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Who will be the next Steve Jobs?

Posted on: December 13, 2010

I must have been an exceptionally good boy this year. Not only did Santa come early for me (Black Friday, to be exact), but he delivered that souped-up iPad I was wishing for, and it has been nearly impossible for me to put it down since.

As soon as I finished the initial set-up, I started  downloading apps with the sort of enthusiasm I once reserved for unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning. Three personal favorites: Pandora and Netflix — both for streaming entertainment, of course — and the oddly addicting Orbital.

I’ve also got multiple e-readers loaded and operational — Kindle, Google eBooks and iBooks — and the plethora of reading choices from among them is overwhelming. I must say that when I first saw Apple’s marketing that describes the iPad as “a magical and revolutionary product,” I was more than a little skeptical.

I am a skeptic no more.

As a media device, it is (thus far, anyway) unparalleled in its ability to deliver audio, video and other digital content in a way that engages and keeps one completely absorbed for hours on end. The interactivity and entertainment is engrossing in a way I’ve never experienced before. It is loads of right-brain fun.

And, that’s what’s got me worried.

Is it possible that the widespread adoption and use of such magical devices will further accelerate our nation’s educational and economic decline? Will we over-stimulate our collective right brain — at the expense of the left? Will we lose our edge?

Thomas Friedman has been quite vocal for some time about our need to make math and science education a top priority in order to stay competitive in the 21st century.

Seeing the news of the world these days, it’s hard to disagree.

Just this week, the OECD released results for its latest PISA test (Programme for International Student Assessment), which measures learning by 15-year-old students in 65 countries. Students in Shanghai, China outscored their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science. Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Finland round out the top 5.

And how did the U.S. students do? Not so well…

So, why blame the iPad?

Well, it is an amazing device, to be sure. But, will its wizardry inspire a new generation of American students to become engineering and math wizards themselves? Or is all that right-brain fun too distracting?

Obviously, the tectonic shifts occurring across the globe today are driven by a multitude of micro and macro forces. And, among those is the significant rise in income and education levels of many millions of people in the developing world. And, what is driving that? Their desire for a better life, a higher standard of living — something more like ours.

We are fortunate, indeed, to live in an extraordinarily rich country with a stable political system and a culture that rewards hard work and creativity. But, have we gotten too comfortable with all that we have? Do we take it all for granted?

I love that with a fast-enough connection, I can feed my addiction for news that is updated instantaneously throughout the day, I can stream the movie Up, or I can listen to my customized Hooverphonic radio playlist from just about anywhere I’d like to be. A huge thank you goes out to the all engineers who designed the device and to those who developed the many systems that make my access to and experience with information like nothing that’s come before.

And, let’s hope that of the 5.5 million iPads analysts expect Apple to sell in Q4 2010, a number end up in the hands of some very bright 15-year olds who, after an acceptable period of using it for pure enjoyment, are inspired to put it aside for awhile and get back to solving advanced trigonometry problems on their way to becoming the next Steve Jobs or Tim Berners-Lee.

The kids in China are already there.

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1 Response to "Who will be the next Steve Jobs?"

Dave, you think you’re addicted now, just wait till you learn about “angry birds.”

To think that at one point (not too long ago) there was no internet. Pretty soon we might be able to download skill sets (Matrix). Hey, why not…..

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