When will the sonic boom of comprehension be heard?

“Opening with sinking spirits

Text-books whose right answers loom

Like jet ‘planes so far above them,

Waiting for the sonic boom

Of comprehension …”

Genesis – Bruce Dawe

I used to love teaching this poem with Year 8 students. Bruce Dawe captures so beautifully the essence of an Australian school at the start of a new year. The words that have always stuck with me are, “the sonic boom of comprehension”.  I know so well the feeling that comes when something finally clicks and you feel like a light has switched on within you.

When I began to understand the communicative potential of the Internet around four years ago, I had one of those sonic boom of comprehension moments. I knew my life was forever changed, but I also knew that this represented more than just a shift in the way I thought and responded. It represented a huge societal shift, a change in the way everything would work. I knew I had to get involved and develop an understanding of these shifts. I thought at the time that I was late to the party; it seemed there were so many already with an invitation and their party clothes on. I realise now I wasn’t lagging too far behind at a party that is still inviting guests along.

I’m getting a little worried right now about the guests who haven’t yet shown up. There are plenty of them out there. People who don’t quite fathom how the Internet is changing so much of what we do and how we conduct every part of our lives. Evidence of this seems to be mounting on a daily basis, but I’m not sure people are making the connections.

In Australia, we’ve recently seen the demise of Borders and Angus and Robertson Bookstores. While people seem to genuinely mourn their passing, it seems the growth of online booksellers like the Book Depository are hitting booksellers hard. We’ve even had Senator Nick Sherry, our federal Small Business Minister weigh into the discussion with this comment that has inflamed bricks and mortar booksellers,

”I think in five years, other than a few specialist booksellers in capital cities we will not see a bookstore; they will cease to exist,”

It seems to me that Booksellers, like Libraries, are experiencing what the music industry has had to contend with for quite a few years now. The model is changing, and we need to morph to fit the new, because an inflexible die cast approach just isn’t going to cut it in a world that does things differently now.

But it’s not just Bookstores that are feeling the pinch. We are seeing change feed to other industries too. Retail outlets like clothing stores and small goods suppliers are seeing consumers move to online shopping where the middleman disappears and direct buying means cheaper prices. My father in law recounted a story to me recently where he said a shoe store had resorted to charging customers when they asked to try on shoes, because they were sick and tired of being the ‘try before you buy from an online source’ store. I don’t know if this story holds true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.

What truly worries me is this. What happens when the take up for online shopping really starts to take hold here in Australia? I saw statistics recently that said Australia has not yet hit anywhere near the stride countries like the USA have when it comes to adoption of online shopping. What impact will this have on our retail industries and the job market these industries support? It worries me that our desire to get product at the cheapest possible price may ignore the fact that this places the livelihood of people in peril. I know this goes hand in hand with change, and new businesses will arise as a result of the shifts taking place, but I’m not entirely confident what will emerge will meet our employment needs.

Whatever the outcome, there is little doubt there is a need to understand the rise of participatory culture and the way it will change the industrial age business model still operating for many out there. Once again, the need for understanding does not just exist within the business community. Our education system needs an understanding too if we are to prepare our students well.

A good place to start to understand what business is thinking is Slideshare. I’ve taken to viewing the home page on a regular basis and looking at the top presentations of the day. You can learn an awful lot from what people are posting. One such presentation caught my eye just the other day. Take a look at ‘Invasion of the Participatory Culture‘, and see if you take something from it.

View more presentations from Jeff Hurt
I really don’t know what the next few years will bring, but I know I’m better informed than most people who’ve yet to feel the sonic boom of comprehension. There’s little doubt we’re in the midst of a pretty large rave party that’s attracting attendees by the minute. Best we start understanding how we need to dress so we don’t get refused entry.

8 Replies to “When will the sonic boom of comprehension be heard?”

  1. Hello In The Middle fan. Just received your thank you from twitter. Love the post. Hope your words give those of us who had experienced the sonic boom of comprehension a more complete understanding for the changes taking place in education. Enjoy your blog – Your #1 fan in San Antonio Texas.

    1. Glad I’m not alone with these thoughts. I just wonder why we don’t hear them echoed more loudly though mainstream media.

  2. I guess I am a glass half full kind of person. I don’t see the demise of books or even a divide between the haves and have nots as much as a change in business model. I just took a trip of about 250 miles through the Appalachian mountains (from Albany NY to State College Pennsylvania) in which there was only one metropolitan area (Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, PA). As we drove, I notices there were cell towers in each of the towns, which had not been there 5 years ago. These small rural areas have always been behind the rest of the US. But now, thanks to mobile technology, these small town residents have access to goods and services they were too remote to access in the past.

    Borders is not doing well in the US either, but partly because they didn’t anticipate the ebook demand that tablets, ereaders, and mobile devises would create. On the other hand, locally, we have had a huge upturn in “boutique” publishers in which there are small publishing runs which are sold over the internet. These voices would not be heard if there was no internet. Just like the music industry (where new distribution methods such as MySpace and Youtube were developed) there is now greater variety for books, including the format. Many of my students from lower income families have ereaders, mobile devises, or internet enhanced cell phones that they use to access books and other reading materials. However, there is still access to traditional books either in discount stores, libraries, or online (in our state, all libraries are wired with computers which a patron has access to for free).

    So I don’t see that there will be a demise in book readership, but rather a change in how it is accessed and filtered.

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