This morning, while making my regular meanders about the internet, I found myself reading this month's trend report from trendwatching.com, which delves into the phenomenon of "foreverism." The site, which produces monthly consumer-related trend briefings, explains that, "While the ‘now’ has never been more popular, with many consumers still keen on instant gratification, trying to maximize the amount of experiences they can collect in as little time as possible (and with as little budget as possible), there are equally strong forces promoting the ‘forever.'" The report then goes into detail about the ways in which "foreverism" (the technologically-driven focus on what is seemingly endless) is affecting the way that we behave in the world, including our interactions with friends, co-workers, even brands.
While the briefing affords a large amount of space to the concept of a "forever" presence online (i.e. social networking profiles and your personal web imprint), "forever" trackability, and "forever" conversation, the topic I found most interesting was that of "forever beta," i.e. the endless and constant process of testing, technology-enabled live feedback, and reaction that has replaced the concept of a defined result. As the report states, "the process is the product."
This idea has gotten me thinking about what it is to grow up in a world that so values an inclusive, consumer-driven feedback cycle over a definitive solution. On the one hand, I love this trend! As a product of small progressive private schools, my whole education has revolved around a focus on the process. Why should we be results-driven in a way that assumes there is only one answer and only one way of arriving at a solution? Why not create a culture in which everyone can involve themselves in a process of sharing ideas and expect to be heard? How great that we can now truly utilize user feedback in a way that improves products and solutions quickly!
Yet, on the other hand, I worry that "forever beta" on overdrive will create a generation of people who value the inclusion of all ideas, the constant manipulation of thought to reflect the needs of everyone, but without the ability to filter those ideas, to sift through information, and ultimately, to solve a problem and employ this solution definitively.
I'm reminded of a professor at Swarthmore, Barry Schwartz, who's written an oft-quoted book called The Paradox of Choice. Schwartz states that too much choice, too many options, is more likely to lead to paralysis than satisfaction. (Half-seriously: "The secret to happiness is low expectations.") Maybe this is an old idea, but are we at risk of creating a culture where the expectations are so high, the amount of input so great, the feedback cycle so extensive, that we are lost in a zillion decision-making processes that are "forever" with no discernible way to actively implement our results?
How can we, as individuals concerned with education, give students the tools to not only participate in the collaborative feedback process, but to critique it as well?