JTE v1n2 - Book Review- The Media Lab

Volume 1, Number 2
Spring 1990

          BRAND, STEWART.  (1988).  THE MEDIA LAB.  NEW
          YORK:  PENGUIN BOOKS, $10 (SOFTCOVER), $20
          (HARDCOVER), 264 PP. (ISBN 0-1400.9701-5)
                  Reviewed by Joseph McCade(1)
               Inventing the future at Massachusetts
          Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), the subti-
          tle of Brand's book, reveals a good deal
          about its content.  He describes the research
          efforts of some of the brightest people in
          the world at  M.I.T.'s Media Lab.  This
          unique facility allows these individuals to
          combine their talents with some of the
          world's most powerful computers in order to
          create radical developments in the field of
          communication.  Yet, the true value of this
          book is not the articulate and understandable
          descriptions of exciting new technologies.
          Brand's insightful commentary concerning what
          the work of the Media Lab can reveal about
          the direction and impacts of these new tech-
          nologies is the reader's true reward.
               Brand quickly dispels the idea that the
          implications of the work of the Media Lab
          might be limited to communications.  Review-
          ing the work of "information age" gurus,
          Brand reminds the reader of the economic im-
          portance of information-related activities.
          Information activities have now economically
          eclipsed activities in the agriculture, in-
          dustry, and service sectors.  Nicholas
          Negroponte, director of the Media Lab, be-
          lieves that many of the communications
          modalities are converging. This will result,
          he predicts, in a major leap which will af-
          fect society as profoundly as did the print-
          ing press.  Driving this technological spiral
          is the computer.  Computers will not only em-
          power this pending revolution, but will allow
          communication to become much more
          individualistic, more human.
               Facilitated first by the conversion to
          analog electronic communication and later to
          digital communication, information is begin-
          ning to migrate freely from one media to an-
          other.  In fact, these media are beginning to
          overlap one another.  Brand interprets
          Negroponte's beliefs about the importance of
          CD-ROM, E-mail, personal computers, and VCRs,
          in relation to this convergence of communi-
          cation technologies.
               Brand's experience as founder and editor
          of the Whole Earth Catalog and the Whole
          Earth Review helped him to understand and ap-
          preciate technology.  It is this perspective
          of technology which allows him to interpret
          the predictions of faculty and students of
          the Media Lab.  These predictions involve how
          technologies will interact and direct the fu-
               Although it is only a small part of the
          rich content of the book, technology educa-
          tors will probably find that the most mean-
          ingful part in Brand's book is the chapter on
          the Hennigan School.  This chapter explains
          Seymour Papert's experiment with a school of
          the future.  More than simply a computer-rich
          environment, the Hennigan School embodies an
          alternative learning philosophy.  Those who
          have not read Papert's MINDSTORMS: CHILDREN,
          COMPUTERS AND POWERFUL IDEAS will find that
          doing so will greatly increase their under-
          standing of Papert's philosophy, a philosophy
          of learning by discovery.  Children are en-
          couraged to guess, explore, experiment and
          imitate.  Learning rather than teaching is
          the focus.  This more natural learning style,
          one in which children follow their own inter-
          ests, is believed to encourage the develop-
          ment of a love of learning.
               The computer is combined with a program-
          ming language called Logo, which Papert de-
          veloped for children.  Logo is intended to
          take advantage of the child's interest in the
          computer to encourage him or her to learn by
          doing--to experiment.  A powerful graphics-
          orientated programming language, Logo rewards
          the user quickly.  This provides Papert's
          philosophy with a platform.  With a minimum
          of help or intervention children are supposed
          to "learn" Logo.
               Of extreme interest to technology educa-
          tors is the addition of LEGO to the Logo
          learning system.  The LEGO construction sys-
          tem is linked to the computer via an inter-
          face and controlled by a special version of
          Logo.  With sensors and actuators, the
          LEGO/Logo combination is a complete computer
          control system.  Although the LEGO/Logo sys-
          tem may be an attractive way to teach com-
          puter control, this use will almost certainly
          overlook the most significant attribute of
          the system.  The discovery learning potential
          of the system as a means of involving stu-
          dents in problem solving and higher order
          thinking is foremost in Papert's mind. The
          LEGO/Logo system when linked with hands-on
          experiments holds tremendous potential for
          technology education.  If educators can look
          beyond the attractive appearance of the hard-
          ware to an understanding of the philosophical
          purpose of the system, a step toward improved
          technology education could occur.
               This book should be required reading for
          technology educators. It facilitates the lit-
          eracy of the reader on leading edge technol-
          ogy.  More importantly, Brand's book has the
          potential of beginning something our programs
          have needed for a long time -- a well-
          articulated perspective on how technology
          might influence the future.  
          1   Joseph McCade is Assistant Professor, Department 
              of Industry and Technology, Millersville University, 
              Millersville, Pennsylvania.
          Permission is given to copy any
          article or graphic provided credit is given and
          the copies are not intended for sale.
Journal of Technology Education   Volume 1, Number 2       Spring 1990