Thursday, March 18, 2010


I love it when a couple of pieces I set aside as interesting, but not quite blogworthy in their own rights, end up being a nice compliment to each other. First, consider this quote from A. Toffler, found at Joie De Vivre earlier
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
I presume that's Alvin Toffler, who wrote the bestseller, Future Shock, though I don't see the above at a page of his quotes. Ah, here it is. There are some good ones at those two pages, and I also found out that he and I share the same birthday, albeit 31 years apart.

That matches nicely with this article from, "Warning: Your Reality is Out of Date." The article introduces the concept of a "mesofact," a bit of data that is definitely true, but only for a fixed period of time. The first number I can recall hearing for the total global population was 4-4.5 billion, corresponding to the second half of the seventies. I knew we had passed 6 Gigahumans a while back, but I hadn't realized that it was 11 years ago, nor that we were anticipating the arrival of the seven billionth next year. In other words, that figure is one we need to keep relearning, if it's one that's important to us.
Our schools are biased against mesofacts. The arc of our educational system is to be treated as little generalists when children, absorbing bits of knowledge about everything from biology to social studies to geology. But then, as we grow older, we are encouraged to specialize. This might have been useful in decades past, but in our increasingly fast-paced and interdisciplinary world, lacking an even approximate knowledge of our surroundings is unwise.

Updating your mesofacts can change how you think about the world. Do you know the percentage of people in the world who use mobile phones? In 1997, the answer was 4 percent. By 2007, it was nearly 50 percent. The fraction of people who are mobile phone users is the kind of fact you might read in a magazine and quote at a cocktail party. But years later the number you would be quoting would not just be inaccurate, it would be seriously wrong. The difference between a tiny fraction of the world and half the globe is startling, and completely changes our view on global interconnectivity.
Dr. Arbesman's article is a fun read, and if you like to stay as current as possible on relevant facts regarding our ever-changing world, the mesofact website and associated blog are worth checking out. Minor quibble: many of the graphics link to Wikipedia as the data source.

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