Dual Purpose

Although we could have another millennial-class argument about the timing, most people have decided we started a new decade on January 1. Which means we also get lots of retrospectives on the previous ten years. I guess that’s better than trying to make historic sense of only the past twelve months.

In one of the more entertaining entries, posted just before the turn of the calendar, The Verge offered their review of the 84 Biggest Flops, Fails, and Dead Dreams of the Decade in Tech.

While fun, the writer did a lot of fudging to wedge high profile events into the technology classification.

Stuff like the ending of Game of Thrones, which was a failure of storytelling, not technology. Amazon’s HQ2, a story that had more in common with the con-game of building football stadiums and likely will work out well for the company (we have yet to see the impact around here). And VW’s Dieselgate and the Fyre Festival, both of which were stories of simple fraud.

Then there is number 9, The Failure of Privacy.

Privacy didn’t fail during the past decade because of technology. The concept is on shaky ground due to a lack of responsibility (companies and governments) and simple human greed. Two factors that began long before 2010.

A far more thoughtful and relevant reflection on the previous decade came from Audrey Watters in her long post, The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade.1

The Verge had to stretch their definition of tech fails to reach 84, but everything on Watters’ list fits perfectly. I’m impressed she was able to limit herself to only 100.

But I do have a few quibbles.

Number 99, The Promise of Free, deserves a much higher placement.2 The business model of offering software, apps, and services at no cost to the user was suspect from the start. Now it has largely turned into a bait-and-switch scheme where profits are derived from collecting and marketing student data. Or the company moves essential features to the paid level, making free nearly useless. Or they just disappear.

Then there are interactive whiteboards, which should be a permanent fixture in any edtech worst top ten.3 Schools in the US alone have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars into the devices that do little more than lock in the concept of a teacher-directed classroom using flashy gimmicks. According to studies cited by Watters, it’s only getting worse.

I can’t argue with “Everyone Should Learn to Code” at number 6. More thoughts on that misguided idea coming soon to this space.

Finally, it’s interesting that both the Verge and Watters include the killing of Google Reader on their lists. Yes, some of us are still bitter about the damage their greed did to the spread of RSS and personal writing on the web.


If you’re a regular reader of Audrey Watters’ Hack Education blog or subscribe to her HEWN newsletter, the picture I chose for this post will make more sense.

1. Check the URL to see her original, and possibly more appropriate, title for the post.

2. I’ve ranted about the hazards of free many times in this space.

3. Another subject of multiple rants.