The Impact Of Rumors On Education

Its code name is "Ginger." Everyone is now calling it "IT." It started as a technology project and spring-boarded into a full internet rumor (destined to become an urban legend). The project is secret and word began to spread that Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development Corp., and a well-known inventor had developed a technology that -- rumor had it -- would (please take your choice):

  • Change our lives
  • Change how we plan and use our cities
  • Provide us all with personal flying cars
  • Make the inventor 5 times wealthier than Bill Gates
  • Be more significant than the PC
  • Be more important than the World Wide Web

The problem is, we don't have a clue as to what it is. Rumors abound on the internet and in the technical news media. According to "In the proposal, Doerr calls Kamen -- who was just awarded the National Medal of Technology, the country's highest such award -- a combination of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Doerr also says, a touch ominously, that he had been sure that he wouldn't see the development of anything in his lifetime as important as the World Wide Web -- until he saw IT. According to the proposal, another investor, Credit Suisse First Boston, expects Kamen's invention to make more money in its first year than any start-up in history, predicting Kamen will be worth more in five years than Bill Gates. Jobs told Kamen the invention would be as significant as the PC, the proposal says."

Here, according to are the major aspects of whatever IT is:

IT is not a medical invention.

In a private meeting with Bezos, Jobs and Doerr, Kamen assembled two Gingers -- or ITs -- in 10 minutes, using a screwdriver and hex wrenches from components that fit into a couple of large duffel bags and some cardboard boxes.

The invention has a fun element to it, because once a Ginger was turned on, Bezos started laughing his "loud, honking laugh."

There are possibly two Ginger models, named Metro and Pro -- and the Metro may possibly cost less than $2,000.

Bezos is quoted as saying that IT ''is a product so revolutionary, you'll have no problem selling it. The question is, are people going to be allowed to use it?''

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying: "If enough people see the machine you won't have to convince them to architect cities around it. It'll just happen."

Kemper says the invention will ''sweep over the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking.''

The ''core technology and its implementations'' will, according to Kamen, ''have a big, broad impact not only on social institutions but some billion-dollar old-line companies.'' And the invention will ''profoundly affect our environment and the way people live worldwide. It will be an alternative to products that are dirty, expensive, sometimes dangerous and often frustrating, especially for people in the cities.''

IT will be a mass-market consumer product ''likely to run afoul of existing regulations and or inspire new ones,'' according to Kemper. The invention will also likely require ''meeting with city planners, regulators, legislators, large commercial companies and university presidents about how cities, companies and campuses can be retro-fitted for Ginger.''

Teaching Ideas related to rumors and significant technologies

Everyone's interested in rumors. Like gossip, we're all excited by the newest rumors. Using the Ginger Saga as a launching point, there are great opportunities for class discussion in a variety of curriculum areas.

  • How is it that rumors become exaggerated?
  • How do rumors travel?
  • What's the difference between rumors and gossip?

You might even try a game of "telephone" to demonstrate what happens to information as it travels from person to person.

Related Activities

Have students speculate on what Dean Kamen's newest invention really is based on the information provided in the article.

Have students discuss some inventions that would be so revolutionary that they would change the lives of all people.