Thursday, September 18, 2003

Possible Selves

Possible Selves: Envisioning the Future (pdf)

This is a very short article with a list of resources about the concept of "possible selves", and I'm in love with it.

Way more of public education, parenting, and professional development should be focused on helping people figure out their possible selves: "Possible selves represent individuals' ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, and what they fear becoming." This should include careers, learning, relationships, beliefs, experiences and credentials -- anything that matters to the individual. Career education has mostly been focused on information like "doctors make $X and go to school for Y years", while most academic education entirely ignores the idea that the stuff you're learning should be connected to your aspirations.

One of the studies looked at the desired and expected futures of ninth-graders. I thought this quote was fascinating: "Although hoped-for and expected selves did not predict students' academic performance, feared selves did." So...if I hope to become a doctor, or actually expect that I will become one, that won't necessarily motivate me to perform well in school. But if I have legitimate fears about my future -- maybe I'm scared of poverty, or afraid of being stuck in work that I hate -- that will drive me to perform better.

This aspiration/fear split has interesting implications for the types of messages or instruction we use with kids. Right now we try to get every student to believe that they must go to college, usually with the spoken or unspoken message that you'll never find meaningful, living-wage work if you don't. Perhaps the fear is what drives the longevity and power of that message. Aspirations don't seem to have the same power, probably because they're more abstract and difficult to imagine because we don't have much information about all the possibilities.

This excellent article deserves a post all by itself, but for now I'll just steal a quote: Gen-X Meets Gen-Y: Youth Perceptions and Concerns about the Future.
"Many young people seem to have hopes with no clear idea of the roads to achieve these goals. Since we hear so often of the media savvy nature of youth today, innovative use of media and technology might be useful to help educate youth in this regard, rather than using traditional tools alone."
So it's as easy at that. We need to design an elegant game/simulation/application that helps kids create possible selves, trying on different future paths as easily as they'd try on jeans at the mall. Social software is the obvious step beyond this, letting kids share those experimental selves with each other, connecting them to experts and communities of interest. Lisa gave me a tour of LiveJournal yesterday, and the communities in there inspired me to make this happen for career development.