3 Small Technology Advances That Would Change My Life

Dreaming about 2020.

September 29, 2016

Working at the intersection of learning and technology means spending much of your time living in the future.

Most everyone I know in edtech believes that the future will be more interesting than the present. We believe in the power of technology as a positive force to improve higher education - and we seem to persist in this belief despite all indications that we might just be delusional.  (Really, has all the money that we’ve spent on technology done much to improve postsecondary productivity?)

Obsessing about the future of technology means obsessing mostly about big things.  We read every article, book, blog post and tweet that we can find about autonomous vehicles.  We love talking about the electric cars, smart grids, and the installation of solar panels on every rooftop. We are curious about virtual and augmented reality. We obsessively worry if robots are going to take all the jobs.

Some of us wake up each morning thinking about how we could possible utilize technology to make a quality liberal arts education accessible to everyone.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the most difficult (and interesting) technology challenge of the 21st century is figuring out how to scale the seminar.

Autonomous vehicles, electric cars, smart grids, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, usable VR that does not make us sick, job taking robots, and even leveraging technology to scale quality postsecondary education - these are all big technological advances.  Big goals.  Technology leaps that will require large-scale investments, coordinated efforts, and time.

We probably don’t spend enough time thinking about small advances in technology.

What would be the small tech advances that would make a big difference in your life?

The 3 small technological advances that I’d like to see by 2020 are:

1 - A Really Good and Affordable Electric Bike:

How would a really good and affordable electric bicycle change your life?  Would you commute on your electric bike, knowing that you would not arrive on campus all sweaty?

Would you get rid of a car?

A quality electric bike will set you back a few thousand bucks.  That is crazy.  We need a reliable, fast charging, and long-running electric bike for a few hundred dollars.

2 - Tiny and Flush Wireless Headphones:

My dream is to have headphones that always stay in my ears.  Headphones that are invisible to everyone else.  Headphones that allowed me to start playing an audiobook the second that I had a free minute.

Headphones that made it easy to fall asleep to an audiobook.

Maybe my audiobooks would live in the cloud.  No need to store my books on my phone.  Just press my earlobe, and the audiobook would start playing.

You might like invisible and permanent (or at lest persistent) headphones for music, or podcasts, or maybe phone calls.  (If anyone is making phone calls in 2020).

3 - The Ability To Easily Borrow and Lend Digital Books:

I have so many digital books.  I want to share my digital books with you.  I’d love nothing better than to be able to lend my digital books - one book at a time to a single person.

The problem is that since selling my soul to Jeff Bezos, and buying all my books through Amazon and reading all my books on an Amazon device or app, I can no longer share my books.  Amazon has a very limited and totally lame digital book lending system - a system that I’ve given up trying to understand.

What else do I have to sell to Bezos so that he will agree to let me lend my digital books?

What small technology advances would change your life?  

Can we think of small tech advances that would have a big impact in higher education?


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