Demand Driven Education

What could the future of search and information distribution look like? Here are two very exciting possibilities.

Demand Driven Education

When was the last time you asked family and friends a question like “Do you know when King xyz ruled over England?” and if you did, how often did you get the answer “Why don’t you just google it?” or “Wikipedia is your friend!” or they may have pointed you to the useful site

Depending on your age you will remember quite well how a world without Google and broad Internet access looked like. Each family had at least one encyclopedia on the shelf and depending on personal interests of the individual family members a lot of specialised books on art, archeology, history or biology and so on and so forth. In school or during your studies you had to rely on your book shelf to answer your questions. If you did not have the right book at hand, you could either buy it or more often so you needed to go to the library. Looking back it feels like I was living in the middle ages but it’s only a decade ago.

The Internet, Google and Wikipedia have massively changed the way we get information. This information may be trivial or education related. Some people say this leads to dumbing down mankind or at least the Internet itself, it might even lead to digital dementia something I will write about in another post. But today let’s take a look at how people retrieve information and therefore knowledge on the Internet.

Apparently, more and more people have started typing in so called “long term keywords” which means instead of searching for “King George V” people search for specific answers like “When lived King George V”. This says a lot about the mindset of today’s Internet users as we expect to get the right answer from our search right away. I quite like the comparison with Star Trek where crew members ask the computer all the time and get their answers instantaneously.

With this in mind specialised start-ups like eHow, HowCast, and others started creating videos and how-to articles to deliver answers to those questions frequently asked by Internet users. The monetization was then done by displaying advertisements along the texts or as overlay on the videos. It all ended up in an arms race and the sites created thousands of new sites everyday, most of those with low quality content which led Google to do an algorithm change in order to filter out such so called “content farms”.

Nevertheless, it stays a fact that people type in these questions and that they expect to get an answer. I recently did a little experiment on my blog. The article with the most views is one I wrote over two years ago, still it is in the top ten articles of my blog every single month. The title says it all “How to memorize vocabulary”. I then tried out whether it was possible to recreate this phenomenon with a new article. It has the title “How to learn French or other languages in 2011” where the “How to learn French” part is the one that aims at attracting traffic through search engines. Long story short, it worked again and even pretty well.

The problem is that basically no “serious” education 2.0 or established organization took notice of this trend or dismissed it as sensationalism. For this reason people now have to cope with content only created to attract views in order to generate revenue through advertisements. That in this case the main focus is more on the question how to attract users and not so much on answering user’s questions, is obvious.

I think here is a big chance for start-ups that are serious about delivering high quality answers to those questions. The goal needs how to be to attract people via search engines in the first place but then more importantly how to keep those users and make them come back directly to the site because they trust the content and find their answers there. To my mind, Wikipedia is a good example here as many people go directly to the site to look for an answer instead of searching for it via a search engine.

This is truly a fascinating discussion and those of you interested in digging deeper into the topic might be interested in two interviews I did recently with two companies affected by the latest change in the Google algorithm, Mahalo and TeachStreet. You will listen to Jason Calacanis, the founder and CEO of Mahalo and David Schapell, the founder and CEO of TeachStreet who face the same problem but have distinct opinions and therefore come up with different conclusions for their individual companies.

What could the future of search and information distribution look like? There are two examples that excite me at the moment.


Apture either works as a browser plugin or webmasters can embed a code on their website or blog to enhance their content with the Apture feature. What it allows the visitor is to mark any word or sentence on the website and then get further information on it. This information can come from the website itself, YouTube, Wikipedia or any other source on the Internet. This is of course a great tool when reading an article that references to an information you are not familiar with. You then simply mark this part and receive further information without leaving the actual site which is great for research and learning.


Qwiki’s goal is “to forever improve the way people experience information”. Coming back to my Star Trek analogy at the beginning of this post, Qwiki delivers information in a new and engaging way with pictures, videos and spoken text pretty much like the personal computer of the future many of us were dreaming of. Like Apture Qwiki gives its users the possibility to dig deeper into the information, learning more about other aspects around the question asked. If you asked for Leonardo Da Vinci, why not learn more about the Renaissance or Florence?

CT scans of shark intestines find Nikola Tesla’s one-way valve

Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla

Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
  • The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.


"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.


There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
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