I was chatting with some friends today, and I was describing a session from Bitnorth ’08 where some teenagers were brought in to be a panel to be questioned by the attendees.
We had lots of questions for these “digital natives“, and while I expected some of the answers (ie: radio’s irrelevant, email is for old people etc..).. it did make me think about the skills we “older” people carry that are, in reality, just cluttering our heads.
I started listening to music on vinyl on a toy record player shaped like a bug that looked like this:
It was a crazy design that put the speaker right under the surface of the record being played. But, I learned how to listen to music on that, and pretty much any turntable I used afterward followed the same basic mode of operation. Some skills were acquired (Setting the right speed, placing the needle at the right point to hear the chosen song, not bouncing on the ground too hard lest the record skip, etc..).. These skills transferred well onto my more “grownup” turntables, but they are all completely useless with my iPod.
Same idea with communications, I learned to use a phone using a rotary dial phone, even learned how to dial a rotary pay phone by tapping the “hang up” button, and those skills are completely incompatible with my Blackberry.
So there’s my head, still holding onto these skills in the hope that one day I may use them again. It’s quite unlikely, but I feel that somehow, holding on to these skills may in fact keep new ones at bay, or at least taint them with prejudice they don’t merit.
I think this need for unlearning carries into all aspects of life.. Just because one girlfriend broke your heart doesn’t mean the next one will, yet often the next one will “pay” for the other’s transgressions. In business, experience can often be a hindrance to innovation, because the “I’ve seen this before” mentality kicks in, and we end up making decisions not on what we see now, but what we saw before. Some of that is good of course, which is why experienced people are better paid than newbies, but there’s a lot to be said for the ability to turn on your “newbieness” and judge situations without prejudice.
So, while a method to “unlearn” method would be nice (though it too would have to be learned), I think we can accomplish a lot of this just by realizing that we’re carrying baggage, and try to not let all past experience forge future decisions.
It’s as close as we can come to unlearning,