Monday, May 3, 2010

When The Human Network is a Digital One

Cisco's recent advertising campaign, featuring actress Ellen Page, has focused on the human network—a network that grows decidedly more digital with each passing day. The four Cisco ads take viewers on a tour through Lunenburg, Nova Scotia where Page visits familiar haunts and remarks on how things have changed since her last visit. The common thread in her wonderment? The connectivity of digital media.

The ad that drew my attention is the one where Page visits a classroom and learns that students are taking a field trip—to China. Page is impressed and somewhat daunted, it seems, as she remarks that when she was in school, her class took field trips to the zoo. As a screen descends and a Chinese classroom comes interview, students on both sides of the camera wave and greet each other enthusiastically.  Given the response to Thursday's post concerning laptops in the classroom, I found this ad particularly salient. The days of the pen and paper pen pal are gone—replaced first by email and now by videoconferencing. Each transition has sought to make the connection between individuals stronger, but these transitions also represent shifts in our expectations regarding communication and information.

These ads—which also show Page viewing the digital monitoring system an the police station and a virtual check-up station at the town's physician's office—demonstrate ways that we are using technology in our everyday lives and the normalized attitude that accompanies the integration. For example, two women in a car next to Page check the traffic on a few roads ahead, reporting nonchalantly that Page has nothing to worry about. And ask if she's pulling their leg when she looks at them in disbelief. These ads depict a changing sense of community—one that is more broadly and intimately defined as technology provides the means to link members to distant areas, both locally and globally (as is the case with the doctor on vacation in China).

The business world has already begun to make similar changes that are being proposed by Cisco. For example, IBM uses Second Life for conferences. As technological connections trickle down to the community level, it becomes even more important to prepare children for the world that waits, and that includes education on the use of digital tools in the classroom and in the real world.

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