Babies not Boomers

Published 23 April 2001

Canadian computing guru Walter Stewart delivered a sobering message to his mostly middle-aged industry colleagues during the opening keynote speech at AusWeb 01, the seventh Australian World Wide Web conference, in Coffs Harbour today.

Saying "the sad thing about us baby boomers is that we think we're cutting edge", the 40-something Director of global marketing, education and research at Silicon Graphics Inc urged organisations serious about information technology to appoint teenagers to their strategy committees. He also advocated a commitment to 'Serious Play' sessions that take place in virtual - also called 'immersive' or 'replacement' - reality space.

Such sessions, enabled by cutting-edge software designed by companies like SGI, were now being used extensively in north America to develop the creativity and skills of staff in diverse fields and to improve the quality of products or services.

Noting how the post-baby boomers had grown up in a world that was predominantly visual in nature rather than text driven, Walter Stewart said "The key to human insight is sight" and gave examples of how mining companies, medical schools, car designers and other high-tech fields were using computer-generated 3D or even 4D 'walk-through' environments to boost product design, surgeons' expertise, financial control and many other skills.

With the latest device-free (no headset) 'replacement reality' programs, trainee doctors could 'enter' bodies and operate more accurately and quicker than experienced colleagues trained by traditional methods. Geologists could 'walk' through computer-made subterranean landscapes while recreational users were travelling into space or accessing places, such as the inner sanctums of the Vatican or reconstructions of ancient Greece, which they could not otherwise visit.

"These experiences are far more meaningful than anything provided in books," Walter Stewart said, "and they will make an enormous difference to the way people learn in the future. Today's generations are visually rather than text driven and we should not make the mistake of putting text on the Web and calling that an online learning experience."

He described the new learning mode as 'networked intelligence', saying it took place in shared space such as the Web rather than in the 'private space' required by book culture, adding that the technological era had been described as being as significant as the knowledge revolution following Gutenburg's use of the press and the widespread circulation of books.

"Actually, this isn't true - it is far more significant than Gutenburg and it's about time the baby-boomers, who are in very influential positions, recognised it and responded accordingly."

AusWeb 01 is being attended by 150-plus delegates from overseas and around Australia and runs at Coffs Harbour's Novotel Opal Cove Resort until 25 April. Ausweb will also travel to Brisbane and Sydney as a Roadshow featuring Walter Stewart and overseas keynote speakers Walter Underwood, from the search engine design company Inktomi Corporation, whose clients include Nokia, AOL, Boeing and Australian National Library, and UCLA computing futures planner, Assoc. Prof. Phil Agre.

Brisbane - Thursday 26 April, Information Industries Bureau.

Sydney - Friday 27 April, Macquarie University, Flexible Learning Unit.