall down. That’s where I think we are. I don’t think we’re smart enough on average to consider whether or not a single piece of technology will improve a high enough of a percentage to justify its purchase.
In my recent work with long time friend and political foil David Geer, one of the broader Convergence issues we’re in the thick of is technology in education. I mean, just because we have a whiz bang SmartBoard on a class room wall doesn’t equate to whiz bang student results. We’re finding, as are the manufacturers of technology for schools, that it isn’t the pixels available, it is still how the teacher brings the many disparate pieces of technology (and “old” school tech, like books and spiral bound paper notepads) together.
My friend Aldo Mazza speaks of this often. We live in a contemporary space where students learn from teachers that may be on another continent, and are using Skype, Google+ and YouTube to deliver lesson content. Both of us are pretty sure that this is less than ideal when compared to the visceral reality of in-person, teacher-right-next-to-student traditional learning. Apologies to any creationists who have unfortunately plopped into this blog entry, but if you look at any level of Primate research, including the hours and hours of film produced by Jane Goodall, you can see that learning is best done two ways… by demonstration, and by experience. That’s it. I believe it is also it for us. Sure, we can get information from a recorded video, but the take away simply isn’t as deep as the real deal.
Though it may often feel and seem like convergence is here now, I strongly believe that it is the “process” of convergence that is here now. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for whiz bang, exciting technology, my current love being the promise of pliable OLED screen techologies and all the permutations this can offer. But as society, as with any explosive expansion of an inexpensive technology (math calculators come to mind) I believe we must collectively take an honest look at the larger picture and adopt and shape techology that is relevant to our whole lives and to the betterment of our fellow earth dwellers.
When we reach this point, I’d say the capital “C” convergence will have reached teenaged status.