Saturday, July 28, 2007

Literacies for the networked society

I've been working for years on various iterations of a piece that should describe how the paradigm shift we're living through calls for a rethinking of the skills that we need - and thus also points to the need to rethink our educational curriculum.
So, I've put the latest version on my website - and yes, it's long: 20 pages, but I actually think it is important stuff.
Here's an excerpt, from the beginning:

Society is making its way through a profound change. We are leaving the industrial age and entering a new paradigm - one which we could name the network society.
The main characteristic of this is connectivity. Humans, machines, cultures and economies are connected ever closer, more often, in more detail and across greater distances. Developments in completely different realms are increasingly influencing and interfering with each other.
Acceleration is another characteristic. As each new technical development helps us taking the next step even faster even change itself is accelerating.

The network society offers us countless new opportunities - but at the same time it confronts us with a demand for new competences. Clearly, the type of work that we will be making our living from in a globally connected hi-tech world will be very different from the work which our welfare society was built upon.
We need a new approach, one that's suitable for the new rules of the game. We need a different perception of the mechanisms which drive change - and we need to weed out old concepts and structures that have become irrelevant and which often end up as barriers to necessary change.
All of this implies a deep cultural shift in attitude and understanding of learning, innovation and action - a shift that's needed all the way from kindergartens to retirees.

In primary schools one uses the term ”literacies”, to describe the basic skills that are necessary in order to get by in society. In Denmark the law emphasizes 5 literacies: reading, writing, math, English as second language, and basic IT skills. If you lack one or more of these, you will experience that the doors to further learning are shut.
But what's considered basic literacies obviously changes as the conditions in society change. As we shift from the industrial society to a networked society we will need to acquire a number of new, basic competences to supplement the old literacies.

Put briefly, these new competencies are about understanding the way in which globally connected, complex, dynamic systems work. The internet, international politics, stock markets, or living systems, like our body… These are the sort of complex systems that we need to engage with, and our future welfare will depend on our ability to do so in smart ways.
We will need a completely internalized understanding of the mechanisms that drive such systems. At the moment it may sound very abstract, but concepts like evolution, non-linearity, feedback, self organization and ecology will increasingly be crucial to us in order to asses situations correctly and to act intelligently in relation to the forces that shape our circumstances.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Goodbye sunday paper

A couple of months ago I decided to cancel my sunday newspaper subscription. Somehow it seemed that they never really printed anything in there worth reading anyway. It was nagging me to recieve all of that paper which I basically just wasted time flipping through and discarding. The decisive moment came when they started to deliver the paper wrapped in plastic.

So my life is little bit lighter, and frankly I haven’t missed it at all.

The great carbon cover up, part 2

In Denmark we like to pride ourselves that as a nation we have decoupled economic growth and the use of fossil fuels.
But in fact our C02 emission modesty looks quite different if we include the emissions from the Danish shipping industry. A number of the worlds largest shipping companies are Danish – most notably Maersk.
It turns out that the combined emissions from the Danish fleet of ships amount to 25% of the total Danish emissions. Only the shipping emissions don’t show up in the usual statistics, because fuel for international transport is exempt from the Kyoto protocol – and from taxation.

The great carbon cover up, part 1

In Denmark we are proud to have committed to the Kyoto goals of reducing our emissions. It’s still very much doubtful that we will in fact hit the target, but at least we feel we are doing something.
However, you never hear any discussion of the impacts of our agricultural industry on the greenhouse effect.
There are 5 mio. People living in Denmark, but at any time there is also about 13.5 mio. Pigs. Annually, about 25 mio. Pigs are slaughtered in Denmark.
The Average Danish person emits around 10 tons of carbon dioxide annually. According to The Economist, ”every year the average sow and her piglets produce 9.2 tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent through the methane emissions from their effluent”.
In that case, it seems that the true Danish carbon emissions are about 3 times the official figure.

Apart from the damaging effect of all the methane that these pigs produce, it also takes considerable energy to raise those 25 mio. Pigs annually.
Obviously, you lose a lot of calories when you raise meat, somewhere between a factor 5 to 10, as far as I have been able to research.
Pigs are slaughtered at the age of 4-5 months, when they have reached a weight of about 100 kilo.
Even though Denmark is a wonderfully fertile country we cannot produce enough to feed those pigs, so a considerable part of this is shipped in from Brazil, Argentina and other soy producers. It takes a lot of energy to grow that soy, for fertilizers, machinery and transportation. Fertilizer is produced from natural gas and transportation fuel is almost all fossil as well.
(To make matters worse, the land used for producing soy in Brazil and Argentina is partly forests that have been cleared – and thus no longer help to stabilize the climate.)
Finally, 80% of the meat is exported, adding more transportation and more emissions.

Oh, did I forget cows? Denmark is a big dairy producer. We have 650.000 cows – and cows fart too.