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“We know that technology and culture is changing faster than the current workplace model can keep up supporting. Have you ever experienced this in work or school?”

In 1995, (I’m giving away my age here!) I was nearing completion of my undergraduate degree in Geography and Geosciences and enrolled in a strongly recommended course, Cartography. This was old school map-making, with vellum and calligraphy-style pens that were challenging to use well. Over the course of the semester, I wrangled with those pens and created map after map of countries and lands, real and imagined. I learned a great deal about graphic layout and design, as well as the fundamentals of map-making.

When school reconvened for the next semester, the Geography Department announced an abrupt shift away from the traditional paper-based map systems towards the new digital form of mapping known as GIS, or Geographic Information Systems. Before I graduated, I took one of the new courses that covered the basic foundational principles of the new mapping technology, but the department did not yet offer any hands-on GIS classes.

After college, I soon found myself working for an environmental consulting company where GIS skills were recognized as highly valuable, and when I applied for a position with the local planning commission the following year, in-depth GIS expertise was absolutely required. In less than three years, map-making completely transformed from the way it had been done for thousands of years, to a cutting-edge, layered digital representation that could be easily modified and expertly analyzed.

This swift and absolute alteration in traditional methodologies was not atypical during this time period as the rate of technological change began to ramp up significantly. There was a sense in the field of physical sciences of scrambling to catch up, but when compared to today’s breakneck pace of innovation and technical evolution, even the recent past seems grounded in stability and set to a more leisurely tempo.  Thomas and Brown describe the modern world as in “near-constant flux” (p. 48) and our information environment as “constantly being changed and reshaped” (p. 42).

I was a witness to the digital mapping revolution, and the map-making skills that I acquired in college turned out to be a few steps behind what I actually needed in my career. As technology and information resources continue to transform at increasingly higher speeds, collective and constant forward-thinking is essential. A culture of learning based on unlimited information and a bounded, yet free environment, such as that described by Thomas and Brown, will be necessary to allow innovation and imagination to flourish, and will make it more likely that we can keep pace with the constant change.

Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Self-published via CreateSpace, Middletown, DE.

 

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