Technology Is No Substitute for Real-World Experience


There was plenty of Google Kool-Aid in Google CEO Eric Schmidt's recent addresses to graduates of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pennsylvania, as evidenced by excerpts on TechCrunch. For instance, Schmidt urged students to "do things in a group," as "Groups are stronger, groups are faster. None of us is as smart as all of us."


In a statement that will no doubt inspire eye rolls among the cynics who knock Google for its sometimes unfocused approach to business, Schmidt said:

You cannot plan innovation. You cannot plan invention. All you can do is try very hard to be at the right place and be ready.

Schmidt threw in a chaser of the real world when he suggested grads should turn off their phones and computers to "discover all that is human around us." This aside may seem a bit unexpected coming from the leader of a company whose properties include YouTube, which has encouraged many youngsters to conclude life is somehow most relevant when lived online in front of millions of strangers. But coming from Schmidt, maybe it'll get some tech-obsessed acolytes to listen.


I hope his statements make their way to Julie Shannan, a Texas State Technical College student who, reports SFGate.com, earned a virtual digital media design certficate after taking a course in Second Life. Shannan's avatar served as her commencement speaker during a virtual ceremony attended by some other avatars, a portion of which can be seen in a YouTube clip accompanying the SFGate item. The clip touts Shannan's coursework as "an entire college program offering delivered entirely within a virtual world" and notes it "represents the validity of virtual world education as a real method for educational delivery." Though not seen in this clip, the article quotes Shannan as saying:

In my second life, I have explored the inside of computers and servers, collaborated with people across the world, traveled to world class art museums, built 3D products for my logo designs, explored a tsunami from the ocean floor, and many more experiences I could never do in my real world.

Except, uh, talking to real people, a skill that I expect Shannan will need even in a tech-focused career like digital media design. It's pretty hard to hone your interpersonal communication skills when no actual people are involved. I do hope she will try to duplicate some of her online experiences in the real world. With air fares dropping practically by the day, I'd like to think maybe she could visit a physical art museum or two, for instance.


While I don't expect virtual life to supercede real life in education any time soon (if ever), SFGate does note that Bryant & Stratton College will host a virtual graduation ceremony next month.