Digital luminaries Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, and Jared Cohen, founder and director of Google Ideas, treated Tufts to a visit this week for a discussion timed to the updated paperback release of their bestseller The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. The audience and their questions ran the spectrum: a sixth grader inquired about the future of warfare and digital technologies, a young German woman expressed concern over her uneasiness with the seemingly inescapable ecosystem created by Google, while others inquired about the future of education, political leadership and campaigning, and more.

 

 

In his remarks, Eric Schmidt noted,”Three billion more people [will be] joining the smartphone revolution in the next five years. That’s a one-time way of changing the power structure with enormous implications. The mobile phone of course is the solution to education, entertainment, safety and so forth, just in that one device. For people in poverty—the average person in the world—that’s a life changer.”

“If you go to any other part of the world where people have a greater set of needs and challenges their fluency in that device is shocking to even some of the smartest engineers responsible for building the product,” added Jared Cohen. “Here we don’t even read the manual because we get a new phone every year.”

Among many questions I reflected on in my first weeks as dean of The Fletcher School is the question of whether educators and thought leaders in international affairs are focusing sufficiently on the digital world. Have we adapted to this disruptive force as well as we have to other seismic shifts in the global scene?

Fletcher has done a lot of great work in this area already, advancing research into the impact of mobile technologies on education and development in Sub-Sahara Africa, advancing the discussion around cyber warfare, participating in panel discussions, and preparing the next generation of digital trailblazers such as Dalia Ziada, Farah Pandith, Joshua Haynes, Patrick Meier and others. We’ll continue to build on these efforts and advance knowledge in this vital emerging field.

I’ll have more for you in the coming week from SXSW Interactive in Austin, where I’ll be joined by fellow Fletcher alumni for a discussion on “Foreign Policy in the Digital Age,” moderated by journalist Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian. I’ve just learned that Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen will be discussing their book more in Austin. With 30,000 attendees and 900 sessions spread over 5 days, perhaps we will run into a few of you there as well!

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