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November 25, 2013

As Writing and the Gutenberg Press Changed the World, Are Apps Creating an App Generation? Howard Gardner & Katie Davis

By Rob Kall

Interview with Multiple Intelligences genius Howard Gardner and co-author Katie Davis discussing how apps are creating an Apps generation


Part 1 of 2, of the Transcript of the radio interview Multiple Intelligences Genius Howard Gardner-- Are Apps Producing an App Generation? 

Interview Guests: Howard Gardner and Katie Davis 

authors of  The App Generation; How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World

Howard Gardner is a rock star-- to hundreds of thousands of teachers, to psychologists and to me,  because of his development of the Multiple Intelligences theory. Dr.  Gardner is Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and senior director of Harvard Project Zero, an educational research group. He is renowned as father of the theory of multiple intelligences. 

Katie Davis is assistant professor, University of Washington Information School, where she studies the role of digital media technologies in adolescents' lives.

Interview transcript- Part 1

R.K.: Welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township New Jersey reaching metro Philly and South Jersey, available online through iTunes or at Opednews.com/podcasts, with an "s."  

My guests tonight are Dr. Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.  They're the authors of The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital Word.  Howard Gardner is a rock star to hundreds of thousand of teachers, to psychologists, and me, because of his development of the Multiple Intelligences Theory.  See Dr. Gardner is Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and senior director of Harvard Project Zero, an educational research group.  

Katie Davis is assistant professor University of Washington Information School where she teaches the role of Digital Media Technologies in Adolescent's Lives.  Thank you so much for being here.

H.G.: Thank you.

K.D.: Thank you.

R.K.: Now, Bottom Up Radio is based on the idea that we're in a transition from a Top Down to a Bottom Up world that is affecting us in all aspects of our lives: our culture, our politics, even the way people's brains work.  So when I saw this new book of yours I was very excited about it and  one of my goals is to have you frame some of your ideas in a Bottom Up -- Top Down approach if that's possible.  

Another goal is to discuss your Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which is what drew me to your book, Apps Generation.  So I'd like you to start out talking a little bit about Multiple Intelligences, and what the concept is, what new ideas you've had about it, and then we'll jump in to the Apps Generation and spend most of our time talking about that.  Can you begin with that?

H.G.: Sure.  I'm by training a psychologist and literally thirty years ago I published a book about multiple intelligences called Frames of Mind, and as a psychologist I was critiquing the notion that there's just a single continuum of smart to average to dumb and if a person is smart in one thing he or she should be smart in everything and if they're not smart in one thing they're going to be dumb in everything, and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences claims that human beings have several rather independent forms of thinking.  

When we talk about intelligence we usually mean people who do well in school and that's fine but it's certain kind of intelligences, it doesn't predict who is going to be good in the workplace, who is going to be entrepreneurial, who is going to be artistic, who is going to be mechanical, etcetera.  That idea has become pretty well known in education now; Dan Goldman's work in emotional intelligence is very close to my own interest in interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, work and learning styles -- I don't particularly like that term but is also recognition that kids learn in different ways and the teachers should be attuned to those ways.  

I developed these ideas long before I was thinking about the digital media but once the web developed and then web 2.0 and then increasingly small devices, pads and smart phones and so on, I realized that this is a boon to multiple intelligence's kind of thinking because if you just have a teacher and a text book that really limits the  modes of delivery and the extent to which you can individualize, but now anybody who sayd there's only one way to teach algebra or only one way to teach Spanish would be seen as being ludicrous because we know we can present things graphically, we can present them artistically, we can do it in more hands-on kinds of ways, using social networks, mashing things and so on, so, even though MI theory was developed in a pre-digital era, it's very compatible with Katie and my interests and how kids might be deeply affected by living in an app-rich environment.

R.K.: Okay, and last question about multiple intelligences before we jump in to the book, what, how many different kinds of intelligences are there now and what are your newest thoughts that have emerged in recent years in terms of the model?

H.G.: Sure.  Initially I listed seven intelligences and these were based on a lot of research ranging from historical and anthropological investigations to what we knew about the nervous system, and even a bit about the behavior genetics, thirty years ago and that list I can just give you is linguistic intelligence, logical intelligence, musical intelligence, spacial intelligence, bodily intelligence, and two kinds of humanly related intelligence, inter-understanding of others, and intra-understanding of yourself.  

Since then I've officially anointed another intelligence which I call the naturalist intelligence, that's the capacity to make significant distinctions in the world of nature between one plant and another, one animal and another, one cloud configuration and so on, and I've talked more speculatively about an existential intelligence which I call the intelligence of big questions like, "what's it all about?" "why are we here?" "what is death?" "what is love?" and what I call pedagogical intelligence which means not simply knowing how to do something well or how to understand it well but how to teach it to other people who may not have that skill or knowledge.  

But speaking honestly I am no longer in the intelligence branding business so to me it's important to say that people have different kinds of minds, they have different strengths, and my list is a good, opening list; but I don't claim to be doing benchtop research on that anymore.  

R.K.: Okay, so can each of you tell me a story that exemplifies the message of your book?  I really believe that stories tap in to reaching people in ways that just discussion or just the words don't do it.  So can you start with a story?

H.G.: Katie, why don't you start with a story?  Maybe one we begin the book with or something like that.

K.D.:  Sure, absolutely.  So, in our book, The App Generation, we have a sort of running dialogue that permeates the book and it's a dialogue amongst three generations so it's Howard, myself, and my little sister Molly who is quite a bit younger than I am, as she likes to point out she is seventeen, I'm thirty four, and Howard is a little bit older than that so throughout the book, Molly -

R.K.: Can you say how old you are, Howard?

H.G.: Yes, I'm now seventy, I was two years younger when we actually recorded that conversation so I was sixty eight.

R.K.: Okay.

K.D.: Right and so throughout the book we sort of reflect on the way each of us has come of age with the technologies of our time and when we were talking with Molly she told us a story about some classmates in her school, in high school -- she has since moved on to college -- but there was a practice at her school of the senior high school girls going on Facebook and "marrying" the freshman boys.  Now these were the popular senior girls marrying the up and coming star athletes among the freshman boys, and often, and this was done very symbolically, so often times these girls in real life were dating the senior boys who were on the same sports teams as the freshman boys they were marrying.  

And Howard and I were taken aback by this practice and this story, because it was totally foreign to us and we were trying to figure out what's going on here, so we had Molly kind of unpack it for us a little bit and we realized this practice really touched on three key themes that run through our books and our research over the last six years, and those are what we call the Three I's, of identity, intimacy, and imagination which are three areas of experience which are particularly salient for young people as they grow up.  But we looked at this story and we thought wow, you know?  There's a lot of interesting things going with respect to how these young people are presenting themselves.  

The identities, as married symbolically on Facebook, that we could use to talk about identity and what that looks like in a digital world.  Of course relationships, this was not a true intimate relationship that they were displaying but an act of some sort of relationship, a marker of peer group affiliation that is a practice, the way young people mark their peer affiliations online is very deliberate, very symbolic, so we saw evidence of that in this practice.  Finally, imagination and creativity, you know this is all about a symbolic, creative act so it allowed us to explore what does creative expression look like in this new digital world?

R.K.: And you refer to it in the book as an act of public performance which I think is an important part of the identity aspect of what you've described.

K.D.: Absolutely.  So that's one theme which really emerged quite strongly when we were looking at identity, that so much of young people's identities are very much public and performances.  They're very performative and you can really see this in the emergence of "selfies" that kids take with smart phones and constant status updates and profile "likes", all of this sort of converges to really underscore this performative aspect of identity and truly kind of see one's identity as a brand that you have to manage and cultivate carefully and present as fully formed and crystallized.  

Which means that all of your attention and focus on this outward exterior and this brand that you are cultivating, comes at the cost of focusing inward on your inner life and your thoughts and really exploring deeply your own feelings and who you are.

R.K.: Okay. Howard, how about a story from you?

H.G.: [laughs] Well I want to just talk about something that kind of shook me up and made me realize how different it is to grow up today than it was half a century ago and that is that, nowadays, many kids have never gotten lost.  Not only have they got a device that gets carried with them that has many different kinds of maps and routes as they can   pull up, but many of them have parents who are monitoring where they are and who can get in touch with them at all times.  

We have this phrase of "helicopter parents" and again doing a contrast with my generation we used to go away to college or go abroad, and you might contact your parents once a week or once a month; my mother, who is now one hundred and two still says when I'm on the phone, "I have to get off now it's getting too expensive", this is not something we think about very much nowadays.  

So I realize that not only do many kids not have the sensation of getting lost or being distanced, but that this is also a metaphor for how many kids nowadays think about their lives so Katie and I came up with this notion of the super app, an app is basically a convenient way to get something done online, it's an application, you want to know where to go and eat or how to get somewhere, or you want to check on the status of something or somebody, but the tendency now is to see your life as a set of apps., one after another.  You have to go to a certain school, take certain courses, have certain majors, have certain internships, and then when you graduate school you have to get a certain kind of job and maybe it's okay to do Teach for America for two years before you get that job but basically then you want to go and get a well paid job in New York or San Francisco or some other city, and of course life doesn't work out that way.  

You can't plan your whole life, at least not yet, but if you've always thought that your life was planned and if as Katie and I discovered after interviewing literally over a hundred adults who work with kids, kids are very risk averse, that is they don't want to stick their neck out unless they're told it's okay to do so, they can be in for a very demoralizing experience when the super app doesn't work out, when the job doesn't work out, when the internship doesn't work out or, to be a little parochial, when you post something which would be better not posted and that comes to dog you even years afterwards.  

So this notion that just as the individual app is quick and efficient and gets you where you want to go, if you think about life like this, this can be very risky in the sense that if you've never faced risk, when finally, something doesn't work out, you really don't know what to do, so this whole thing was quite a shock to me. 

R.K.: Okay, so I want to throw a quote at you from a talk you gave at an RSA forum in England recently and then a brief quote from your book and then we're going to get more in depth on it.  

So you said that, in a question and answer session that the " the digital explosion/revolution is as disruptive as the invention of writing and  the invention of print" and "the disruption in education, which I never thought would happen, has happened and is different."  That was what you said in the comments, in the discussion section.  Then you wrote in your book near the end, "the birth of writing did not destroy human memory though it probably brought to the fore different forms of memory for different purposes, the birth of printing did not destroy beautifully wrought graphic works, nor did it undermine all hierarchically organized religions."  

You go on to say "for every major medium of communication that began as the product of human imagination one can tell a story of how mega-corporations eventually came to dominate the media and to determine how human beings interacted with them."  A little further on you say, "we must also acknowledge the possibility of powers even greater than those associated with mega-corporations and powerful political entities."  

That made me think about a recent conference I attended organized by a Russian '.com' millionaire in his early thirties who wants to live forever and he brought together people who have the technology to make it happen.  One of them is Theodore Berger, he's at the University of Southern California, L.A., and he has invented a working hippocampal prosthesis which he has also characterized as a cognitive prosthesis.  Have you heard about this idea?

H.G.: I missed the key word, did you say hippocampal or did I make that up?

R.K.: Yes, the hippocampal -

H.G.:That's the part of the brain which is involved with encoding long term memories.

R.K.: Yes, and what they've done with rats and they're soon going to be doing it with monkeys,   is they've made a working digital piece of hardware that supplements the brain.  Now, I bring this up because it kind of goes where the ultimate app might go, which is very scary to me. And I think it kind of suggests, in a way, what some of your concerns that this will replace people doing things for themselves.  So, I'm kind of just throwing that in there because that's where apps could end up really -

H.G.:   Well, let me take initial stab at this and then Katie, you can be thinking of the best answer to this congeries of questions. First of all, I appreciate the fact that you listened both to the talk I gave in London a couple weeks ago, and also read the book.

There's a certain tension between those two platforms and then bringing in this, we would call it immortality research beginning with rats but ending with us, because those are really the  biggest questions that we both started with when we said how is the digital world changing us, and then at the end of the book where we talk about whether this is really going to be a significant new chapter in human nature, in human relations?  And speaking for myself, I don't think I would have spent the time on this unless I really thought that it might be and the big difference between the invention of writing and the invention of printing is it took centuries to work those things out, but we live in the time of Moore's Law where everything happens very very quickly and so what used to happen over decades or even centuries is now happening in a very short period of time.  

On the specific points that you've made, there's a tension between what we now call the End of Big, namely that so much stuff is being done in a much more local, what you're calling Bottom Up kind of way, but at the same time, the tremendous power of a few mega-corporations. And you may know that, but the readers may have not heard about this yet, David Eggers new book called The Circle, in which he basically brings this to the ultimate conclusion where there is one huge company called The Circle which basically controls every aspect of life, and people like it! It's kind of like the super-app has been installed and people like it.  

That's very different ending from 1984 which was definitely put forth as a distopian book, I think the difference here is that The Circle is much more member-friendly, if you will, and people are induced to think that they really want everything done by apps, and that any kind of secrecy or privacy is just a bad kind of thing.  

I actually think it's good to have novels like this, if The Circle is a novel which paints this picture, but my own thought is that we're not nearly there yet and these efforts to record everything or to be immortal are, we might say they're fountain of youth or kind of golden fountain kinds of dreams.  Not one that I can see in a world where we have nuclear weapons and climate change and nine billion people.  That seems to me to be unrealistic and yet I think it's good to have those warning signs.  But Katie, can you take it from there?

K.D.: Sure.  I would add that we're not there yet but it's important to think about where we're headed and we open up our final chapter with a quote form Alfred North Whitehead, the philosopher who observes that civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them and Howard was the one who found this quote and related it to our book and at first that sounds like a good thing, the more we can outsource and automate our tasks the better, right?  

That makes life a lot easier.  But if you take that to it's logical conclusion, all of the sudden we've given up a whole lot of our agency and I think there's a danger if we are outsourcing all of our decisions, all of our actions, and experiences to apps, and having them dictate our course of life for us, then we're giving up a lot of agency.  Of course we're not there yet but we see evidence of moving in that direction.

H.G.: Katie, maybe you -

R.K.: Just now you used the word "agency", can you describe what that means?  Because I think it's a really important concept in terms of this book.

K.D.: Sure.  I have been thinking a lot about this lately because, like many people I rely when I'm looking for a restaurant either in my neighborhood or when I'm visiting a new place, I rely on Yelp to give me suggestions, and if I'm trying to find my way I use Google maps, and it's hard to say that that is not a good thing.  It makes my decision-making process a lot easier and I don't really have to think about where I'm going ahead of time, I just sort of allow Google to take me there in the moment.  So it sounds good, but what am I giving up?  

Am I losing part of my decision-making capacity and my agency to chart my own path because of course Yelp is not going to give me all of the restaurants in my area so it's sort of framing my experience in a very specific way, and if I'm not thinking about that, then all of the sudden if I add apps like that, one on top of the other,  my whole experience of my life is being framed in a particular way that I haven't really chosen myself. 

H.G.: Katie, do you want to say something about App Dependence and App Enablement because I think that it may - 

K.D.: Sure!

H.G.:  - convey the difference between Yelp as a friend and Yelp as a dictator. *Chuckles*

K.D.: Yes, yes and a major tension that we've identified in our book, is this distinction that we have identified as one between App Enabling and App Dependence and if we can use technology, and apps in particular, as springboards or entry points into our experiences, and then know when to put them away and chart our own path, that is an example of using apps and more broadly the technology of today in an enabling way, just to get us going.  

But if we become dependent and reliant on apps to make our decisions for us, if we look to them first before we look inside ourselves in terms of showing us where we should be going, what sorts of experiences we should be having, who we should be interacting with, then we say that's using apps and technology in an app dependent way.  So there's that distinction where one is more agential, and the other one you're giving up your agency.  

H.G.: Also if I could just add here if you go to any kind of a site for suggestions about what to do, the assumption ought to be that you're getting things straight from the people who use the site but we now know there's an enormous amount of manipulation that goes on, some of it trying to cater to your taste, but others people just sending lots of stuff in. I mean, our book has just been available on Amazon for a brief period of time and there are just a couple of reviews there and as far as I know these are genuine reviews; on the other hand I recently got a note from a colleague's spouse sent to hundreds of people saying please rate this book favorably because it's very important, and that's fairly amateurish but you know, if you have a lot of disposable income it's probably quite easy to manipulate those ratings and then you're dependent not only on the app but on knowing that it has been manipulated. And that's kind of frightening to me.  

R.K.: Absolutely.  Katie mentioned Yelp and I use Yelp a lot but what I've learned is if you just typed in search for a restaurant nearby, you don't get them in order of which ones are the closest, they could miles away and it could be number one and I think it's because they sell advertising.  

It's just like if you go to Google and do a search, the first couple ones are paid results and then the rest of the results come afterwards.  So what I've learned with Yelp in particular is I have to go in to the filtering settings and say "I want this in order of distance from where I am" and I think there are a lot of apps like that, you really don't even know.  

Part of the matter of holding on to our agency with apps is understanding how apps work and controlling the apps even, but I do go way beyond that and you do go in to talking about the Three I's, let's go there with that.  Katie?

Submitters Bio:

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

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