One of the activities that we have recently begun in the Futurism strand of Life Design is to have students bring in the “most important” news item of the past week. The criteria for evaluating importance are 1). Long term impact and 2). Large number of people impacted. Each student is expected to bring in a news item and then discuss why that item is likely to represent an event with long-term, large-scale impact.
This is not a simple activity. Upon reflection, most students quickly discover that particular accidents, natural disasters, political scandals, and other things that fill the news cycle are usually unlikely to have a long-term, large-scale impact. Gradually they begin to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the processes that lead to significant changes. An item that might receive very little news coverage, such as a significant cost reduction in lab-grown meat, might have more impact than do items that receive immense coverage, such as crashes of Boeing737s. Students also discussed the impact more gradual processes have, such as plastics accumulation in fish. How does one account for those? They also discussed activism – clearly in retrospect, Gandhi’s activism in India eventually led to the end of colonialism in India and the collapse of the British empire. But will, say, the yellow vest protests in France have a long-term, large scale impact or not? One student was aware of the recent conflict between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers. For now, the conflict seems to have been resolved peacefully, but one can certainly make a case that an event of that nature is worth paying attention to.
Thus, the real motivating factor of this exercise is not merelycurrent events for the sake of current events. Instead, we want our students to begin to evaluate even contemporaryinformation with respect to its long-term, large-scale impact. Ultimately this framing will serve as a motivatorfor learning a great deal about technology, innovation, government, economics,international affairs, environmental issues, probability and statistics, andmany other domains. Understanding howthe world works is endlessly complex.
But we start very simply, with a question you may discuss athome: What was the most important newsthis week, if we are focused on long-term, large scale impact?