Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

Entry #319 begins a series describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), and how the US should prepare.  Part of the preparation is understanding and appreciating other countries and cultures. How do people in other countries/cultures think, behave, and interact with others? Developing this understanding will help prepare the United States for how to respond when other countries attempt to use technology against us in the future.

As technology has evolved from sailing ships to ocean liners to airplanes to communications via satellite, the world has become smaller. Earlier this week, I was reminded how small the world has become with advances in technology. A chain of communications started when I emailed a business colleague, congratulating her on more than 20 years operating a consulting firm.

Her response, which I received the next morning, thanked me for the note…and also indicated she was responding from a hut in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. A couple of back-and-forth emails explained she had access to some solar power and a slow-speed satellite link. The link was fast enough to allow sending a picture of a rather large tarantula meandering on the deck surrounding her hut.

While my business colleague was experiencing diversity in the Amazon rainforest by working with indigenous people, what about experiencing diversity at home – in the city where you live? In your neighborhood? And does experiencing diversity even matter? Well, yes, I think diversity does matter if the US is to develop an effective strategy to capitalize on the coming technology tsunami rather than being overwhelmed by the technology tsunami.

A key component of preparing for the technology tsunami is education…and education for all age cohorts. Part of that education includes learning about and really understanding other cultures. Ideally that understanding is gained on the ground in the local country. Unlike my business colleague, few families, however, can afford to travel worldwide and experience these cultures firsthand. What’s an alternative? A great way to start is trying to understand cultures in your immediate locale. Most urban areas in the US have pockets of different ethnic groups and cultures.

What happens when your locale is not diverse? When everyone in your locale looks and speaks the same? Does the lack of diversity really matter? Homogeneity may be comforting but it runs the risk of stifling creativity. Homogeneity is also a breeding ground for “group think.” Make no mistake, overcoming the threats of technology tsunami will require significant creativity.

Recently my wife and I visited some longtime friends who moved to a well-known retirement community in Florida. Their house is lovely, and in the larger community the grounds well-maintained and almost every shopping need and service is nearby. Our host jokingly referred to the development as a “reservation.” He also noted liking to stay on the reservation and avoiding the real world, which he considered not always pleasant.

Another friend, whom we met for coffee, had lived and worked on the “reservation” but later moved to a nearby location. He noted how virtually every aspect of life in the retirement community was managed, including hiring doctors in the clinics who fit a “Marcus Welby” profile.

During our stay, which included golf, multiple restaurants, shopping and extensive travel by golf cart, neither of us saw any blacks, Hispanics or members of virtually any non-western European ethnic group. Only one member of a golf group that I was in, which included several foursomes, was Asian.

So, back to the question – “Does diversity really matter in preparing for the technology tsunami?” Does living in a sanitized bubble really matter, especially for people who are retired? Do the retirees really care about the coming technology tsunami? And does the rest of society care what retirees think?

My vote – living in a sanitized bubble is not good for society, even for retirees. Most retirees living in the bubble have children and grandchildren. Why Gramps may be technology challenged and/or a curmudgeon, Gramps still has some influence on the grandchildren. And Gramps still votes. And we know Gramps mostly watches Fox News, which seemed to be the channel of choice virtually everywhere we went on the reservation.

The technology tsunami will be a major threat to Gramps children and grandchildren. Without an effective US response, sustained economic growth will become nearly impossible. To create an economy that can capitalize on the technology tsunami…and not be overrun by it…will require a range of thinking from people of different cultures.

If you don’t believe diversity and creativity are linked, take a look at the mix of faculty and students at say the Media Lab at MIT. Then take a close look at the range of highly innovative ideas and products emerging from the lab. Living in a bubble, whether physically or politically, lessens the opportunity for creative thinking.

Diversity can be accomplished a number of different ways. Ideally, diversity evolves on its own without any intervention. For example, in the eight houses in our neighborhood that I pass on the way to get coffee, there are families from at least four countries. And the eight houses include families practicing at least five different religions. An even more diverse population exists in the apartments that I pass closer to the coffee shop. That cultural/religious mix happened on its own.

Forcing such a diverse mix is problematic and smacks of too much government intervention. However we…societal we…can Implement policies that encourage more diversity….and we can also prohibit policies that intentionally discourage diversity.

What about policies that encourage diversity in schools? How should diversity in schools accomplished? A seemingly obvious solution is busing. While busing might make create a diverse classroom, busing has many negatives, including excessive cost and excessive travel time for many students. Another downside of busing not often discussed is the risk that businesses may decide not to locate in a school district where busing is mandated. The longer-term effect of not attracting businesses and staff is a lower tax base and slower economic growth for the school district.

A policy that discourages diversity is charter schools. North Carolina is an example of this strategy, although not necessarily representative of all states with charter schools.

In North Carolina, charter schools: (i) receive taxpayer funding; (ii) select students, although the charter schools claim admission is open to all who “qualify”; (iii) are not subject to the same rules and/or oversight as public schools. Recently, the North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring all teachers in North Carolina to secure a North Carolina license. Teachers licensed to teach in other states still need to pass the North Carolina test because the test in another state “might not be as rigorous” as in North Carolina. All teachers…oops all teachers except those in charter schools…are subject to the license requirement. Thus, any teacher relocating to North Carolina is effectively incentivized to avoid the hassle of getting a NC teachers license required for a public school and instead, teach at a charter school. In addition to not needing a license, teacher pay at a charter school is not subject to the same guidelines as at a public school.

The continued negative policies of the North Carolina legislature to erode the value of public education is one of the reasons I wrote blog Entries #324 and #325, which outline why banning charter schools is a necessary component of preparing for the technology tsunami. Still, banning charter schools still does not solve the diversity issue. And busing kids to create diversity has too far many negatives.

What’s the solution to more diversity in schools and society? Economics and attitude. More to come.