Kids need to produce, not just consume technology: Mario Armstrong - Baltimore


Sep. 9, 2013 8:30 am

Kids need to produce, not just consume technology: Mario Armstrong

Television and radio commentator Mario Armstrong, Ars Technica IT editor Sean Gallagher, Quartz science and technology correspondent Christopher Mims and PandoDaily reporter Hamish McKenzie discussed national trends in tech on Wednesday.

From left: Mario Armstrong, Sean Gallagher, Christopher Mims and Hamish McKenzie. Photo credit: Andrew Coy.

Full disclosure: Baltimore organizes the eponymous Meetup at which these four reporters spoke. The event, which was moderated by editor Christopher Wink, was held at the studio center auditorium of the Maryland Institute College of Art, a sponsor of this year's Baltimore Innovation Week, which Baltimore also organizes.

Four tech reporters writing for national print publications or appearing on national television and radio programs live in the Baltimore area.

Pinch yourself. Still here?

On Wednesday, Baltimore gathered together television and radio commentator Mario Armstrong, Ars Technica IT editor Sean Gallagher, Quartz science and technology correspondent Christopher Mims and PandoDaily reporter Hamish McKenzie. Their task, broadly: to discuss national trends in technology, as well as offer how Baltimore’s own growing technology community might fit into those trends. It also doubled as something of a modest preview to Baltimore Innovation Week, coming at month’s end.

Here’s one big takeaway from each of them.

  • Hamish McKenzie, a native New Zealander now living in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, brought his international reporting credentials to bear. He talked some about Xiamoni, the “Apple of China,” and its prowess producing inexpensive mobile phones. But when it came time to reflect on Baltimore’s startup scene, he echoed a sentiment shared by some venture capitalists in the area — offering incentives and opportunities to draw more government contractors out of their 9-to-5 jobs would do wonders for bolstering the appetite for risk in the city.
  • Christopher Mims, who lives in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood, said that 2014 would be a big “unlocking” year for 3D printing, as key patents on the technology are set to expire. The application to Charm City? Look to places like the Digital Harbor Foundation, which are introducing 3D printing concepts to middle school students, which Mims said seemed to be the right time to start developing students’ interest in a forthcoming digital economy.
  • Sean Gallagher, a resident of Hampden, has lived in Baltimore since 1990. Being both a longtime resident and a technology reporter has given him a unique window through which to assess what he might call certain failings of city government. Gallagher said Baltimore’s tech community and Baltimore’s city government routinely “talk past one another” — he cited the contract awarded recently by the city to a broadband consultant as a good example of such behavior — and, as a result, often fail to collaborate on projects that should be no-brainers. Like, for instance, expanding options for broadband Internet in Baltimore.
  • Mario Armstrong, long before he was appearing on CNN, HLN and “The Today Show,” was Baltimore city’s first chief technology officer when Martin O’Malley was still mayor of Charm City. On Wednesday he mentioned the next big tech trend he had his eye on was the blending of wearable technology and sports — paging Under Armour. But his more important observation had to do with community-based efforts to bridge the digital divide in Baltimore. He cautioned that anyone thinking poorer students in the city’s east and west sides don’t have the same appetite to learn about technology — to become producers as well as consumers of technology — that students in the city’s more affluent areas possess are doing more to widen the divide than narrow it.


Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist outside Washington, D.C. He's written for Wired, Backchannel, Popular Science, Fortune, the Washington Post Magazine, the Atlantic and elsewhere.

  • jmco

    I missed it but, a comment: YES kids need to produce. But how? First and foremost and what is lacking in K-12 is the notion of creativity. STEM is one thing but STEAM is really the way to go. Adding in a creative component, represented broadly by A for arts, is a must and desperately needed for the future of our country. The President of RISD, the United States preeminent design school, John Maeda is a big STEAM booster. He has a degree in engineering from MIT but studied graphic design for his masters degree and taught in the MIT Media Lab before RISD. So he knows and loves tech and design both.
    Briefly, what is creativity? I think the WRONG definition is that of doing a bunch of dumb or trendy stuff and seeing what works. The best fine artists and designers both employ a similar strategy. They were not born creative. They WORK at being creative. Long hours. Grinding away at what designers call process. This is what creativity is. It is first and foremost THINKING about a problem, taking the time to understand the problem, creating variations on possible solutions, then picking the best option based on the experiments and knowledge of the designer and design team (not, a focus group). This design process, loaded heavy up front, is what Sir Ive at Apple does. I guess it works!
    Middle and high schools in particular need to teach more about creating and less about how to use tech, which is pretty much all they do. They need to hire more designers to teach design classes and less pottery and Corel Draw teachers. That would be a big boost and big start to Mr Armstrong’s idea.

    • AWESOME comment!!! YOu make some really solid points (IMO). Especially the out of the box thinking of “who” should be doing the teaching. Your ideas really connect to me. I truly believe simple changes like those you recommend would make a HUGE impact. Sometimes people over think a problem! Kids everywhere no matter what the economic class have potential and have desires it would be great if more adults could realize that and implement some of the ideas you propose. Thanks for the comment.

  • Was the discussion recorded? Sorry I missed this.


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