Table of Contents

Evolutionary Layered Literacy:
Transliteracy's Four Ages of Thinking Technology


4 stages of thinking icon

How do we get our hands and heads around the challenge of leading the learning of human beings for the explosive pace of the increasingly digital 21st century? Given the centrality of literacy to educational practice, considering a broad perspective on the changing nature of literacy over human history provides a powerful lens for such exploration. This view reveals four distinct yet progressive layers of composition and understanding. These layers are described by a phrase coined here as “evolutionary layered literacy”, an idea closely related to the emerging term of transliteracy. In this evolutionary light, the ideas of literate and illiterate become measures of our capacity to make and use tools to compose solutions to our problems. From this perspective, all humans have always been literate; we differ in our capacity to use the full range of possibilities.

Many understand the importance of literacy to be the capacity to understand and compose what goes on a page, but that begs the question as to why literacy has been so important to our culture. If the purpose of literacy was just to be able to read a book and write about it, is that sufficient reason to spend the percentage of time that we spend teaching literacy skills? Instead, beyond entertainment, in both works of fiction and fact, cultures work out a wide range of problems. There was a time though when the definition of literacy was not so text centric, . . ."when the term emerged in the Renaissance it had a much broader meaning as a mastery of the available means of expression" (Gershenfeld, 2005^) which in the middle ages would have included a wide range of arts. In the way of returning us to the original intent of the term, Thomas and others have chosen the term transliteracy to represent a broad range of communications systems: "Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks" (Thomas, Joseph, Laccetti, Mason, Mills, Perril, & Pullinger, 2007^). "However, it is important to note that transliteracy is not just about computer–based materials, but about all communication types across time and culture. It does not privilege one above the other but treats all as of equal value and moves between and across them" (Thomas, et al). More simply stated then, literacy is the capacity to make and share ideas. Though strongly compatible with the transliteracy line of thought, the position taken here is not to invent a new word for literacy, but to enable a better understanding of the depths of what the term literacy can and should represent.

If a deeper view of literacy is taken as the capacity to understand and compose solutions within the capabilities of a given time and historical era, then a much broader perspective of layers of literacy can be revealed. There is a range of fundamental mind tools for thinking and acting, a literacy of layers that developed over an evolutionary time scale. As culture charges into the 21st century, the current era can progressively build and recombine the human capacity for communication and problem solving using all four layers of literacy. It is noteworthy that the creation and use of these tools has not merely changed the setting and the relationships within which our species has lived. The development and use of the intellectual tools that were built from the first evolutionary layer onward has continually changed the physiology of the body and the neurobiology and thereby psychology of the brain throughout human evolution. It is the capacity to use such tools for problem solving that has made human culture more capable and sophisticated with each passing generation. "Human brains and technology have been coevolving for at least the past 2.6 million years since the appearance of the first intentionally modified stone tools" (Stout, Toth, Schick & Chaminade, 2008^). We, homo sapiens, are a biological product shaped by our own tools for composition, compositions that have continued to compose the composer. We must continue to ask how our current tools for composition will evolve us further. Such capacity began to develop a very long time ago.

Though broadly overlapping, these layers of progressions have meant radically different things for our species at different times in history. As with the larger graphics at the top of the page, these ages of thought could be expressed visually and numerically as:

hand axe2,000,000 B.C., a hand axe, representing the initial literacy of body and hand power that thinks and composes objects and composes with sets of objects spatially in three dimensions as well as designing and using physical tools and gestures;

campfire50,000 B.C., a campfire, representing the literacy of symbolic oral language reinforced by campfire life;

carved bone3,000 B.C., a carved bone, symbolic carvings representing the emerging literacy of written languages and reading and composing text; and

digital hub2000 A.D., a web page capable computer with digital assistants, representing the wide ranging digital palette literacy of media devices and multimedia composition that currently makes up digital literacy.

The dates are broad approximations whose time intervals show an exponential increase in the pace at which such changes in problem solving tools are occuring. There is no case made here for gradual or sudden emergence of such developments though many scholars engage intensely in such debates (Lent, 2010^). They are not meant to represent the actual historical date at which they were first invented, which is generally not known, though much researched and debated, but to create a series of mental anchors for the range and increasing speed of this development. These developments also open the door to reflecting on where our species is going or more importantly where we are currently shaping it to go and how we want it to evolve.

Divisions of time in the march of information use (Darnton, 2008^) are also useful in solving a larger near impossible problem, helping us contrast with prior ages to not only better see the outlines of what we are in the midst of in the 21st century (Davidson, 2008^), but to better determine what we should be doing next. Today the term technology is often synonymous with digital technology and computers, but seen from a broader definition through history as problem solving cycles of composing and understanding, problem solving literacies provides a manifestation of thinking that can be traced throughout human history. Our creations, our technologies, have created the fundamental building blocks of information that enabled ever higher levels of thought. Such technology has been the foundation for a culture’s or a team's communication and problem solving at any given point in human history. Kaestle noted that text literacy "allowed innovations in economic, political, and cultural activities. Most profoundly, it allowed and encouraged new modes of thinking" (Kaestle, 1985^). In fact, this also happened with each of these four layers of literacy under discussion.

It may appear that expanding the meaning of literacy to "mastery of the available means of expression" is taking liberties that go a step too far. Does seeing a chunk of text as a tool, as equivalent to banging some rocks together as a lever for progress, detract from also seeing its higher artistic and asethetic value? It should not; stepping outside the boxes we have been living in has many advantages. Through greater awareness of the cognitive values of each layer and the intellectual connectedness between them, they can more effectively be used to reinforce each other and build greater human capacity and better curriculum overall. These thoughts are aimed at stimulating larger more cohesive visions of the human species that might enable a better revision of the way we focus our teaching and learning and the way we build cultural and economic value. In taking the wider view, it elevates everyone's perception of themselves and others.

These thoughts raise a series of questions and present thoughts by which to further consider them. How has our species used these layered ages of literacy tools? What are their implications for expanding human capacity, for teaching and learning? Do our educational systems make the most of these virtuoso capacities of the human species? Could a better balance in integrating and teaching all of the layers of the evolution of literacy lead to more able citizens and also help with the difficult challenges of health, text literacy and even school dropout rates?

The Four Ages of Thinking Tools

Well confirmed scientific evidence about human history can be used to support these four major ages of intellectual development, in particular, the intellectual capacity to edit or compose and understand in the media of each age. Knowledge of these four generations is important for educators that seek to understand what human minds are capable of so that they can seek the best in each individual and to use the composition knowledge of each of the ages to reinforce and extend each of the others.


The First Agehandaxe in my hands

Building on the idea that literacy is the capacity to make and share ideas, it is critical to examine to origins of our species and the role of the earliest literacy in the development of our species and its brain. The first hominid compositions were made and shared by hand, and the scattered presence of these compositions across the eons of time is often the primary evidence of what little is known of their behavior. The connection, however, between our hand compositions and the much later compositions of speech, writing and the wide array of digital media is obscure, if not lost to most. It has also been argued that the connection became so lost that it was intellectually rejected as "artes illiberales" (economic arts), an historical error still in great need of correction (Gershenfeld) and still much misunderstood (Crawford, 2009^; Wilson, 1998^).

The literacy of the hand also plays a role in one the most difficult and debated questions of science, how language, today's primary tool for symbolic and problem solving thought, first began. Of equal interest to educators is the role that hand and tool use has in the developmental foundations of physical, cognitive and language growth of children and adult human beings today. Piaget is among the early educational explorers of these concerns (1952^, 1954^, 1955^). Psychologists, psycholiguists, clinical physicians and educators have long noted growing evidence for the connection between tools, language and intelligence (Gibson & Ingold, 1993^; Wilson, 1998^). Lesson plans which recognize and demonstrate the importance of action to language development have long been available (Houghton, Kaler & Koenen, 1980^). However, developing a deeper and more reliable scientific understanding of the evolutionary sequence and individual development has only recently emerged through new technologies such as fMRI and new understandings emerging from neurological study, including the concepts of neurogenesis and mirror neurons.

Before digging deeper into the role of the hand in literacy and human thought, a broader context in which to place the hand's development needs some exploring. A distinguishing feature of animal life is movement. Movement required a solution for dealing with the traffic complexity of surrounding organisms and of the setting in which food is pursued. The solution that separated animal cell life from life as a plant was neurons. From the first animal organisms there was a need for an information decision making engine and data storage, a cognition engaged in questioning, perception, decisions and recall about the surrounding elements, their movements and possible intentions. With the emergence of the invertebrate and vertebrate species, the centers of their nervous systems became brains of increasing evolutionary sophistication. The relevance of movement to learning becomes of considerable importance in considering human development and health. One of the major discoveries in human biology of the last 50 years was the recent recognition that sufficient movement massively stimulates the birth of neurons (neurogenesis) that are then used in the learning and remembering processes of the brain to attach and keep new knowledge within its mental network. This occurs through most if not all of an animal's lifetime, including primates and humans (Seki et al, 2011a^, 2011b^). That is, sufficient exercise literally creates food for thought, baby neurons generally in the brain's neuron nursery in the limbic system. These neurons are then directed to in turn move into relevant parts of the brain to become part of the neuronal structure of brain's thinking capacity when learning opportunity occurs. Lack of exercise means there are fewer and fewer neurons to use when needed. Our bodies have a use it or lose design. Why spend energy on maintaining or building capacity if it is not going to be used? What is the role of the hand in creating mental capacity?

The Human Body

About a billion years after the appearance of the first animal life on Earth, a critical step in human cognition was the line of animals that exploited a unique movement, standing on two legs instead of four. Over the 7 million years that science has tracked hominid development, the first half, three and a half millions years, was spent evolving a body that was increasingly adept at walking upright. This increasingly freed the hands for the next half of human evolution, some 3 and a half million years, learning to communicate with body and gesture and routinely foraging over long distances, having to walk an average of five to ten miles a day (Booth et al, 2002^; Ratey & Hagerman, 2008^) at more than double the current official recommended healthy level of exercise (Ratey & Hagerman^). In this movement they found increasing ways to put those freed hands to a growing variety of tasks. While living this highly mobile and physical lifestyle for 99.9% of human evolution, the human species evolved the capacity for higher levels of abstract thought and to compose tools and to make and to use those hand tools for further thinking, problem solving and composing.

Human culture however has evolved exponentially faster than human physiology will ever be capable of evolving. This creates the possibility that pathologies in our current culture are in part a function of losing sight of the natural requirements of human beings. The rationale as expressed by S. Boyd Eaton is that "we are the heirs of inherited characteristics accrued over millions of years; the vast majority of our biochemistry and physiology are tuned to life conditions that existed before the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Genetically our bodies are virtually the same as they were at the end of the Paleolithic era some 20,000 years ago" (Eaton, Eaton & Konner, 1997^). The paleo diet and paleo exercise recommendations represent one experiment that follows from this idea.

In the last century such restrictions in physical activity have applied to a rapidly growing percentage of the population. For example, those involved in the physical activities of agriculture plummeted in a single century from the majority of Americans to less than 2% ("Extension", 2011^) while the percentage involved in information production done at desktops and various sitting positions exploded to over 80% (Haag, Cummings, McCubbrey, Pinsonneault & Donova, 2006^). The overweight crisis in children and adults now impacting almost 70% of the United States population ("Health", 2010^; "Obesity", 2011^) is but one result of decreased exercise and changed choices in diet. Neuroscience research (Meyer & Gullotta, 2012^; Ratey & Hagerman, 2008^; Ratey & Loehr, 2011^; Seki et al, 2011a^, 2011b^) and a small number of initial school experiments are showing that such restrictions have not only impacted pyschological and social health but cognitive health as well (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008^; Ratey & Loehr, 2011^; Ratey & Sattelmair, 2012^). They also show an interesting correlation with studies on "nature-deficit-disorder" (Louv, 2005^; Townsley, 2009a^, 2009b^). Such experiments on the value of gross motor exercise for cognition set the groundwork for a potentially similar revitalization of the role of the hand and curriculum. The evidence explored later suggests that greater use of the hand may well contribute to better language and related intellectual developments.

This video case study below (Leishman, 2009^) from the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan schools in Canada and the schools in Napier, Illinois and other reports ("Brain Gains", 2011^) have provided a case study of the possible positive impact of a radical change in the use of gross motor movement to improve teaching and learning outcomes. Both the image and the link will display the same video. They represent the first stage of awareness of a concept that will be coined here as "cognitive kinesiology".

14 minute version

4 minute version, Saskatchewan School Math Class


The Hand

The hand is a central element in the curriculum of physical education and sports, art and music for all students as well as key for many engineering and vocational skills for older students and certainly plays a critical role in manipulating a writing instrument such and pencil or pen. The role of the hand in using things has deep seated evoluionary roots. The animal kingdom is noted for the number of species engaged in tool use, the direct manipulation of things within a three-dimensional space. astronaut on spacewalk holding set of toolsmonkeys with toolsThis is not just an animal waving some stick around, but moving and using some thing or object to compose a solution to a problem, however conceived. The creation and design of nests or shelters is widespread, but problem solving tool use across the animal kingdom goes far beyond that. So far there is scientific evidence of animal tool use which includes the veined octopus, crows, elephants, sea otters, dolphins, chimpanzees, monkeys and apes (Keim, 2009^). One set of examples are in the image on the left (Smithsonian Exhibit, 2010^). Hominids took the concept of tool composition and use to stratospheric levels, both conceptual and literally (image on right, NASA). It was a unique development in animal physiology that made this leap into space possible.

Perhaps the most important event in human evolution was our forebears standing up and becoming bipedal. Bi-pedal hominins, that walked upright and no longer needed their forelimbs to support their weight and to move, were then able to develop their incredibly dexterous wrists and hands with opposing thumb and fingers. Berger's report in 2010 of a new hominid species that appeared some 2 million years ago in South Africa indicated a "modern hand with the precision grip of a toolmaker" (Fischman, 2011^) and "humanlike pelvis built for a fully bipedal stride" yet in a body with more primitive shoulders, heel bone and small chimp size brain. The inference here is that the wrist and uses of the hand were so valuable to hominid development that "handyness" they led human evolution and were critical factors stimulating the growth of the human brain, not mere end results that followed a smarter brain. This poses some challenges to the importance of the hand in current views of its relevance to learning and education.

This capacity to use the hands to make ever greater compositions led to evolutionary changes in physiology which further changed their environment. From the perspective of archaeologists studying human culture, "technology is considered to be a major causal 'motor' of cultural evolution" (Dobres, 2010, p. 103^). Though the hand workings of stone are the cover story of first human composition, they are just the media that survived the ravages of time. Hands that could work stone were even more likely to have worked the more editable materials of wood, plant and other animal parts that weather and decay, causing them to disappear from historical record.

While roaming vast tracts of wilderness for food and shelter, human evolution apparently put particular accent on the development of neurons for the cognitive work of its freed limbs. The homunculcus shows accenting enlarged handshomunculi figures (Natural History Museum, London) on the right are models scaled to show the percent of our homo sapien brain devoted to sensing capacity and motor control of various parts of the body. Note the dominating percent of the brain devoted to just the hands.

The homunculus on the left labeled "sensory model" in red models the input capacity of our senses to retrieve or collect information about the world around us, with the hands having the most neuronally developed capacity for input, hands that "read" our physical world. Reading the environment for survival meant combining multiple senses to understand or comprehend the scene for safety and opportunity. Someone who stopped reading and correctly comprehending multiple media in the environmental setting for even a moment might end up as a meal or starve. Unlike in today's classrooms where attention and engagement can seem optional, living in a wilderness made them life and death issues. Smell and sound brought the long distance data of objects that could not be seen or felt. Eyes, tongue, skin and hands did close-up sensing. As finger tips touch and hands lift objects, our brain senses texture, weight, size, balance and so much more. But what made us unique is how effectively we could compose with those hands. For more than 98 percent of the development time of the human brain's cognitive capacity in the last two million years until the development of speech, cognition used the understanding of its senses to direct the hands to compose solutions.

The homunculi on the right with the blue label titled "motor control" refers to our capacity for output, to make and manipulate things, to project into or "write" or "edit and compose" the physical world around us. Our hands give shape to our world through exacting touches of pulling and pushing with our digits and with tools that the hands have designed. Further, notice the significant size, the percent of our body devoted to motor control of our hands, more than double that of our capacity to sense or feel with our hands. This difference is logical in that the body has many other ways to sense its environment, including taste and sight but our hands are the major organs of our body for creating and interacting with elements of our physical world. Combined with our social capacity to work as a team, the hands take on even greater importance.

If sufficient exercise of gross motor muscles can cause "massive neuronal generation" (Olson, Eadie, Ernst & Christie, 2006^), then this raises as yet unstudied questions of the homunculi graph. Does some degree of handedness activity also cause neurogenesis that facilitates learning and memory? Did the hands merely take advantage of the neuronal growth generated by significant whole body activity which then enabled the extensive brain development for learning through hand sensing and composing? Perhaps it will some day be determined that significant hand activity does not also contribute to neurogenesis. Even if hand neurogenesis turns out to be negligible, if significant whole body exercise enabled the massive neuronal growth of the areas of the brain for the hands, does this not compel us to consider the same levels of significant exercise to better enable the areas of the brain for the literacies and forms of composition that followed, speech, writing and now multiple digital literacies? The feedback loop between brain growth and the value of the hands in composing solutions clearly indicates that by our personal and cultural choices we modify our personal neuronal growth as well as our species. How will we apply that understanding in the curriculum of schools?

The history of hand composition activity is extensive. Because stones can survive millions of years, stone tools have provided the primary evidence of the long history of hominid tool making. In the short video on the left, John Olsen demonstrates the first steps in how to make stone age tools using techniques called flintknapping. Many uses can be made from one stone. The chips removed from the stone core can be used to cut, like razor blades, or the chips might be shaped into projectile points. A chipped and therefore sharpened edge can become a hand axe. Numerous other videos on flintknapping can be found on YouTube. Stone in turn would have provided numerous uses for editing all of the easier to manipulate materials in the environment including dirt, bone, wood, skin and related plant material. For example, stone awls, stones with points were used to punch holes through leather or for carving wood or bone.

asdfThe handaxe that I'm holding on the right is on display in the Smithsonian (2010^) and created from a casting of the actual item. stone chip cutting meat from boneA chipped core like the one pictured from the Olduvai Gorge were fine tools for separating protein-rich meat from bone and skin (see image, Smithsonian Exhibit, 2010^). Repeated slices of a sharp stone edge cut through the meat like a serrated steel knife.

bone cuts from 3.4 million years agoThe historical evidence has shown that these techniques developed gradually throughout human evolution. For the over 3 million years of the evidence of stone age engineering (Smithsonian, 2010^), the human species was slicing, pounding, and crushing with stone to create a growing range of new tool, food and defense options. Millions of years before the homo sapien migration out of Africa, the evolutionary developments of handedness and thinking led to the pebble axes of homo habilis. The oldest known artifacts of tool use are from around 3.4 million years ago (Science Magazine-YouTube, McPherron et al, 2010^).

The image on the right shows the cut marks made from stone tools. These are the kind of marks made when the edges of stone chips are used to cut edible meat away from the bone (ask for instructor's class presentation, low or high bandwidth).

With some imagining one can begin to wonder at the developing sophistication and abilities of roving bands of different types of the hominid line that survived across time with no other outlet for thought but largely nonverbal communication, a special capacity for teaming and an exemplary ability for using the hands to invent and use tools to meet the problem solving needs of varied settings as they roamed their changing environments.

Making a hammer or an arrowhead by shaping a rock requires a great deal of experimentation, working through many uncertainties. It is different in important ways from other types of composition with which many are familiar, such as building a birdhouse with hammer and saw or making a cake where exact measurements from a recipe of steps lead to a particular size and shape. Instead, invisible characteristics of a stone’s seams and densities can provide many surprises. This causes the tool engineer to approach a stone as merely as an object with tool making potential, then working it to take advantage of any possibilities that it provides. Such experiences would require a certain mindset or perspective that understands that while a good result was possible and thereby worth the effort, an unintended one was also likely.

This approach for working with such uncertain objects yielded a word in English culture which has developed a number of manifestations, tinker. In more recent centuries, tinker was a job description. You sought out the often itinerant tinker (a noun) to get a pot or pan fixed. It is also a verb with more current relevance: “tinkered with the engine, hoping to discover the trouble; tinkering with the economy by trying various fiscal policies” (Free Dictionary). On the negative side the term can be used to suggest someone not quite in mastery of the situation, someone who doesn’t know quite enough to be effective but should have known more. On the positive side it implied a person with an active curiosity and an interest in problem solving and learning and someone who had a reputation for getting results most of the time. “Take that problem to the tinker and see what can be done.”  The tinker then is a person willing to try and tinkering is an early stage of experimentation that provides an opportunity for the tinker to learn.

Because of our hands and millions of years of that singular hominid characteristic, tinkerer, the homo sapien brain emerged which only accelerated the tinkering. With this understanding, it is easier to see the power in the observation of noted educator Maria Montessori, "The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence".

Environments that were increasingly changing created increasing challenges for hominid species and growing neeed and opportunity to tinker in order to survive. It is critical here to read the brown zigzagging line in the chart of this paragraph from right to left. That is, the chart begins on the left with the present and then goes backwards in time. It is a graph of temperature variations in reverse time order, moving from 8 million years ago on the far right to the present on the left. The red lines region of this chart show the correlation of the temperature variation and related climate fluctuation with the exponential growth of the brain's capacity for comprehending and composing. interactive smithsonian timelineIt shows that the growing environmental changes would have required ever greater migration to more optimal settings. It also would have required ever greater intelligence to understand and compose in order to survive and thrive in the new places into which climate changes forced them to move. The red lines show the advancing intelligence of the advancing hominid species.

Based on findings from over 6,000 hominin fossils, the chart shows the time frame over which the diverse versions of the human species have been found to date. Evidence of tool use has only been found for approximately the last 50% of hominin development, some 3 million years, as climate change became increasingly greater. That is, as their geographic settings became more complicated with ever greater climater fluctuations (the zigzag line going right to left), brains had to grow to keep the species solving the problems of increasing difficulty that came ever more quickly.

Clicking this chart image leads to the full-size chart that should be click-explored in detail, an interactive animated timeline of human evolution on the web site of the Smithsonian Museum (2010^). All other graphic symbols and colors on the chart represent clickable elements leading to further information. This and other significant related information can be found at the Smithsonian's Human Origins Web site or by visiting their current and spectacular exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.


188x202 image of pebble or stone axes

The evidence shows that the hand axe and the related tools required to make different cutting and pounding devices were used by and somehow passed along to over a dozen hominid species for at least 3 million years in which bodies and minds continued to evolve. These hands must have in turn used these rock tools and all of the other media of their setting to compose perishable creations and other tools but compositions that could not survive the effects of weather to leave tangible evidence of their creation. At some point in time, tool use became much more sophisticated.

The last species standing, the species homo sapien, is the current and sole survivor of the hominin diaspora. Homo sapien sapien is the most proficient tool maker/composer in the evolutionary tree, a species that emerged in just the last 200,000 years. With the emergence of our species, handedness becomes much more sophisticated. Some 164,000 years ago, complex compound tools were being used (Stringer & McBrearty, 2007^) which required the development of precise and extensive sequential and spatial thinking (NPS: Stories Rocks Tell).

New discoveries by paleontologists continue to push back the date of the evidence for complex and symbolic tool development use. In October of 2011 a team of researchers reported on a new "benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition" (Henshilwood, d'Errico, van Niekerk, Coquinot, Jacobs, Lauritzen, Menu, & García-Moreno, 2011^), the uncovering of a 100,000 year old workshop of the tools and ingredients whose creators followed a complex recipe for finding, storing and transforming the ingredients used to create a red paint. Red paint is not a the kind of technology needed for mere physical survival; it implies a much richer and more creative culture setting that was producing a new range of interesting problems and challenges.

Such more sophiscated levels of intelligence were emerging at a critical point in human history. Other studies indicate that 140,000 to 70,000 years ago, huge climate upheavals caused scattered bands of homo sapiens to retreat from drought and other climate issues to a few locations in Africa, forming a homo sapien population of perilously low numbers (Klein et al, 1993^), with the Smithsonian estimating 10,000 and others estimating less than 2,000 people (National Geographic Society, 2008^; Behar, 2008^), perhaps some 600 breeding individuals (Townsley, 2009b^). By today's standards a population with numbers this low would have been on the list for "critically endangered species".


The map to the right shows the results of improving climate conditions with the retreat of glaciers that led to the extensive homo sapien migration patterns some 50,000 years ago, at the edge of the time of the explosive disapora that pushed the homo sapien species outward from Africa and into a world of ever more novel problems and challenges. The African-Eurasia map is linked to a migration atlas that covers a much longer period of time. The orange circles on the map are clickable links to related pieces of information. This work is the product of a joint National Geographic and IBM genetic study and part of a web site titled the Landmark Study of the Human Journey.

The challenges of dealing with climate and weather would appear to have been increasingly mastered. Inventions continued that seem socially driven, not climate driven. For example, the rhythmic action of stone tool making and the resonant nature of certain stones (lithophones) could have contributed to music creation (Cross, Zubrow & Cowan, 2002^). Evidence of flutes made from bone have been dated from 43,000 to 36,000 BC (Cross, Zubrow & Cowan). Some of these ancient flutes have been used for some experimental compositions to test their sound capability (Knochenklang, 2005^; Neanderthal Stone Age flute sounds). Thus it was natural for a non-oral language and record of physical action of gesture and material workmanship of technology to emerge from the unique capacity of our species to move its body and work with its hands in a way that created a cultural foundation for the development of language that would follow.

Using microscopic level research Dobres has "documented that in the French Midi-Pyrénées some 14,000 years ago, the 'body language' of technical gestures and skills variously employed to craft and repair eminently practical hunting tools of antler and bone were a form of silent discourse by which Late Magdalenian technicians negotiated what I believe was gendered identity and status from site to site across the landscape" (Dobres, 1995^).

With a similar ontology and 'life history' approach to materials analysis, Hoffman (1999^) has shown that during the Bronze Age (ca. 1300–800 BC) in Mallorca, Spain, skillful and knowledgeable metallurgists forged, but also symbolically broke social alliances through the actual forging and breaking of metal objects" (Dobres, 2010, p. 109^). "As seen through the lens of a microscope, technical actions, gestures and displays of (in)competence suggest that technology was a medium for a social message which can be 'decoded' thousands of years after the fact" (Dobres).

The hands of homo sapiens increasingly composed a growing set of designs and objects, technologies that grew from soft more pliable material to working denser and more difficult media, from plant material to wood, bone, stone and eventually metal. Today's 3D printing seems to be following a similar path. It is equally natural that language emerged from these experiences. Each of those objects (nouns) had increasingly sophisticated actions associated with them (verbs). It was then logical that language would emerge and co-evolve historically from the build up of experience with our hands. The process is also repeated to varying degrees with each new baby that senses and begins to control and communicate with its surroundings through the use of those charming little hands. That is, the hand was and still is central to the development of human intelligence and language (Wilson, 1998^).

With the later emergence of speech, the objects that hands had been manipulating became nouns with relationships. "Grammar is spatial" (Wilson, 2008^), and space is also sequential:

A non-oral language of demonstrating movement and performance would have emerged over millions of years to educate each next generation. Such activity also set the foundation for later levels of hand driven cognitive kinesiology in the brain. For example, evidence of the co-evolution of tool and language development has appeared in brain-imaging studies of people that were creating examples of early stone age toolmaking. Brain scans showed substantial overlap of stone tool making neuronal activity with the brain areas used in language processing and sense making (Stout, 2005^; Stout & Chaminade, 2007^; Stout, Toth, Schick & Chaminade, 2008^; Stout, 2009^; Stout, Passingham, Frith, Apel & Chaminade, 2011^). This mental activity would also apply to the rock and cave paintings work found around the world whose stories can only be translated in part. Once those forelimbs were freed from the role of supporting the body's weight, they were freed to evolve and to find other ways to help the body survive by using the creations of the hands to help the species remember, plan, design and socially engage. Hand tools then are examples of the first literacy of our species.

From the broader perspective of the term calculate as the logical cause and effect thinking that enabled early technology development, people were the first computers, and non-oral language and hand-tools from the hand axe to the abacus emerged as the first generation of technology that extended human thinking. The more tools created and the more objects used, the greater the need for sounds that represented them which in turn aided the instruction process and aided the communication process in working whether with a team making spears or building shelters. This handedness activity set a foundation for thinking from which vocabulary would emerge.

Handedness thinking depends not only on eye-hand coordination but on spatial awareness of thinking within three-dimensional space which could fall into two categories. First, there is the sense of geographic space, moving the body to a place where hands can do further work. Second, there is the spatial reach of the hands and the corresponding development of the cognitive ability to envision and manipulate an object in the mind so that it can be shaped to fit a particular need. Spatial awareness is a trait which some have developed to a far greater degree than others. At the most basic level of world culture, human beings are dependent on things that were designed and sometimes made by hands.

In the twenty-first century the three-dimensional composition might be a prototype designed in three-dimensional form on a computer and then is manufactured in larger quantities by robots and factory assemby line workers. It would also include customized work as in additions to a house or rebuilding a failed plumbing design. It might also still be hand-crafted such unique pottery, baskets, sculpture and paintings.

Separating the work of thinking from the work of making some physical thing to making some electronic symbol has created a knowledge economy. The question is whether this separation is physically and intellectually beneficial in the long run to the intelligence of a person, and to the quality of the things on which we depend. Both Crawford (2009^) and Pirsig (1984^) have argued in widely admired books that there is enormous human loss in a culture that has emphatically devalued the ability to think and work with our hands. “Thinking about manual engagement seems to require nothing less than that we consider what a human being is. That is, we are led to consider how the specifically human manner of being is lit up, as it were, by man’s interaction with his world through his hands" (Crawford, 2009, p. 63). It is important to see "...the practice of building things, fixing things, and routinely tending to things, as an element of human flourishing” (Crawford, 64). At a time in which the need to "educate the whole child" (ASCD, 2009^) is also code for greater emphasis on higher order thinking skills, the cause of the whole child could also benefit from this larger perspective on relationship between intellectual development and the human physical need to move in the many dimensions of its capacities.

252x202Of the dwindling number of those in the United States who pursue ever greater specialty in handedness thinking, the rewards and the results of that creativity and skill have been significant, whether art, music, sports or forms of engineering. Sophisticated tool making and designs by engineers, such as the space station on right, remains a hallmark of the thinking of our species (NASA: Space Telerobotics Program).

Awareness of the value of hands in cognition has a long history. Anaxagoras (510 – 428 BC) had stated that "It is by having hands that man is the most intelligent of animals” (Aristotle, 350 BC^). The Italian educator Montessori placed high regard on the role of hands in developing human capacity: "The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence". That would appear to be a more significant insight into human development than the field of education is yet willing to recognize. Montessori School curriculum and design (Lillard, 2005^; Montessori, 1973^) have been a growing area of interest, primarily for preschool education (Saracho & Spodek, 2003^), but have been largely relegated to the alternative school movement.

Sadly, in public schools, curriculum that would further enhance this virtuoso human capacity to move and think spatially and create using our bodies along with our hands is the most neglected of the four generations of human thinking under discussion in this essay. Unfortunately the next technologies of literacy to be discussed that followed hand composition (speech, text and computers), have resulted in a culture and educational system that has increasingly restricted the range and frequency of all types of human movement.

Most aspects of movement and handedness ability are marginalized in school curriculum in order to put more time into a prioritized view of the technologies of other content areas. During the school day, some subjects have been increasingly marginalized. Art and music curriculum have a strong handedness component. Physical education and health curriculum have a long history of emphasis on the need to move. However, most of the "handedness" curriculum and funding has been relegated to specialized after school sports programs for a tiny percentage of the population found to be more athletically gifted with various shapes of balls. While at the same time, the vast majority of school dropouts end up in trades for which the use of hands is central, whether the construction trade or a rock band (pun intended).

School Solutions

The need for the body to move and the hands to compose is a need that may be submerged by most school cultures, but one that continues to press for and to get attention. There is great need and much that can be done.

Our more recent medical reseach has shown that significant physical activity is essential to physical, emotional and cognitive health. Spirduso, Poon and Chodzko-Zajko (2008^), Chodzko-Zajko, Kramer and Poon (2008^), Ratey & Hagerman (2008^) and Lengel and Kuczala (2010^) have heavily researched and documented the relationship between cognitive capacity and physical health. Lengel and Kuczala have presented numerous examples of classroom activities that merge physical activity with content learning. The North Carolina Board of Education has established a Web site with energizer movement activities to include in lesson plans that support content instruction and a policy that requires a minimum of 30 minutes of brisk exercise every day for every student.

Spatial knowledge comes in many forms that go beyond the manipulation of objects that can be held and manipulated in your hands. The application Google Earth software screen shotcalled Google Earth (wikipedia) might be the most widely used sophisticated example of GIS software available to the general public and classroom use (see Google Earth screen shot on the left, linked to its web site). Google Earth maps are best seen in a separate application, though free, that must be downloaded and installed on a personal computer. It is an Internet application whose use depends on having good Internet access. Fortunately, map reading and making are still skills taught in our schools. Some groups and notably European countries have also made a sophisticated curriculum and sport out of orienteering, timed navigation to multiple locations over large distances using topographic maps. This model of moving and problem solving using a variety of tools suggests the creation of curriculum activities within the classroom that might involve academic problem solving while moving between centers of other points within the classroom.

Insufficient attention to engineering design in U.S. culture also contributed to the formation of the STEM Education Coalition and the expansion of science-math centers in colleges of education. In our desperation to raise reading, writing and mathematics scores, schools have too often marginalized the time for the curriculums that have the most potential to incorporate non-verbal and handedness activity: science, physical activity such as recess and physical education, and many forms of art (e.g., painting, sculpture, and music).

student building robotThe absence of public school science and mathematics knowledge tied to engineering activity contrasts sharply with the significant economic, political and social role of engineering technology in current culture, but many groups are actively pursuing solutions. These efforts have been largely marginalized in school curriculum, but this movement is growing ( (FIRST League; PLTW). Tthe FIRST League created a sports-like curriculum with annual themes and hands-on creativity and Project Lead the Way has followed with more rigorous but more narrow curriculum. (To play the video, click the picture on the left, then the "click for video" link; see youtube search for more). It currently consists of: the Junior First Lego League for ages 6-9; FIRST Lego League ages 9-14, pictures); and the high school divisions of FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics (pictures). Each state has its state competition for the different leagues with the state winners going on to national competition in Atlanta, Georgia. For example, North Carolina had some 60 Lego Robotics teams made up of 4th through 8th graders from across the state of North Carolina competing at Greensboro on December 1, 2007. Many state universities are recognizing such activity with college scholarships for active high school participants. Others are thinking even more broadly about children's growing introduction to fabrication and manufacture in schools through using children safely using laser cutters, 3D printers, paper cutters, computer-controlled sewing machines, and a variety of other 3D manipulating machines (Eisenberg, 2011^).

Even though these forms of pre- and non-verbal thinking are still important to our culture, most are often marginalized in our schools. The hands-on design of digital technology with sensors and robots are just one example of a physically engaging bridge to science and math. Some have rediscovered the power and wonder of mathematics through discovering its power to help with their art compositions (Bumgardner, 2007^). Such activity is not just about discovering content knowledge but also discovering the motivation and engagement that sustains learning in all areas. Vocational education was once common, then outdated and now making a comeback as Career and Technical Education (CTE), as a Navaho educator discovered through building a state of the art agricultural science building in Arizona (Klein, 2012^). It may be that “mind and hands” (Mens et Manus) is the motto of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), but mind and hands is every bit as applicable to the sciences as to the arts (e.g., music, sculpture, drawing, painting,  sculpture, etc.) which have long been critical users of the hands.

This marginalization provides one more explanation of the educational system's dropout problem, the absence of "hands-on" learning. Effective "hands-on" learning suggests one more way to reverse it. What percentage of today's curriculum and classroom time fosters first generation thinking skills? Should this change? Why? What school curriculums are available that address this neglected area of first generation thinking intelligence?

If we developed a homunculus that correspondingly showed the percent of the human capacity addressed by the current school curriculum required of all students, what would it look like? Such a body would require little muscle mass, with hands just sufficient to hold or form a pencil grip or control mouse and keyboard. The ears would be enormous as the primary classroom requirement is to listen, even larger than a very large pair of eyes needed for constant reading. The lips and vocal track would also be abnormally small, as talking is limited to very selected moments of the school day. Is this the evolutionary path that our culture intends to be setting in motion?



The Second Age  campfire leading to speech

As the above discussion of the first generation of thinking technology has indicated, the brain's biological capacity for speech capacity grew from the work of our hands which was then was further stimulated and developed by our social nature. Second generation literacy technology grew from the first generation needs for additional ways to communicate and better form, store and share ideas. Speech became the next major thinking technology as ideas were extended from their expression as a concrete object or action to sounds called words. Zuckerman (2013^) finds it "useful to consider language as a technology, a tool humans have created that can be applied to solve a wide range of problems", noting philosophers and linguists who have reviewed similar positions taken in their fields (Clark, 1998^; Everett, 2012^). The invention of speech and other specialized patterns led to ever greater symbolic thought.

The invention of speech began with the creation of phonemes, aurally distinct and persistently used sound combinations that represented an idea, that is, a word. Just as earliest hominins broke their physical environment into smaller usable pieces of stone and other natural materials that were shaped to meet an ever growing set of needs and problems, our ancestersbegan to break sound into more useable, mallable and distinct pieces. This set in motion a pattern in human problem solving that can be seen continuing today with high-energy particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)in Switzerland further breaking apart matter in an attempt to understand and use that understanding to new purposes.

The earliest archeological record of speech development is the mere identification of skeletal changes that point to changing capacity in the brain. The beginnings of a bulge in the skull created by the Broca region of the brain that is currently used for speech has been identified in some brain casts as far back as homo habilis (beginning some 2.4 million years ago) and with regularity in homo erectus (some 1.9 million years ago) (Broadfield et al, 2001^; Arbib, 2003^). Exactly what that area was being used for then is of course impossible to know. Evidence does show that as early as 1 million years ago hominins learned to use fire for warmth and cooking (Berna, 2012^; "Human Evolution", 2011^) . This put small groups closer together for warmth and socializing and by at least 300,000 years ago led to a central cooking hearth with divisions of labor around it (Shahack-Gross, Berna, Karkanas, Lemorini, Gopher, & Barkai, 2014^).

Anthropological science has identified the beginnings of symbolic thought as far back as 350,000 years ago, through the use of color pigment on rocks (d'Errico et al, 2003^), which implies some level of language development. Recent genetic evidence points to the appearance of the FoxPro2 gene around 100,000 years ago which is critical to language capacity (McWhorter, 2004^). From such gradual beginnings, a giant creative leap forward occurred in human culture some 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, showing significant advances in art, music, religious expression and tool-making. Genetics markers in the DNA shows that this explosion in language capacity occurred in parallel with a great outward migration of homo sapiens from East Africa leading to the populating of Australia, China, Europe and the Americas (Mayell, 2003^; Wells, 2003a & b^). This "out of Africa" reasoning is further support by mapping phonemic diversity, which declines among small breakaway populations the further they are from Africa. For example the !Xu language of northern Africa has 141 phonemes and then phonemic declines follow: German 41 (English about the same) of Western Europe; Mandarin of China, 32; Garawa of Australia, 22; Hawaiian, 13; and Piraha of South America has 11 (Naik, 2011^; Atkinson, 2011^).

Symbolic thinking, important to both art and language, makes its appearance in the creations of many people during this last 50,000 year period. Moving populations that were dealing with increasing environmental change had a tremendous need for such innovation. Anthropology professor Richard G. Klein (2002^) also has noted that there is other evidence that genetic mutation may have helped to make this possible. Oxford researchers have identified a gene that when damaged creates people who "struggle to comprehend spoken or written language, even though they usually score in the normal range on tests of nonverbal intelligence" (Leslie, 2002^). Further genetic research has begun to identify the specific genes which underwent significant change which coincided with this and other giant leaps in human intellectual capacity. How many genes were involved is not yet known, but it has been determined that the mutated gene called microcephalin which controls aspects of brain growth began its spread among humans around 37,000 years ago (Evans, 2005^).

As easy as speech would appear to use for many, the reality is somewhat different. One explanation is that the brain has had much less time to evolve to handle the sophisticated uses we make of talking. Some still find speaking impossible or difficult. Selective mutism ( occurs in some 7 out of 1000 cases. Though more common in children before 3rd grade, it does affect adults as well. Further, American statistics indicate ". . .that one in every 10 Americans, across all ages, races and genders, has experienced or lived with some type of communication disorder (including speech, language and hearing disorders). Nearly 6 million children under the age of 18 have a speech or language disorder" ("Communication", 2012^). More importantly for both those who do and do not have communication disorders, surveys over the years also show that public speaking does not come easily as children mature, that many adults rate fear of public speaking greater to or second to their fear of death itself. As the joke goes, they would rather be in the casket instead of delivering the eulogy (Kitchen, 2005^). That is, our evolutionary development related to speech technology is still a work in progress.

As much as citizens of the 21st century use the power of spoken language, it also valuable to note how much more first generation literacy adds to the process. By Koneya & Barbour's (1976^) estimates, just 7% of face to face communication is carried by words. The rest, 93% of human communication, was being handled nonverbally and was well under development millions of years ago. Some 38% of our messages are handled by the pitch, volume and tone of our voice. Some 55% of our message is carried by gestures, touch, the directional gaze of the eyes along with other facial expressions and a wide range of body movements (Koneya & Barbour). This is of course hard to establish statistically. For example, by comparison, Hogan and Stubbs (2003^) claim that 2/3 of communication is non-verbal, in contrast with Koneya and Barbour's 93% figure, but the point is still made that non-verbal communication handles the majority of face to face communication. Gestures provide a rhythm to communication and posture establishes a common basis for understanding. Though the percent of the role of nonverbal communication undoubtably varies with the context, "without this underlying coordination of movement, we would have a hard time communicating" (Goldman, 2003, p. 7^). This provides some explanation for the failure of email and tweeting to handle nuances of communication including emotion and explanation of the challenges for effective written communication.

The creation of verbal language might be thought of as our second level of technologies which came after non-oral language and hand tools (NPS: Wind Cave Camping), and extended those already highly refined skills. Humans learned to manipulate sounds to a far greater degree than any other species. The creation of oral language is also a technology that stores information and procedures, but stores them in words, not physical objects. "If you do this, then that will happen." Language and memory skills were undoubtedly nourished and extended over time through countless campfires and group projects.

Through words people can even better communicate cause and effect relationships and more. The more words, the more precise the communication and problem solving can be in certain situations. Though spoken communication uses fewer words than written communication, acquiring and remembering new words and using them in thinking and talking also added significantly to the memory and processing load of the brain. As an example of this memory load, scholars have reported "171,476 words in current use" (Oxford-English Dictionaries, 2010) in just the English language, but approaching a million meanings of words if all the different senses of a word are used, with some 4,000 new words added each year. Combining these words in endless combinations created an enormous collection of mental objects that we call ideas and concepts which are combined in hierarchies and networks of relationships to form combinations that stretch from objects to goals to philosophies.

This growing flood of vocabulary and ideas put great pressure on minds to remember, that is to not lose access to these mental objects in thinking and problem solving. From early recorded history there is record of a new kind of mental or oral construct, information systems that were devised to assist memory or recall. 87x126These included the taxonomies common to all tribal cultures which are categories organizing some understanding of knowledge, the earliest dealing with plants and animals that were passed along within complex stories and visualizations. By the fifth century BC there is a written record of other approaches as well. Concerned with the need to stand, speak and remember, the Greek poet Simonides "described a method for improving one's memory by visualizing a series of loci (places) in a particular order, then associating a meaningful image with each place" (Wright, 2007, p. 124^). However, location based memory systems were but one of many techniques of memorization ("Art of Memory", 2011^). Even in the modern era, enormous feats of oral memory were reported about those who built on this basic construct of memorization (Lorayne & Lucas, 2000^; Wright, 2007^). However, they required great effort, greater than most would take the time to master. This created the foundation for the next great leap in thinking technology.

Today, skills with rhetoric, speech and public speaking still build on the knowledge of this age and remain a critical feature of democratic life (NARA: Exhibit Hall). Orality can be recorded in multiple ways including telephone, audio recorders, computer-based microphones and video systems, and then edited, archived and distributed globally in seconds. Oral language and other symbolisms represent a second generation of thinking technology. 

What percentage of today's curriculum and classroom time fosters the second generation thinking skills of speaking? Should this change? Why? Which parts of current curriculum support and foster this area?


The Third Age archimedes notebook

The creation of symbol based information systems from 35,000 to 20,000 BC (Wright, 2007^) was a critical step in the creation of writing and later electronic computers. 391x75 pixel image of carved MesoAmerican boneEarly forms of information notation began with a collection of pebbles or simple notches on sticks for counting. Later, reindeer and other carved bones, referred to as "batons" by archeologists, were used to keep elaborate reminders as visualizations (CalState: MesoAmerican Art). These carvings kept track of things such as social events, the lunar calendar, the sequence of the appearance of different species during the year, and used art forms to remember other ideas whose social details we seldom can decipher.

From 12,000 to 700 B.C. the technology of storing ideas moved from scratching and chiseling on wood, bone and stone to scratching on clay, skins, parchment and paper. 181x122Writing systems as a form of bookkeeping on clay tokens appeared some 6,000 years ago (3,500 BC) then later on clay tablets (3,000 BC) recording debts, sales and contracts (Wright). This occurred along with the emergence of Mesopotamia, the first significant civilization, though writing's appearance varies with the culture being considered. The first true alphabet with symbols for both consonants and vowels emerged around 900 to 800 BC in Greek culture (McCarter, 1974^; Wright, 2007^). Genetic research provides further evidence of brain evolution as the results of such cultural pressure (Tang, 2006^). About 5,800 years ago the gene ASPM (abnormal spindlelike microcephaly-associated) began its migration through the human species (Mekel-Bobrov, 2005^) further helping to accelerate the growth of the brain. The new writing technology enabled the storage of more complex reasoning skills such as the mathematical thinking of the ancient Greek called Archimedes whose mathbook and notes are shown in the clickable image the left (RIT: Mathbook of Archimedes). Writing technologies represents a third generation of thinking technology. Human beings created stored sequences of information for others to follow. When thinkers used alphabet letters they were writing and when they used Arabic and other notation systems for numerals, that is mathematics, they were using the more narrow definition of computing as calculating.

The skills of this age of text literacy do not come easily to all either. All cultures have languages but only a small percentage of all languages have a written language. All literate cultures have varying degrees of those who struggle with literacy skills into adulthood. Some suffer from reading disorders such as dyslexia. Dyslexia is the term for major difficulty in dealing with the third generation technologies of reading and writing (Shaywitz, 2003^). Some one in five children have some degree of dyslexia (Gorman, 2003^). Disorders impact not only reading, but writing and arithmetic thinking as well.

graph of world literacy rates from UNESCO, 2000Some forms of illiteracy come from insufficient education. But how society has defined sufficient and proficient literacy has been a moving target over the centuries. In Western culture historians have struggled to make estimates of literacy rates based on a sparse historical record. The Greek culture and its city-states were known for the high quality of thought, yet " the very best of times and places--for example, Athens at the height of the classical period in the fifth century B.C.E--literacy rates were rarely higher than 10-15 percent of the population. . . .[and overall] 85-90 percent of the population could not read or write" (Ehrman, 2007, p. 37^). Some 1500 years later, around 1000 A.D. in the middle ages, something near that percentage continues to surface from scholarly study. "In an attempt to measure the level of literacy at the turn of the millennium, M. Cipolla finds the number to be 12%, and the progress of education as being tied to urban centres. These numbers are of course uncertain" (Melve, 2003^). In short, since the invention of western literacy, a small percentage of the population, at best 1 in 10, were fluent readers and writers. This did not begin to change in any significant way until the 18th century. Beginning in the 1700's some national governments began increasing the requirements for universal literacy, the government goal of everyone being able to read, and then much later the requirement to be able to write. This spread rapidly across countries joining the industrial revolution in the 1800's.

The elitist nature of higher levels of literacy persisted through the astonishing growth of the industrial revolution. The United States followed the emergence of the industrial revolution in Great Britain; the first U.S. factory appeared in 1790. By 1860, in just the textile industry alone, there were some 5,000 cotton and woolen factories on the Eastern seaboard creating significant wealth and more time to spend it. This factory system also included advanced in paper manufacture and printing presses that together produced plummeting prices for books and other materials which stimulated literacy growth. Throughout this same time period the pressure for some level of universal literacy led to Horace Mann's movement to create the Common Schools with trained teachers and government mandated attendance for younger children in primary schools which was quickly followed with government requirements for public secondary schools.

There is a curious correlation of economic need for and growth in literacy skills. Each factory needed a percentage of manual laborers for whom reading was generally minimal if not irrelevant and a few levels of management and skilled production workers that did need ever higher levels of literacy. In the beginning of the industrial revolution and until very recently, the need for manual labor was high. Consequently the industrial revolution then both depressed growth in literacy for many while it raised the need for better literacy for some (Limage, 2005^). In the United States this economic need for those with low to high levels of literacy persisted until around 1999 when a high percentage of factory jobs left for cheaper labor in other countries deleting some 1/3 or 6 million manufacturing jobs from the United States in 10 years (Davidson, 2012^). In spite of the flight of many factories overseas, manufacturing production in the United States actually rose after 1999 by over 30%. This was due to factory automation, replacing the work of an individual's hands with a computer controlled machine. To stay ahead of the replacement of people by machines now required much higher levels of knowledge; this requires the text and numerical literacy to digest the output of the information explosion and to compose new knowledge (Davidson^). In spite of such needs, just 25% of high school seniors in the United States earned proficient writing scores in a national assessment of educational progress (Kent, Wanzek,Petscher, Al Otaiba, & Kim, 2013^).

At the same time however, literacy historians, examining the growth of text literacy over time have uncovered a literacy myth. "Education is supposed to stimulate economic development, lay the groundwork for democratic institutions and practice, provide opportunities for citizens to share values, language and unite. The direct causal evidence that this is the case is simply not there." (Limage, 2005^). Text literacy would appear to be essential and yet insufficient for cultural advance and must be combined with other skills and knowledge.

Text literacy is certainly insufficient for more advanced manufacturing, which requires other literacies. A reporter for a National Public Radio show discovered that for an advanced level-two position in the factory, the employee would need "the ability to picture dozens of moving parts in my head. Half the people Tony has trained over the years just never were able to get that skill" (Davidson, 2012b^). A commenter to the online article noted that this was a skill that middle school and high school "Shop" classes used to teach. It should also be noted that this is a skill that children now exploring with Lego robots and 3D printers are once again acquiring.

In the 21st century the spread of automation continues to reduce the availability of manual labor/illiterate positions and expand the need for those with greater reading and compositional ability. The nature of literacy itself is evolving as the survival of factory workers requires not just text literacy, but combination with other forms. These other forms include three-dimensional design software and computer programming that now control the newer factory machines. This also includes the 3D (three dimensional) fabrication machines such as 3D printers and laser cutters which work with wood and fabric. These are seen not only as the next revolution in manufacturing, but the next revolution in systems and tools for children's creativity and play (Eisenberg, 2011; Eisenberg, 2012). This knowledge is not taught by factories nor by free public schools which then requires motivated individuals to finance such instruction themselves. The pressure for higher levels of a wide range of literacies now impacts every level of the factory employment positions that remain.

The definition of text literacy has become quite nuanced. Where illiteracy means the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language, functional illiteracy has meant the inability to use reading and writing skills efficiently in day to day situations. Literacy does not come easily to a variety of cultures. The U.S. illiteracy rate is close to the world average (UNESCO, 2000; click the graph on the linked Web page for a clearer image of world literacy rates). Of the some 6,800 or so modern languages (Anderson, 2004^), those actively used at the start of the 21st century, one researcher estimated that only 78 of them had developed a written literature (Ong, 1988^). In later research, Google's digital book scanning project counted over 129 million books in the world in about 480 written languages (Jackson, 2010^), just 7% of all languages.

In just the United States, some 14% of adults cannot meet simple everyday reading needs. The National Center of Adult Literacy (NAAL) reported that 22% cannot meet basic quantitative needs and some 29% in the United States lack the ability to handle the more challenging text literacy needs of the 21st century work force. Certain levels of at least intermediate text literacy levels must be achieved before individuals can actually reach some level of personal economic and social advancement (NAAL Report, 2003^) based on that literacy. Unfortunately, there are no statistics to report on the oral capacity of those with literacy challenges nor data on the percentages of development for composition in media beyond text literacy.

Each wave of innovation in human culture comes with social consequences. There are fears about what will be lost,  active resistance to change, and bold experimenters that push new ideas into uses that are impractical or variations that outright fail. These changes can be painfully disruptive to people's feelings, ethics, health and economic systems. Effective debate over change requires respectful consideration of everyone's ideas. 108x165100x165That a supporter of a technique or idea loses the debate on some innovation does not mean they were less intelligent or less capable. For example, no one questions the intellectual ability of Socrates in ancient Greece (469 - 399 B.C., picture on left), who argued against writing as destructive of the ability to remember, and chose to remain illiterate while his pupil Plato (427-347 B.C., picture on right) used writing to help him create some of the finest philosophical thinking of all time.

In fact Socrates was more right than perhaps even he knew. Not only the very definition of what it means to know was changed by the changing technologies of literacy, but the actual ability to recall significant detail has changed immensely. The age of print has reinforced "the relentless march toward linear sequencing" which "effectively suppressed what hypertext scholar Gregory Ulmer calls the pluridimensional character of symbolic thought" (Wright, 2007, p.223^). The capacity to read and the ubiquity of stored text in print and computer form has created a "license to forget" (Hobart & Schiffman, 2002^) that we have forgotten has occurred and seem perpetually astonished to rediscover the capacity for memory among those trained in the lore of oral culture (Lorayne & Lucas, 2000^; Rubin, 1995^).

Change can be distressing. In more recent times in the 1800's, when Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian, invented writing in the Cherokee language, members of his tribe burned down his home and writing workshop. It should be noted that Sequoyah eventually prevailed and the Cherokee rapidly took to reading, writing and then using printing presses to publish newspapers in their own language (Foreman, 1938^). Discussion and critique of deeply held perspectives have stimulated strong feelings when proponents feel under attack. When involved in such debates about change and the future, participants must be careful not to attack the person, but to critically and creatively think about the new idea, to reflectively weigh the potential losses and gains, to look for opportunities to test ideas that have a chance of being useful and to determine their merits through experimentation where possible. 

What percentage of today's curriculum and classroom time fosters third generation thinking skills? Should this change? Why?


The Fourth Age digital hub devices

The handedness of first generation technology began the age of machines which changed the relationship between people and nature. The second and third generation creation of spoken and written language shifted the nature relationships between people and groups of people. With the creation of digital computers in the 1940s, a fourth generation of thinking technology, another literacy began to emerge that transformed the relationship between people and machines. For those with the wealth to afford them, machines became interactive, and increasingly responsive using all of the forms of media that had been created. They in turn provided a rich ecology for the creation of new literacy, new media and communication forms. This created a new set of cultural competencies and goals.

The transformation was as much conceptual as mechanical. From the abacus at the edge of prehistory around 400 B.C. and into the 1940s, "computer" was a term that applied to a human being, just as the terms hunter, swimmer and debater still do. Computer referred especially to a literate person who computed, that did mathematical computations or calculations for a variety of business and institutional needs ranging from small shops to large banks, insurance companies and more. That is, the origins of the term computer and its later electronic computer function was for almost three thousand years mathematical. Both the primary meaning and the function of the concept of computers was tied to mathematical calculation done by human beings. With the advent of WWII and the creation of calculating devices, the meaning of computer suddenly shifted from a person to a machine. This shift in roles erased an entire field of careers and built new ones higher up the food chain of information management, a process that has continued into the present. For example, the Mckinsey Global Institute reported in 2012 that the United States needed 2 million more workers that were data literate and/or had deep analytical expertise ("Big Data", 2012^). The transformation also extended the meaning of machine from mindless laborer to potential genius.

A Brief Timeline

Critical reading: A Brief Timeline in the History of Computers . This "Brief Timeline..." review of the history of computers is a relatively short list of important dates and facts. Note that for almost every item in the timeline there is a link to a single picture or a set of relevant pictures in Google's image database. Having sampled the set of Google images, more about any single item using the same search term can be found among web pages by clicking the Web tab on the same Google search page. The goal is to give this a quick read, not visit every image link. After you have read through this Brief Timeline list, return to the next paragraph. 

Where the third generation thinking of writing technology separated the human mind from many of its requirements for remembering detail which enabled higher levels of thought, fourth generation technology freed the mind (and body) from many basic requirements for calculation, procedural activities and other forms of information management enabling ever higher levels of intellectual activity. Calculating machines could carry out work more independently of humans, just like motors and other machines. The three prior generations of thinking technology were all critical steps to the creation of computer technologies and the fourth generation of thinking. Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, digital computer technologies increasingly influenced major elements of the economy, the military, the environment and medicine (Maier et al, 2002^).

Since the 19th century, the available data clearly indicates that most countries of the world have made significant progress in a number of different categories. Clicking the picture below jumps to the site in order to watch the animation of progress over the last 210 years in life expectancy and income per person. The acceleration of progress in the last 60 years parallels the exponential growth of computer technology over the same time period. Each circle represents a country. The size of the circle represents the size of the country's population. When the site opens, click the Play button at the bottom. The slider at the bottom can be stopped or rewound at any point. Moving the screen cursor onto a circle will reveal the country.

.screen shot of graphs showing change in health and wealth over time

Having shifted the perception of computer from person a machine in the 1950's, the arrival and rapid public adoption of personal computers with their arrival in the late 1970's led a shift from specialist requirements to being remixed with universal educational requirements. The three R's (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic) of print-on-paper culture became the digital three C's of text composition which include some graphic elements, Communication (for example, slideshows using Powerpoint), Composition (word processing software) and Calculation (spreadsheet and graphing software). A new literacy was emerging, a digital literacy.


This new literacy grew further with the advent of the public and commercial Internet and the invention of Web pages in the 1990's. The Web created a global idea processor that integrated the three C's into the three S's of the problem process, problem Sharing, problem Shaping and problem Solving. This took the types of software in common use among computer users in the age of the three C's and rapidly expanded them to include all the media in cultural use in digital form for desktop and Web use. By the 2010's the set of prior digital media then mixed with widespread use of new media, social media applications, such as Twitter, Wikipedia and Facebook that could only work in the Web environment. This "shifted the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement" and the emergence of what might be called a participatory culture (Jenkins, 2009, p.6^). Web conferencing software became widely available and used. A wide range of digital tools for personal, team and larger group thinking had arrived at a time in which over 94% and growing of the world's data is digital. The amount and the growth of available and stored information had reached staggering proportions ( Hilbert & López, 2011^) creating immense cultural and educational challenges (Houghton, 2011b^).

The previously discussed 3C's that emerged prior to the development of the Web, have been transformed by the Internet. Computer technology has transformed the nature of calculation and our perception of the value and limits of calculation. The elegant mix of the three majors parts of a computer (the CPU or central processing unit; RAM/ROM or memory ; and I/O or input and output) produced calculation results that led to extraordinary revolutions in thinking about science and life in general.

What previously would have taken several lifetimes to calculate could be done in seconds with sometimes valuable and surprising results. Work done on computers in the 1960's began to show that the tiniest of changes in an interactive system can have serious long term consequences. Small changes are not simply lost in the average of the actions of others. The more interactive the system the more rapidly new developments in a system could and would occur. Entirely new fields of study have grown up around computational mathematics, nonlinearity and complexity theory. Applying such capacity to new areas of study, such as genetics and the study of the highly interactive nature of the brain to name just two, suggest that significant opportunity remains for new revelations by the digital complexity-scope. However, there is a certain hubris about the use of data to make predictions and pronouncements, especially highly interactive systems; it should not be overlooked that there is perhaps no field of study with more data, including longitudinal data and more interactive than the weather. The track record for weather prediction is rather limited for even limited periods of time. The field of education focuses on the brain and groups of people, perhaps the systems with the highest known levels of interaction for which there is far less computable data, but equally dismal records for prediction.

With the development of the concept of computer networking between computers that began in the 1960's the computer could also be seen in a new light, not as a single entity but as a collective one. The network became the new computer. In 1969 the first host computer was connected and by the end of the year 4 host computers were connected together in a network called ARPANET. The first public demonstration of ARPANET occurred at the International Computing Conference in 1972 (Leiner et al., 2003^).  ARPANET exponential growth eventually evolved into the Internet numbering over 3.7 billion Internet devices in the year 2012 ("IP addresses", 2012^) and growing rapidly. This growing capacity shows why the computer as a communication device is becoming competitive with other communication networks such as book publishing, telephone, radio and television networks. Prior to the year 1994 only government and educational institutions and their employees were allowed to use the Internet. By 1994, the commercialization of the Internet began and use exploded. Commercialization allowed the explosion of Internet use to continue unabated to all social groups on the planet along with significant innovation in the types and quality of services. Following the vast quantitative expansion of technical communication capacity, has come a social explosion in participatory culture. That half of the world's Internet users already have a Facebook account ("Facebook users", 2011^) is but one example of the Net's impact which underscores the "qualitative difference in the ways we make sense of cultural experience, and in that sense it represents a profound change in how we understand literacy" (Jenkins, 2009, p.32^). This greater opening of the market of ideas through communication in social networks is a quiet but powerful revolution with serious capacity to change the future.

Another trend has emerged that is also transforming the meaning of the term computer, composition. From the beginning of the first calculating devices, computers were used for the composition or creation of mathematical ideas. As computers became more sophisticated, the use of the computer for other types of composition spread. In 1975 the first word processor was made available. Games, simulations and other activities were also being created in the 1970s. 

311x148As computers increasingly become "digital hubs" that connect an array of computing hardware devices (Apple: Digital Hub), they also become digital hubs for an array of types of composition and communication. The computer network in turn connects these digital hubs (both technical and the three C's) through forms of digital communication which can reach across the globe in seconds, creating a higher level hub for finding, framing and solving problems. Such developments not only suggest many transformative chances to reinvent and rethink past practices, but require such rethinking. This has led to an ever greater need for a diverse range of software tools. Personal computers to date build but a fraction of the software applications needed for 21st century composition and communication into the basic functions of the machine. This has required buyers to spend considerably more beyond the initial price of the computer to match computer capacity with the primary ways it is being used. We are still early in the digital age.

asdfToday, in this fourth generation of thinking tools, it is difficult to find any area of human creativity in which the computer is not used to support the process of creation, display and communication of questions, thinking and solutions. The emergent 21st century literacy that now exists across the Web has included the categories of text, still image, video, sound/music, 2D and 3D animation, 3D design and digital fabrication shops, electronic sensors and remote control devices and many forms of reader and user input. The literacy of coding (computer programming) was the paint brush that mixed together the chemicals for each of the paints on the palette. This might be thought of as the digital palette as represented by the palette image on the left. Increasingly those inspired to creative thinking reach for their computer in addition to a pencil, pen or brush. The computer may only help to develop the rough draft of an idea or might be essential to its completion.

The next major wave of Internet expansion is now just beginning with the concept of "smart objects" and the Internet of Things (Vasseur & Dunkels, 2010^). Smart objects are tiny devices that are really minescule wireless computers hooked to sensors and/or motors. These sensor driven devices will become a part of every object that we see. They will communicate with each other and us over the Net.


In addition to the virtual world of cyberspace thinking there is the physical world, the world of digital makerspace in which we sit and walk. The sensors (eg., remote sensors, robotics devices, smart objects) are totally external to desktop and laptop computers and report back to our personal digital devices from the world of objects, devices which are shaped, placed and maintained by hand in our physical world. In turn our capacity for 3D thinking has created a set of computer managed machines that build things, things which can have circuitry and sensors embedded in their digital printing. Communities around the world have created hundreds of makerspaces (also called hackerspaces and fablabs) which are large shop rooms containing 3D printers, CNC routers, laser cutters and other devices for creating and shaping objects and for teaching others how to use them. This is a curious completion of the circle, to our first literacy, creating, designing and manipulating objects with our hands, albeit digitally empowered ones. These sensor managed objects will also be an historical first. They support the intellectual activities of their creators yet are able at some level able to operate outside of buildings independently of them, objects with their own increasingly literate abilities to communciate, compose and calculate.

Human space

As with other prior ages of thinking, this age too must contend with its own anxieties compounded with others, including computer and math anxiety and the fear of being overwhelmed by the growing layers of skills needed for optimal use of the Web. Though no specific official pyschological or mental disorder related to computer technology has emerged, as digital technology is a further synthesis of of all ages of thinking technology that have gone before it, prior concerns such as speaking anxieties and dyslexia apply here as well. Educators must keep these concerns in mind as digital technologies continue to spread across curriculum areas.

As consensus over the meaning of digital literacy and its components is still emerging, there are no tests, surveys and or published rates of the digitally literate that can have any meaning, even if they exist. However, the broad terminology for evaluating literacy can still apply to digital literacy: illiteracy, functional literacy, and fluent literacy. But instead of one general value, a separate value must be applied to each media element of the digital palette, yielding a very diverse looking bar graph of capacity. What is our capacity to compose and understand with each of them? Clearly, only a tiny percentage of the United States or the world's population is fluent in each of them, with most citzens of the world being illiterate and a growing percentage that is functionally literate. If we broaden the definition of literacy to be more than just the capacity to read and write, but the capacity to use information systems to find and solve our toughest problems, then there is a body of work that has recently emerged that can provide some overarching perspective. The best data we have may come from the work of Richard Florida (2003^) and others in the study of the "creative class" and its "super-creative" core concentrating in selected major cities, a key driving force for economic development of the post-industrial age, a group that makes up about 12% of United States jobs that specialize in finding and solving key problems. This is a perspective that curiously echoes the role and nature of literacy from ancient Greece, through the middle ages with a small minority at the leading edge of the fluently literate. Concentrating in major cities, then as today, they addressed the key problems of their age with best tools then available.

Forces are at work that continue to push once specialized literacies towards universal goals. The spread of the printing press in the 1400's began dropping the cost of universal literacy until cultural and economic interests made it a national government goal in the 1700's that was not broadly achieved until the 1900's. The pace of change is a bit faster in the 21st century. The promise of and the spread of less expensive digital computing devices combined with the falling cost of Net access means that similar cultural and economic interests will make universal digital literacy not just an acknowledged goal for all governments and their citizens but its absence a critical bottleneck for the growth of the new economy. At a time in which a glut of information with a staggering growth rate (Hilbert and Lopez^) has become the new oil, the new raw material of business ("Data", 2011^) and knowledge the "primary engine of economic growth" (Birkinshaw, 2005^), the pressure on this bottleneck will become intense. Mobile digital media are just the latest in a long line of developments. Though already emerging ideas from other designers, the introduction of the iPhones in 2007, Android phones in 2008 and iPads in 2010 accelerated the adoption and the vision of the ubiquitous mobile computer ideal. Finland became the first country to declare Net access a legal right passing legislation that made the necessary technology and access freely available to any citizens that could not afford it (Pictet, 2010^).

There was a time in which multiple diverse technologies or machines were required in each of these three areas: calculation, communication and composition. Now one, digital technology, increasingly takes the place of a multitude of machines. Where an educational system now uses paper technology to focus on the literacy of writing and reading, the emerging educational system uses digital computer technology to redefine and teach calculation, communication and composition in new ways. The skills of the three C's are in turn applied to the underlying goal of processing human problems using the three S's, sharing, shaping and solving, that is, problem sharing and finding, problem shaping and framing and problem solving.

There was a time in which multiple diverse technologies or machines were required in each of these three areas: calculation, communication and composition. Now one, digital technology, increasingly takes the place of a multitude of machines. Where an educational system now uses paper technology to focus on the literacy of writing and reading, the emerging 21st century educational system uses digital computer technology to redefine and teach calculation, communication and composition in new ways. In the state of North Carolina, the Mooresville school district shifted to a digital technology intensive classroom environment with Smartboards K-3 and 1-to-1 computing, grades 4-12, in 2008 within their existing budget capacity ("Digital", 2011^). As such changeover occurs, the skills of the three C's (communication, calcuation and composition) can in turn transform to accenting the underlying goal of processing human problems. This means paying attention to what might be called the three S's (problem sharing, problem shaping and problem solving). There are multiple ways to express the development.

The future of the human race is somehow tied in important ways to this application of calculation, communication and composition to finding and solving problems in our fourth generation of thinking technology. Friedman's best selling book, The World is Flat, has been widely read by educators. Our multiple thinking technologies have used fiber optics hardware and the World Wide Web software to create a "flat world" space (Friedman, 2007^) where the competitive and collaborative barriers between all continents are rapidly falling. Learners and entrepreneurs around the globe are pouring into this conceptual space, imagining and inventing the future from its opportunities.

We face a problem of human space, of how to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. What will emerge from this synthesis or rather how we will emerge from our synthesis of these four generations or layers of literacy is still evolving. Biologists have observed that in the genetic development of creating human beings (ontogeny), the stage of development repeats earlier evolutionary developments (phylogeny) which built in a compounding reinforcing way to new levels of evolutionary development. What is striking about this emerging synthesis within computer technology is the comprehensiveness, the depth of its involvement with so many facets of the layers what it means to be human, literate and thinking. Given the dominating role of handedness or handyness of human origins in the first layer of literacy, it is then perhaps understandable that computer technology has rapidly evolved to mobile computing that puts the hand back in the key role of controlling the composition of solutions, and doing so while on the move. Such multi-layered integration cannot help but to have profound effects on the nature of education and learning in the years ahead. Tool evolution has arrived at a hand-held mobile device that integrates handedness, speech, text and all the newer literacies of the digital age for a new age of problem solving. Cognitive development in an individual would also benefit from teaching and learning that recapitulates the history of human cognition. This is valuable not just because it is the historic trail of human cognition, but because it takes into account the current real capacities of what it means to be human. Fully engaging with what digital literacy has become has provided the opportunity to do so in the context of one general technology. This makes these major aspects of digital technology extremely important to keep in mind as educators design curriculum that further integrates computer technology use with the processes of teaching, learning and thinking.

What percentage of today's curriculum and classroom time in K-12 and higher education directly includes and fosters fourth generation thinking skills? Should this change? Why?

Change Across the Layers

The profound nature of such changes has been noted by many. "Technological change is not additive; it is ecological.  A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything" (Postman, 1992^). In human history, this has happened over and over. This examinatinon of literacy provides one such series of examples of paradigm shifts (Houghton, 2013^).

The visual design embedded in the right of this paragraph was created in an online 3D design application called TinkerCad ( to represent the nature of the transitions in the four layers of literacy. graph using conic sections showing one cone emerging out of the top of the next as metaphor for the evolution of the layers of literacyIn each age, developments began and continued slowly for a long period of time, and then expanded rapidly. The nature of the cone geometry makes it seem that the growth was more rapid than it probably was initially, perhaps better thought of as the stem of a wine glass. The stone age lasted for some 2 million years. Then during a time of a golden age of a particular capacity of the literacy of a given age, some tipping point of a new way thinking led to something radically new and different emerging.

To grasp how significant a new composition technology can become to a culture and its educational system, imagine the transition in the graphic above between oral and written culture (the yellow and green cones). Imagine a school without instruction in and use of reading and writing. They existed. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, certainly benefited much from such a highly sophisticated pre-text literacy system. Because of writing, the world has a recorded history; it does have some comprehension of how much the third generation invention of writing transformed the world. “What would happen if the whole world became literate? Answer: not so very much, for the world is by and large structured in such a way that it is capable of absorbing the impact. But if the whole world consisted of literate, autonomous, critical, constructive people capable of translating ideas into action, individually, or collectively—the world would change” (Galtung, 1975, re-printed in Graff, 1981 and 1987), (Limage, 2005, p. 39^). That is, is improvement in literacy without advancement in other areas of human and social development sufficient to lift people from poverty and disadvantage? The evidence points to the essential yet insufficient nature of literacy for personal growth and economic and cultural advancement. It is the knowledge and experience of the application of literacy to real world problems that enables learners to become self-sufficient and creative problem-solvers.

Next imagine the transition between the green and orange cones, our present. Imagine a school in which computer technology for making virtual ideas and physical things is as common as the technology for reading and writing with paper. Those schools are being invented as I write this, one to one schools where there is one personal digital device for every student, 1 to 1 or 1:1. The map below provides some idea of the progress being made towards an educational system fully preparing children and adults for cyberspace and makerspace. The all green counties are the furthest along, putting digital devices in each of the hands of elementary, middle and high school students. This is just one state of 50 but it is likely to be representative of developments in many places in the world. map of the 100 counties of the state of North Carolina, color coded to show the emergence of schools putting computers in the hands of every student in every classroom in the educational system

School district by school district and county by county and country by country the devices of the digital era are making their way into the hands of every public school student. Educators in these school districts are feeling as if they just jumped through some science fiction time warp, landing on some new planet and praying they can begin to make sense of it all. They will begin by applying the new technology to the old world from which they came, using cyberspace technology to "shove paper down a wire" and make the old familiar world more efficient. They must not face or stay in the old world too long. To stay in that frame of reference will deny the true potential of the new tools for thought. A new digital palette for composition will now be in their hands. They must turn to face forward. How well they can see, use and teach the new models of digital cultural practice exploding all over cyberspace and makerspace will determine the success of the new era and their students.

What will the new Plato or Einstein or DaVinci now sitting in these newly digital classrooms of the cyberspace and makerspace era contribute to human culture? Will there be other losses in human capacity as have occurred across prior transitions in thinking technology or does the new era of digital literacy represent a spiral like return to thought at a higher more integrative level for many human capacities that had fallen into neglect? Whether such future development is for the better or the worse depends on the actions educators take today. 

The applications of these four thinking technology generations should not be thought of as epochs in which the start of a new one is the end of the last. Each new generation of thinking technology continued to impact the development of the prior generations and vice versa. Writing still co-exists with speech and tool making. Digital technology continues this trend. In numerous ways the digital age continues the development and the mixing of all four of these generations. Digital technology continually improves the tools that we make and use with our hands, part of the first generation of thinking technology. Through computer networks, new opportunities to use first generation gesture and 2nd generation speech continue. Through computer applications, every form of third generation writing is being enhanced and transformed with new forms of composition. Further, every generation of literacy is used to enhance the next step in the computer technology of the fourth generation.

One vision of the evolution of digital thinking beyond what is currently in use is well demonstrated in the narrated Corning Glass video below, A Day Made of Glass 2: Unpacked, developed for an annual report presentation to its investors and posted to YouTube. Most of the elements of the digital palette can be found within it.


For those challenged by third generation text literacy, the Web of cyberspace may also eventually be seen as a giant curb cut for those learners and adults challenged by forms of text illiteracy. With minimal text skills, they can search the Web for news and information that can be received as podcasts or videoclips and their oral skills expanded and shared as compositions through the use the Web's capacity for audio and video storage and live communication. Other digital tools can enable the computerized reading of text documents. The flexibility of digital systems may play a significant role in further addressing basic literacy education.

Further, presuming that this trend will continue, how best can we educate our citizens to put this capacity to best use?  Would the most effective curriculum balance and accent all four generations of thinking or just one? What inferences could one draw from this knowledge for changes in state curriculum competencies and college general education and liberal studies programs?

Why? What generates this ongoing quest for new forms of communication? Left to your personal speculation and group discussion is consideration of why our species continues to press forward with new forms for information and thought. What is it about the nature of the problems that humans face that appears to require a variety of evolving forms of thought?

Also left to further discussion and future observation is some sense of where the species of homo sapiens is going. Ongoing empirical evidence has indicated that human evolution is continuing (Oleksyk et al, 2010^; Sabeti, 2007^) and some argue that is even speeding up (Harpending & Cochran, 2009^). Research further indicates that the brain is still evolving as well (Balter, 2005^; Evans, 2005^; Mekel-Bobrov et al, 2005^; Mekel-Bobrov & Posthuma et al, 2007^; Rimol et al., 2010^). As climate upheavals presented novel major problems for early humans to solve, ongoing work on solutions correlated with growth in skull and other evolutionary changes thus expanding 21st century homo sapien population. Human culture and growing social interaction presented even more complex and numerous problems to solve. This implies that our bodies and brains are still hard at work in evolving but in ways for which the amount of time passed is barely enough for genetic evidence to provide glimpses of evolving patterns. Can these genetic trends be added up in some way to suggest future intellectual tools for problem solving and future educational goals?


In summary, cultural needs and environmental pressures preceded and stimulated the emergence of the genetic changes that led to handedness and the capacity for language learning (Wilson, 1998^). Looked at over the long range of the history our species and its biology, some of these thinking developments have had time to be incorporated at the structural and cellular level of our bodies (e.g., handedness and learning language), and other intellectual developments have not, though we persist in spite of the difficulty they cause many. With each new age of literacy though, something was also lost and new challenges arose. Computer and math anxiety are established concepts in the educational literature. Each layer of literacy is a superset of some of the features of the layer of literacy that came before it. If so, then one could predict that the emergence of cyberspace with its attendant computer and math anxieties will stimulate new genetic changes in the brain that at some point will lead to a new leap in human thinking capacity.

homunculcus shows accenting enlarged handsFor the present, this is who we are and who we teach. Over the 7 million years period that science has tracked humanoid development, the first half was spent evolving a body that was adept at walking upright, perhaps routinely walking 20 to 30 miles a day for millions of years. This freed the hands for another 50% of human evolution, some 3 and a half million years, spent developing the capacity to think and make tools and to make and to use hand tools for further thinking and problem solving which invisibly transformed our nervous system. As with the homunculi on the right, underneath our skins our nervous and sensory systems are still designed for a world and a life that most can no longer imagine or live. In the last .003% of this 7 million year evolutionary time span, homo sapiens developed a sophisticated linguistic ability. In the last .0004% of this time span writing was invented and in the last .000002%, the Internet with its multiple media and composition tools emerged as dominant activities of the first world humans. Our biology, body and brain, is trapped by evolutionary pace in the paleo era, which is strapped to a rocketship of culture that has accelerated into cyberspace and makerspace. Its journey is continuing onward.

Our challenge as educators is to help these living systems that we know as children, adolescents and adults stay healthy, grow up and thrive amidst the exploding quantities and availabilities of knowledge as well as thrive in the constantly renewing intellectual challenges of the fourth age of literacy and thinking. From this perspective it seems a bit odd that the education system of the early 21st century chills 3/4 of human capacity, generally putting its learners in seats and telling them to sit still, to read and write but to not move around, to seldom use their precision capable hands to make or use anything (other than pencil and book), not talk and not to expect a computer or other digital devices for personal use until they leave the school building. Has the classic school classroom become a case of de-evolution?

81x80Going forward, it is also of particular importance that the fourth age of thinking has distinguished itself from the three prior ages of thinking technology by its fast and increasing pace of change. Like the exponentially upward moving graph to the left, what began as a slow assent in knowledge and technical capacity over millions and then tens of thousands of years, has become a rocket ride of innovation and change. This sense of exponential development merged with the World Wide Web has led to the saying that one human year equals seven Internet years. Moore's Law, Bandwidth Scaling Law, Metcalf's Law and Reed's Law are just some of the accelerating major trends in the capacity and integration of our digital tools and information systems (Houghton, 2011a^). Such change has created ongoing cultural earthquakes of varying intensities. "We are living in exponential times" (Fisch, 2006^). The original 2006 version of Fisch's "Did You Know?" is below.

As a further summary of the fourth wave in the world on which so many are now riding, YouTube has numerous variations on the viral "change happens" hits of "Did you know" and "shift happens".

We are challenged to meld all four of the layers of the evolution of literacy in order to maximize our human potential and apply that knowledge in meaningful ways. As each new layer has proven more challenging than the last, cross-layer thinking practices will yield even further educational value. We are also challenged to answer some important questions not resolved among these thoughts. Is there a way to give serious attention to handedness in our curriculum that will build better oral language skills and vocabulary? Would stronger oral training and skills enable our students to be better in writing and reading? Would more digitally literate students be better at text composition? Can the rich variety of digital literacy be used to so integrate and accent all four stages of literacy that a new level of intelligence and human capacity emerges? Are we merely devoted to text literacy or in light of cyberspace has it become an instructional addiction? It is through deeper understanding of our evolutionary layered literacy, this extended definition of transliteracy, that we get a handle on the culture of the present. Our current situation then with the fourth age of computer technology and digital literacy is part of deep historical trends. Having this awareness of these human drives will put us in a position to better think about where our culture is moving and where educators should be leading it with advances in digital thinking technology.




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