Notes on The Sixth Language

Robert K. Logan, a Faculty member of the Department of Physics at University of Toronto, writes on several topics that are relative to our profession as designers. On the book “The Sixth Language: Learning a Living in the Internet Age” he develops the hypothesis that speech, writing, math, science, computers and the Internet form an evolucionary chain of languages.

On the first chapter of the book (that can be downloaded as PDF here: The Evolution of Language and Its Impact on Learning, Work and Society in the Internet Age) he unfolds some ideas that are very much in consonance with things that have marked our lives at least during the last decade.

Not only do we have to question the relevancy of our education system, we must also examine our lifestyles. In the knowledge era, we can no longer compartmentalize our activities into education, work, and recreation as we did in the industrial era. This fragmentation no longer works, because of the speed at which technology changes plus the fact that work and the production of wealth is now knowledge-based. We can no longer divide work and learning. Life in the Internet Age or the knowledge era only becomes meaningful when we integrate work, learning, and leisure time, whether we run a business, program a computer, or compose symphonies.

This is something that we have been doing since we stopped working in companies and established our home office, back then in the ’90s. Since then, we have tried to explain the changes in our lifestyle coming particularly from different blurred areas. First between work space and living space, then between working time and leisure time and finally between working days and holidays. In our case, the eight-hour day fortunately doesn’t exist and doesn’t have any meaning. Of course, aside the particularities of our work, this is feasible because computers and the Internet exists and we have some digital competences. In Logan’s terms, we are fluent in the fifth and sixth links of the chain of languages.

If the key to survival in the knowledge era is to “learn a living” by integrating work and learning, then we must understand the relationship between education, work, and technology.

The model inherited from the industrial age within which school-based and industrial-based educators have traditionally operated is one in which learning and working are two separate activities that correspond to two distinct time periods in the life of an individual.

The idea of constant learning is also having a strong presence in our lives (even the idea of spliting ‘professional life’ vs. ‘general life’ doesn’t have much sense…). Working with rapid paced technology – such as everything related to computers and the Internet – we can’t avoid being eternal learners. And probably having such a status is what disassembles the old idea of teachers and students (where you are either one of them) and compartmentalized education with papers and topics, giving a space to the rise of Rhizomatic Education (something that I am researching particularly in relation to Design). As Logan says,

Two practices of the schools are counterproductive: one is dividing the curriculum into subject disciplines and thereby encouraging specialism; the other is too much focus on content and not enough on process.