What are emerging technologies?

We live in a technologically driven world in which “new” things are always on the horizon. Whether it is a new app or new T.V., a new tool or new toy, we are never able to exactly live in the moment or really learn to understand the thing in front of us, because we are always looking forward to what will come next. Our consumer-based culture tells us that “new” is synonymous with “better.”

Yet, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “emerging” as, to “move out of or away from something and become visible” and to “become apparent or prominent.” These definitions are contrary to what I, and probably many people, think of when we consider the idea of “emerging technologies.” We think of “emerging” as another word for “new,” but we forget that although we tell ourselves the new toys, etc. are truly unique, the are actually most often just variations on pre-existing ideas or practices.

In his article “A definition of emerging technologies for education,” George Veletsianos (2016) notes that emerging technologies may not necessarily be new, and that they are often ”evolving.” The idea that an emerging technology may be regularly or even constantly evolving is both scary and intriguing. It is intriguing because the idea appeals to our current desire towards newness, but it is scary because the fact that it is regularly changing suggests that we can never truly get a handle on it, but before we let ourselves get overwhelmed, we must stop and remember that humans are innately cyclical.

If you take time to look at the history of any of any group of people around the world, you will see cycles and repetition. This is true even of our own narratives. We think we are creating new things, but we are really helping old troupes to evolve. The same is true of technology, which is in a pure sense, a form of contemporary narrative.

Take for example, social media. Two hundred years from now, a society looking may read our use of social media in much the same way we read diaries of long dead political figures. Just as they used their medium, pen and ink, to record both the triumphs and minutiae of their lives, so do we use social media. We may think we are doing something new because our tools have “evolved” or our audiences are farther flung, but both our impulses and our actions closely mirror those of our ancestors.

Roland (2016) refers to the 2016 K-12 Horizon Report which asserts that schools should use technology to integrate more, “student-led, hands-on learning activities” because this model supports current pedagogy which places an emphasis on group work. While that sounds great on paper, we must remember a few things. First, the group learning model and hands-on learning both date back too far to measure. Think, for example, of the Greek seminar style. Second, although technology sounds like a great thing to incorporate into that model, it might not actually be necessary.

If we type the words “emerging technologies” into an internet search bar, which is quicker, but perhaps not so different from searching a card catalog, list after list of the “Top 10/15/20” emerging technologies will appear, and some of the things on these lists seem very, very cool. Certainly the idea of ultra high-speed travel, computers controlled by our brains are appealing, and meat grown in labs may be appealing, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn about and even engage with these “advancements;” I’m just suggesting we approach them with a level gaze.

We must ask ourselves what those technologies will truly add to our experience and our impact on the world. Are we recording our daily lives for the benefit of future generations or because that glowing computer screen transforms so many of us into modern day versions of Narcissus at his pool, with the notable difference that we have “evolved”the ability to manipulate the reflection.


Riley, D. (2014, September 15). Top 10 Emerging Technologies That Are Changing the World. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 17, 2017 from http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/top-10-emerging-technologies-changing-world/

Roland, J. (2016). How Emerging Technologies in Education is Enhancing the Classroom Experience. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 17, 2017 from https://insights.samsung.com/2016/11/30/how-emerging-technology-in-education-is-enhancing-the-classroom-experience/

Veletsianos, G. (2016, November 8). A definition of emerging technologies for education. [Web log message]. Retrieved May 17, 2017 from http://www.veletsianos.com/2008/11/18/a-definition-of-emerging-technologies-for-education/


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3 thoughts on “What are emerging technologies?

  1. Carolyn,
    Thank you so much for your thoughts and reflections on emerging technologies. You helped to deepen my own understanding of what they are and how they function in our society. They seem a lot less scary to think of them as the newest iteration of something ancient. I love mythology, and we see the same stories told over and over throughout the years and cultures. We are still telling those stories, we are just doing so in new ways! I love it!
    And I am really drawn to your connection to our phones as the reflecting pool for Narcissus. It is so easy to fall into using technology in this way. I read somewhere “what would be the hardest thing to explain to a medieval person about the modern day world? That we have the world at our fingertips and in our pockets and yet we use it to play games and take pictures of ourselves.” That got my attention. I could learn just about anything via my phone, new languages, scientific concepts, ancient history, but I don’t. How can we use these emerging technologies to create a culture of wonder, insight, and collaboration?

  2. I also wonder about our idea of “advances” and if an advance in tech necessarily equates to an advance in society. Yes, I am able to connect with people instantly, but has it given me an excuse to spend less time with face to face interactions. Are we trying to find the new way of doing things and forgetting our purpose?

  3. You make some good points in your blog. I agree that new is not always better, but new is usually in the application, not in the technology itself. It is what we do with it that really matters. I like your connections to the past.

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