We live in a world where some things rarely change and some things, like my profession, change very quickly. When I saw a photo of a recent Presidential rally in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I was humbled to think of our ancestors who walked on those very cobblestones. And when Carleton had its Sesquicentennial, I saw images of from 1866 that looked so familiar in many ways. The constant is that we are people who are engaging in the service of something bigger than ourselves. I never lose track of that human connection even when technology offers us new ways of facilitating those interactions.
One of my neighbors, Carl Henry, who used to be the Director of Computing at Carleton, shared a history of Carleton with me. Through it I learned that the first Data Center and the first manager of computing were put in place in 1962 – near Carleton’s 100 year mark. The College has had an accelerating series of technology changes in the 50 years since then. While the 2012 Strategic Plan was accurate in stating that “technology at Carleton is ubiquitous, expensive, and subject to continual rapid change”1, I’m sure we would all agree that the personal interactions of students with faculty will always be the essential foundation of a Carleton education and should remain our guiding principle.
One of the realities with technology is that it is additive. The number of personal devices, the number of new applications and the number of interesting websites just keeps growing. The Microsoft Office suite and email didn’t go away when people started tweeting. Wired networks didn’t go away when wireless networks were created. There are an expanding number of things to learn and to maintain.
Further, it’s also true that technology doesn’t usually serve as a method of substitution. It’s wonderful when we are able to replace paper or inefficient processes with automated processes, but that tends to be the exception and it’s not usually the main goal. More often, technology creates entirely new ways of interacting. And that’s one of the beauties of it. I believe that technology is worth the effort because it continually expands our modes of interacting – opportunities arise that one can’t fathom from an old paradigm.
I suspect we could all identify ways we have been influenced by new technologies. Let’s take YouTube and Twitter, for example. They are both about 10 years old and became ubiquitous very quickly; Twitter transmits more than 500 million tweets per day and there are over 6 billion hours of video watched on YouTube per month2! Speaking for myself, I rely on Twitter to complement my interactions with colleagues at conferences and use YouTube to stay visually connected with geographically separated family members. Both of these are examples of how my personal relationships have been augmented by new technologies.
Regardless of whatever innovations are to come, we know that open conversation will be needed to navigate those opportunities and challenges. In Winter Term, we will share responses from a recent campus survey that highlights the pressures of the growing number of information technology services available to us. The breadth of campus conversations about the thoughtful use of technology (and many other issues) is heartening. Carleton was founded as “the dream of Minnesota pioneers who understood that human knowledge is the real frontier.”3 And indeed it is.