Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book Review: How We Got to Now

Title: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
Author: Steven Johnson (Twitter)
Review:

"Innovations usually begin life with an attempt to solve a specific problem, but once they get into circulation, they end up triggering other changes that would have been extremely difficult to predict."

What do you think is the most world-shaping innovation ever?  If you're like me, you probably thought of something like the Internet or mobile technology.  But, we'd be thinking too narrowly.  Maybe one day those things will make the cut.

In this book, Johnson looks at innovations that have totally recreated the way we live.  Here are some interesting tidbits that I enjoyed.

  • The creation of the printing press led to a huge need for reading glasses.
  • Air conditioning changed presidential elections. 
  • You can't read this blog post without glass, but the amount of ways glass plays into bringing this post to your eyes will boggle your brain.
  • Inventing the light bulb was only one small part of actually lighting up a city. 
What does this have to do with education?  I still have hopes of one day leading my own Innovation Class, and this book may well be required reading for that class. Innovation doesn't necessarily happen in a vacuum. One person's great idea can lead someone else to another great idea.  I learned how glass artisans in Venice were forced to relocate to a nearby island which caused an explosion of glass innovation.  
...by concentrating the glassmakers on a single island the size of a small city neighborhood, they triggered a surge of creativity, giving birth to an environment that possessed what economists call 'information spillover.'
"Information spillover" sounds exactly like what I would love to see out of the innovators in my school.  By reading this book, my hopes would be that my students would see that what they create goes beyond their personal bubbles but have the potential to change the way people all around see world!



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