Education, Lateral Thinking and the Google Ngram Viewer

How many books are there in the world?

The answer: 129,864,880 books, more or less.

Google is, of course, in the process of digitizing many of the world’s books. Since 2004, Google has digitized more than 15 million books worldwide. The datasets they are making available today to further humanities research, for example, are based on a subset of that corpus, weighing in at 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. The datasets contain phrases of up to five words with counts of how often they occurred in each year.

The Ngram Viewer lets you graph and compare phrases from these datasets over time, showing how their usage has waxed and waned over the years. One of the advantages of having data online is that it lowers the barrier to chance: you can stumble across something in these 500 billion words and be the first person ever to make that discovery.

I went to the Ngram to prove to myself that Lateral Thinking is a relatively new concept in our educational thinking. Here is what happened to Lateral Thinking between 1900 and 2000.

Lateral Thinking from 1900 to 2000

You will see that Lateral Thinking was flat lined from 1900 until about 1965. In 1965,  which was the height of the Vietnam war and the protests associated with it, Lateral Thinking spiked from 0% to 100%  until about 1973. These years thrust forward a massive burst of intellectual lateral energy. It then took a huge downward spike beginning in about 1973 when the Vietnam War officially ended. Lateral Thinking hit bottom in 1975 (war ended, protests over, back to what was customary). It then began a gradual ascent in about 1976 with a slow climb though the 80’s and 90’s and then between 2000 and 2010 it shot up vertically to 100%. These years were responsible for the serious advent of public use of the internet and the beginning of the social media revolution; Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, EBay, Craig’s List, Priceline, You Tube, Firefox, WordPress, and more than I have  time to write.

Most of this Lateral energy flourished and bloomed outside our public educational institutions. These institutions and educators did not change with the advent of this energy. As a matter of fact, educators and education functioned more as obstacles than facilitators, except in a very few isolated instances. Many continue to teach with chalk, blackboards, and outdated textbooks while their students are speaking a different language and operating in a virtual world outside their classrooms.

This generation of young entrepreneurs and start ups have invented Lateral concepts that are changing our world; the way we shop, the way we communicate, the way we bank, the way we pay our bills, the way we travel, the way we apply for jobs, the way we sell our possessions! These Lateral thinkers are on their way to horizons we have not yet imagined. They are creating a new world and leaving our industrial educational institutions in the dust of the chalk falling off their blackboards.

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  1. December 7, 2011 at 5:33 am
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