The Best Time to Plant a Tree Was Twenty-Five Years Ago

There is a Chinese proverb that says, to the effect, that the best time to plant a tree was twenty-five years ago and the second best time is now.

In our perspective of time, this proverb represents our most desirable truth and sets the stage for a look back over the first twenty-five years of T.H.E. Journal and creates a mirror from which to refract a picture of the next twenty-five years.

How Far Have We Come?

Today we find technology and education careening toward the new century. We still have almost 1,000 days before us and the pace is frenetic. Consumer electronics companies, computer companies and digital manufacturing companies are inventing digital everything. In addition, Bill Gates now bought Web TV. That is a real signal focusing on the new "screenage" population to jump to TVPC, TV RAM and all of the variations we dreamed about at the first Microsoft CD-ROM conference in 1986 in Seattle. At that meeting, the idea of the interactive compact disc with serious audio-visual features was the center of our discussion.

I had the privilege of attending that meeting as the President of PolyGram Recordsí new business division (American Interactive Media, Inc.). I was charged with helping to take PolyGram, Philips, Sony, Matsushita and Microsoft into the interactive media business. All this was the culmination of earlier work with laser disc, CD-Audio and the advances of the sixties and seventies.

In the early 1970s, I met the energetic Ed Warnshuis and Sylvia Charp, and had the opportunity to help that duo launch T.H.E. Journal and I have been here for the first twenty-five years. So I say with accurate perception, and with great pride that: "We have come a long way, baby."

Looking back it is clear that the past twenty-five years has been a period of continually increasing speed in the growth of technology in education. T.H.E. Journal, as both a chronicle of events and harbinger of the future, has accelerated in parallel with this growth. Because time passes so quickly, our next century is now countable days away. Since T.H.E. Journal is twenty-five years old I have been asked to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.

All boats rise with the tide. T.H.E. Journal has been on a long-term rise. T.H.E. Journal continues to make a unique and important contribution, and is well ensconced among the truly trusted band of media pundits central to our turning the media corner on the year 2000.

Look back to the early 1970ís, and T.H.E. Journal was there. Telecourses began to emerge in new and more successful forms. The computer was a visionary and controversial educational tool. The electromechanical and electronic boom in technology was moving toward the laser period of the 80ís to be followed by the optical digital drama of the 90ís.

Trying as hard as we could, we struggled with media in the 70ís and 80ís. We worked through the spreadsheet period of the 80ís, and we are now in the gadget-ridden 90ís. As we approach the year 2000, we will finally see the quality programs and services towards which we have been working. The physical, digital technology is now here. The intellectual tools are developing and our world is shrinking.

What Is Happening in Our "Incredibly Shrinking" World?

Our world has shrunk enormously in the last quarter century and this shrinkage will have great effects on our future. Letís look at some of the trends. The electronic 70ís, along with the emerging laser of the 80ís and now the digital 90ís, are providing us a burst of energy and invention as we cross to the new millennium. Computers are now available that can segment a screen to permit computing and TV watching simultaneously. Consumers can now buy machines that let them have access to the Internet via TV. In fact, as noted earlier, this was our vision started during my years at Philips and PolyGram -- developing interactive compact disc and the "set top box."

A PCTV-TVPC or whatever this hydra-headed medium morphs to become, it has been born. Examples of rapidly increasing change continue to appear. Last week (late April, 97), Texas Instruments unveiled its C6 chip, which by next year will make modems 120 times faster than those presently available. Soon, a single phone line at home will carry a conversation in your kitchen and an e-mail exchange in your den. Motorolaís Iridium project alone will put 66 satellites in geo-synchronous orbit before the turn of the century, creating one of many global wireless phone systems. The present U.S. administration assures us that all of our schools will be wired.

The big telephone and cable companies are in an announced battle for your attention. Public and educational acceptance of technology is rising and we have reached the horizons we saw in 1970. Now, new and different horizons stretch out before us and we continue our quest.

Emerging Dimensions in Distance Learning

Distance Learning is growing apace, and the level of rhetoric is very high. Telecourses, controversial and virtually non-existent in 1970, are now regularly used by more than 1,000 colleges and universities. There are more than 250 consortia, licensing, sharing and regularly using the telecourse, as we know it now. There is growing activity in the United States, and an equal amount of activity in nations worldwide. Our government is urging distance learning, wiring cities and schools. The new Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulates the previously paralyzed telecommunications industry. The competition is creating wired and wireless dramas such as we have never seen.

The Western Governors have announced the creation of a virtual community. The governor of California has set up a distance learning task force. And, in our shrinking world, we see dramatic growth in both Asia and Europe, including announced commitments to distance learning. Global communications and intellectual participation will give us a brave new world of technology in education. In the twenty-five years ahead, distance learning will boom.

Continuing our analysis, the telecommunications industry expects such explosive growth that 15,000 U.S. companies have already applied for new numbers in anticipation of toll-free global phone service through 800-type numbers, followed by only eight digits. To summarize, we see in "the incredible shrinking world," dramatic advances in technology and we see technology in a state of crackling vitality.

The Emerging Media Psychology

We have all been technophiles and technophobes over the years. The first twenty-five years of T.H.E. Journal were heavily technology laden. The next quarter century will likely focus equally on intellectual technology along with our passion for physical technology.

Knowledge technologies and knowledge industries are now coming into their own. The next decade will find the concept of "unlocking the power of media through psychology" central to learning and entertainment. The idea of "transactional" learning will absorb the narrow perception of interactive learning.

Attention will assume a higher level of importance. Attention will become a commodity. Attention can be measured. People pay with attention. Advertisers pay for attention. Educators vie for attention and learners grow by using attention. In media, therefore, "attention has become one measurable medium of exchange."

Dimensions of attention, attention deficits, manifestations and attention management will be included among our fields of interest. New theories of learning and motivation; redefinition of education and the classroom; a new definition of IQ; acceptance of concepts of specific intelligence by the aging baby boomers weaned on an education boom; new understandings in neuroscience, health care, longer life spans; and a general higher level of global sophistication present the ingredients for a new media psychology.

There are extraordinary new dimensions in educational psychology to which we must pay attention. In fact, educational psychology is dramatically different from what it was twenty-five years ago and those working in and with learning psychology need to get and stay "up on the learning curve."

We now know that the power of new telecommunications and media will only be unlocked when we come to understand the psychology behind it. We are entering the century of "screenagers," generations whose behavior is stimulated by the new audio-visual dynamic linked to emotions, who are accepting of the idea of emotional intelligence and who will be the beneficiaries of new knowledge converging on education from many fields.

When one links the significant advances over the past years in neuroscience, systems theory, cognitive psychology, medicine, understanding personality and human development, one begins to realize the de-centered, pervasive nature of the changes now happening. Customized television, personal preference programming, new options, new knowledge in communications, theory and media psychology are now partnered in a new drama in entertainment education, entertainment, health care, commerce and politics.

Summary and Conclusions

During the past twenty-five years of T.H.E. Journal, we have developed many new theories to help us understand the complexities of why some people learn and some people do not. We have begun to understand concepts of habituation. We have begun to understand techniques for dealing with both negative and positive addictions. We know about new uses of language to trigger behaviors, and the synesthesia of emotion as intelligence. Synesthetics is the study of how diverse stimuli received by one sense engage response from another sense.

In the years to come, there will be significantly more research in multi-sensory fields of education and entertainment. The results of understanding sensory rivalry will legitimize emotion as an intelligence central to learning. Sometime ago, I coined the term "sociopsychomedia effect." It is relevant when describing the effect that newspapers, magazines, books, movies, recordings, radio, television, CD-ROM, DVD, Web sites and Internet-based telecommunications and media have on teaching, learning, the school and our lives.

A new educational psychology is here now. As we relate technology and education and build on our twenty-five years of experience, we must continually remind ourselves how important understanding theories and developing sound fundamentals are.

So, as we look ahead twenty-five years, let me conclude this overview with some specific points:

1. Improve Schools of Education
  • Schools of Education must include the new developments in neuroscience, systems theories, cognitive psychology, learning and motivation and human development in their teacher education programs. Teacher education programs are far behind the power curve.

    2. Overhaul Educational Psychology

    Education psychology must update itself to focus on the new areas of importance, again including psyto-genetics, neuroscience, new knowledge of behavior, understanding the implications of media and the management of situational cognition and learning.

    3. Focus on Sociopsychomedia Effects

    Focus on the sociopsychomedia effects, i.e., the individual and community behaviors resulting from constant exposure to media stimuli.

    4. Harness the Power

    Continue the tsunami. The media technology tidal wave is here. It cannot be thwarted. What needs to be done is what was done at Niagara Falls. Harness and control its power and use it to "light up our world."

  • Epilogue

    Almost twenty-five years ago, I had the privilege of being the first telecommunications editor for T.H.E. Journal and have been a contributing editor since its inception. I have had the pleasure of working with and admiring Ed Warnshuis and Sylvia Charp, and the extraordinary staff of T.H.E. Journal, as it was built. T.H.E. Journal has a proud history of contributions to education. It is respected and acknowledged. Twenty-five years represents an auspicious beginning and I look forward to pursuing important technological horizons in education and our new century.

    The second best time to plant a tree is now.

    Bernard Luskin is CEO of Luskin International, publisher of the Media Psychology Analyst, and Visiting Professor at Claremont Graduate School. Luskin has served as president of PolyGram, Philips and Jones International software and telecommunications companies. He has served as President of Orange Coast and Coastline Colleges and is an international specialist in forensic media and media psychology. He has produced thousands of hours of television, compact discs and interactive programming. He has received two Emmys and numerous other awards, and is the author of eight books. Luskin is the recipient of the UCLA and University of Florida awards for distinguished leadership in education and has been a contributing editor to T.H.E. Journal since its inception.

    Email: [email protected]

    This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.