Unreasonable Bedfellows: CES, Higher Ed, and the Adult Entertainment Expo

The big enchilada of tech shows, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), bows in Vegas next week. It is a strange event–Jim and I went once, spurred by my naive belief that it would be fascinating and accessible to people who worked in educational media and online learning. But it’s really–or seemed to us–a biz to biz show, with the most innovative and mind-blowing things not typically on the exhibit floor, and the star presentations completely inaccessible to the punters.

It’s also exhaustingly enormous–and has outgrown the Vegas convention center, one of the biggest in the world. Now that so much of life seems to take place in front of, with, or otherwise connected to electronic rectangles, what isn’t Consumer Electronics? The year we were there (a decade ago) RFID was big, as were prototype Wii-type consoles, smart fridges and other appliances, and weird eerie glowing tube amps, each in their own booth in a dark hotel room, and costing more than my annual salary.

Also, in force was the crowd from the Adult Entertainment Expo. Not a part of CES, but held around the same time, tacit acknowledgment of the commonplace that the adult entertainment industry has been a major driver of innovation in consumer electronics. (Eighteen years ago, John Tierney noted “In the history of communications technology, sex seems to be the most enduring killer app.” He also makes the point that since pornographers are excluded from mainstream communications channels, they are at the fringes of networks, where technological innovation is more likely to happen.)

Now, a group at the center, not the fringe of society has joined the CES party, and they may be more welcome, although they probably tip worse than the pornographers. The HigherEd Tech Summit will take place, bringing the blandishments of Larry Summers and Joel Klein (who do not exactly lack for venues) to the teeming masses of gearheads. The marketing copy for the HigherEd Tech Summit is breathless:

With a trillion dollars in expenditures and millions invested in new tech ventures, education is a high-stakes industry. Start-ups, publishers, institutions, government, foundations and investors are all betting on new digital strategies to effect a turnaround in K-20 education.

From mobile devices to MOOCS, personalized instruction to global universities, e-texts to on-demand learning, a new generation of education services, tools, and institutions is emerging. Are you keeping up with the digital revolution?

Join us at HigherEdTECH, where you meet the leaders, see the latest innovations and explore opportunities and challenges — in the midst of CES, an unsurpassed display of technology innovation.

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 11.05.59 AM
“Is this where George Steiner is launching his MOOC on metaphysics of the 19th century French novel? Or where Jenna Jameson is launching her instructional ebook series, “Limber up!”? Both! Yay!”

Colleges and Universities….they are a changin’

Wiring the Ivory Tower
Adaptive learning, e-books, smart phones, tablet, 3D and other digital innovations are changing traditional notions of what it means to go to college & offering exciting possibilities for reinventing higher education.

Taking Tech to College
Today’s young people are avid users of digital technology and don’t leave their devices at the college gate. Over 18 million students in U.S. colleges and universities are driving the use of technology for everything from taking classes, to accessing textbooks, to communicating with instructors and taking exams.

Disrupting Higher Education
As traditional institutions come under increasing pressure to do more and better with less — expand access, ensure quality, increase relevancy and raise graduation rates — technology is moving from the fringe of the campus to the quad.

Dizzy About Digital
Promising digital innovations are emerging at an extraordinary pace. Educators are finding it difficult to keep up and are looking for new sources of credible information and guidance.

Collaboration Breeds Innovation
High-tech companies, foundations, publishers and government are collaborating with colleges & universities to develop and deploy technology to solve today’s educational challenges.

Is there anything new here, beyond, not to put too fine a word on it, greed? (Perhaps that’s enough?) I am all for innovation, and am a tech lover–god knows I’m staring at my fave electronic rectangle at this very moment and will be for the rest of the day, as well as a bona fide education nerd. And I can admit that perhaps a few aspects of this casino/win the lottery moment in ed tech might land a winner. But talking about a revolution seems an oversell to me (and perhaps at least a decade or century out of date: early thoughts about the telephone were that it would be a great distance ed tool so people could listen to lectures). If anything, the current moment in education looks a lot like a basic cable remake of the tech bubble of 2000-1. Slow, mothra-like, and ravenous, the tech bubble glides into the university to feed. Cue dark ominous music. Final scene, tech bubble chokes on education morsel that had looked so tasty, spitting up nasty hairball of academic governance and faculty intransigence. (Oh, and IP rights. Details, details.) Roll credits as venture capital returns to doing their revolutionary good works for the financial sector. Students and teachers go back to “we’ll muddle through” approaches, and their long standing skepticism about institutional anything. Higher ed returns to its one absolute, abiding strength: the ability to resist reform, no matter how loud the world’s chatter about it gets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: