Phoenix Flight

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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I’m sitting in 16C, unsettled, flying to Phoenix after attending the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) in Austin, TX. WCIT brought together government, technology, healthcare, and education leaders in a discussion around innovations and issues in information and communications technology worldwide. The event was an interesting exploration of challenges on the road ahead and the unique swath of global programs and practices being engaged to make a difference and make money. Moreover, the WCIT collective agenda of digital access, 21st century medicine, and privacy framed some compelling international dialogues. In the end, one cannot attend this kind of event without being taken aback by how far our world has come in the use of information technology in such a short time. It’s stunning. But it’s not the bits and bytes blazing by that are bothering me on this plane ride. It’s hearing about how Korea has made high-bandwidth computing available to ALL citizens; how China is committing to wiring its rural communities; how the Indian government is strategically investing in its education system to turn out elite engineers equipped for this new world. And these are just a few of the examples from the keynote stage in Austin. I’ve heard these before; but hearing them altogether once again got me thinking. Where are the American examples of coordinated national responses to our changing world? It hit me like a punch in the chest—the embarrassment that is. Particularly after Brazil just announced its energy independence, while we can only offer political pandering in the face of our national energy crisis. It seems that we are paralyzed in our industrial revolution paradigm; we seem stuck in a painful “aren’t we wonderful” mindset. Meanwhile, countries around the world are happily using our current self-congratulatory largess to outfit themselves to pass us by. Don’t get me wrong; there are amazing technology and education programs taking shape across the US. But, where is our national coordinated educational response to the needs of our connected world? Who is in charge of visioning a national response to creating a technology infrastructure that allows citizens to connect, companies to compete, and our country to once again stand out as a world leader, not just a world dominator? No, we just let the companies fight it out for market share, while rural and inner-city school children suffer in collapsing schools. Test them more, that’s our answer to our utterly embarrassing educational outcomes. Let the market sort it out, that’s our national technology plan. While other countries are designing compelling national strategies to take on the opportunities of our globally connected knowledge economy, our response is to focus more on old bureaucracies like the US Departments of Labor, Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture. Agriculture! You can’t help but notice, the players at our national table gained their seats as responses to the agricultural and industrial revolutions; and they are not likely equipped to—or interested in—outfitting us for the information revolution. Its no wonder the Department of Homeland Security is replete with behind-the-times technology. Maybe I’m just a little overtired from all this travel. But I can’t help but think, we’ve got to catalyze this conversation soon if we plan to rise in concert with the Phoenix-like countries all around us. Otherwise, we’ll just be focused on our landing.