‘The Great Acceleration’ and Your Crazy Higher Ed Life

Why you have a fast job in a slow institution.

September 22, 2016

The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster by Robert Colvile

Published in May of 2016.

Google’s unofficial motto, according to Robert Colville, is “If you’re not fast, you’re fucked”.

I can’t find any evidence that this is really true - but nobody would be surprised if it was.  Same motto could apply to Amazon (maybe more appropriately so), Facebook or Netflix.

This motto would never be applied to higher ed.  Our institutions are built to be the opposite of fast.  We are allergic to rapid change.

And honestly - that is a good thing.  We should rejoice that our higher ed culture is resistant to the latest fads and the trendiest trends.  Our time horizons are measured in decades, if not centuries, and this long term view is the key to our social value.

So why do the lives of the people who work in higher ed feel so accelerated - if our institutions move so slowly?

Reading The Great Acceleration might provide some clues. The reason that you are crazy busy in your higher ed job is that you have basically chosen to be crazy busy.  You like being crazy busy.  We juggle a million projects because those projects are inherently interesting.

Could it be a good thing that our work lives as higher ed people looks more like the social lives of today’s teenagers than the work lives of our higher ed foremothers and forefathers?  Sure.

We complain about never having enough time.  But who would want to go back to the days of an academic career before the the age of information abundance?  Who would want to swap the sedate academic life of typewriters and paper journals for the 24/7/365 life of online learning, Twitter, and Google Docs?

Our accelerated academic life has created all sort so new opportunities for scholarship, for professional connections, and (if we play our cards right) for better teaching and learning.

The Great Acceleration recognizes that our technologically driven and media saturated world has become fragmented and exhausting - but makes the argument that we are better off for the quickening.  We could choose to turn off the e-mail, the Twitter feeds, the Slack channels, and the Open Online Courses - and sometimes we do.  But then we turn them back on again, as it is through these information sources and social platforms we learn, connect, and create.

Do you have a fast job in a slow institution?

How would you say that the great acceleration has hit the world of higher ed?

Why is it that our oldest (and slowest) institutions of higher learning seem to be the most resilient in the face of challenging competitive, economic, technological and demographic forces?

What are you reading?



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