Critical Thinking in the Information Age, Part 1: The Third Wave

We live in strange times, my friends.  Look around the world we live in and observe how it has changed in ways no one, save the very few technological-elite, could have predicted.

With the advent and popularization of personal computers, mobile devices and, most critically, the internet, there has seldom been a time of greater change in the way people live their day-to-day lives.  While those of us living through these changes may think of them as incremental, in the past quarter century virtually every aspect of our lives has been impacted by technological advances.  This shift has, quite naturally, affected the way we encounter, process and learn information, and it is important for educators to full grasp the enormity of the change.

Changes on this scale in the way humans live are not unprecedented, but I think that too often, we are do not stop and reflect on the incredible power we have access to, and the amazing  time in which we live.    In 1980, author Alvin Toffler wrote in his book The Third Wave about the impact that then far-off digital revolution would have on society.  Toffler likened it to the other two major shifts in human history.

The first two “waves” according to Toffler, have been widely studied by historians.  The first came when humans stopped being hunter gatherers and started planting crops and maintaining herds.  The second wave came in the early 19th century, when machines began to replace manual labour production, allowing for faster and more efficient manufacturing.

Now, a mere 200 years after the Industrial Revolution began to take root, we have yet a third change:  Instantaneous communication around in the world.    While we have had mass media since Guttenberg pressed his first bible, over 500 years ago, it is only relatively recently that we have been able to share and reproduce this media instantly and everywhere.  This, Toffler proposes, is the Third Wave.

I mention all of this to give context to this important issue.  The explosion of media and the new rapidity of communication really is a world-changing revolution the likes of which we have only seen twice before.  Whether you agree with Toffler that we are standing on the precipice of a new paradigm for humanity’s way of life, there is no arguing that the amount of media that exists today is staggering.   How can we, as educators, possibly prepare ourselves and our students to go forth into a world which is still undergoing such radical and all-encompassing changes?

Even in the last twenty years, we have seen the internet penetrate every aspect of our lives.  This world-wide network of information sharing has limitless potential to help educate, not just students, but life-long learners too.  If the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s was the infancy of the internet, surely the time from the 1990’s to the present will be remembered as its formative childhood.  We need to shape the internet to our educational needs just as much as we need to shape our young people to their future on the internet, so they are able withstand and thrive in a world where communication is instantaneous and media is omnipresent.


Andrew Baxter is a Secondary School Teacher and Curriculum Specialist for Enable Education.  He doesn’t understand why he can’t use moveable type printing for his blog entries. 

21st Century Skills 9 Communications 2 Critical Thinking 8 Technology 7

Related Posts