I spent today in Toronto, getting in some quality time with my favourite Torontonians in an outrageously overpriced tea house. The price tag, however, was justified by the fact that we were permitted to spend a ridiculous amount of time hanging out in the comfort of their establishment, hashing out everything from grad school to the future of instructional technology. I was able to show off my incredibly ability to drink two entire pots of tea in one sitting to boot.
I walked back to the bus station through a stunningly beautiful Toronto summer day. And on the way there I saw a policeman on horseback.
I’m used to seeing police on horses. They clop around Queen’s Park all the time, and Queen’s Park is right in the middle of the U of T campus. I used to walk through Queen’s park every day. And nearly every day I saw police on horseback.
Since he was right in front of Union Station at the time, this particular policeman on horseback was getting a lot of attention. All the tourist eyes were on him and his noble steed; the tourists pulled out their cameras, they pointed, their children trotted along beside the horse. No one said anything, but you could very nearly hear them thinking it: wow, look at that! A horse! On a city street! How quaint!
As I say, I’ve seen policemen on horses before, but this time, after an afternoon spent throwing around many and varied ideas about technology, teaching, and learning, I looked at this fellow and his horse a little differently. Here we have a society with a preferred mode of transportation: the automobile. We have built out cities to accommodate them. We build houses with a special added room our automobile can drive right into for the night. There are painted parking spaces on the streets, sized just so, because automobiles are expected to be a certain size, and that size can be predicted. The size of the car is one of the standard measurements of our lives, built into our consciousness at this point.
This is where we can so clearly see how good technology works, how good thinking about technology can lead to impressive results. While one technology may take over, become the standard, the obvious and the unthinkably necessary, the validity and usefulness of older technologies remains. Because there is a standard size for automobiles and because a congested city spawns traffic jams, a horse, which is not the standard size, can evade traffic. The problem presented to the standard technology is no problem at all to a older technology. The fact that one standard took over the transportation business means using a older standard gives police an edge.
In an environment where the latest thing is usually considered the best and only thing, sometimes an older technology can add something we didn’t think possible. Just a nugget of thought on a Saturday.