Welcome to Episode 236 of The Digital Life, a show about our insights into the future of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett and with me is founder and co-host, Dirk Knemeyer.
For our podcast this week, we’re going to chat about the future of education and skills that our children may need for the next economy. A recent article featured on The World Economic Forum website was entitled “Forget coding, we need to teach our kids how to dream,” and it argued that attributes like relationships, curiosity, agility, creativity and empathy would be more important for the economy of 2030 rather than skills that could very well be subsumed by machine automation like, for instance, the aforementioned coding.
So I thought that was a interesting way to frame this discussion of what it is that kids should be learning to deal with the chaotic soup that is the emerging next economy and how do we really prepare our kids to survive and thrive in a economic scenario where so much is uncertain driven by any number of factors, emerging technologies being just one of those. I think this is a key discussion, education, this is an absolutely key discussion for the future of our economy and for really the future of our work whether you’re talking about our kids or even if you’re talking about people who are working right now. I think it’s going to affect us all and is already affecting us. So I thought that was a terrific jumping off point, Dirk, for our podcast today.
Let me start by … There’s so many things to touch on here, but I’ll start off by talking about one of the things that I’m really passionate about, which is this idea of learning constantly, right. So you have the example of let’s just call it our parents’ generation for lack of a better term. This idea that your job is this place you can go for 30 years and retire with a pension. You move up the food chain a little bit and then, you stay and sort of grind it out and then-
That’s a really old concept at this point to be clear, really old.
Yeah, but to be fair, I mean that was I mean for some of our parents’ generation, at least maybe the ones who got lucky, that was true.
Let’s say for baby boomers.
‘Cause it’s not true for us as Gen X-ers, yeah.
No, no, no, no. It’s not true at all.
But we, Gen X-ers are the parents of some of the people who are listening to this show.
Well, yeah. I guess let’s get into disturbing territory here. I had never considered that. Thanks for raining on my sunny day. So that being said, that my parents’ generation had this job permanence or potential job permanence, I think, of course, we’ve already debunked that possibility for Gen X and moving upward through millennials and Generation Next and all of them down to our kids today. Part of what I think is going to be key for, and when I give lectures at universities, I talk about this a lot. I say, “You may get your degree, but you’re not going to be done learning. Getting your degree is sort of the privilege of having this full-time capacity to be learning, right. You’re in this position now where you’re learning all the time and that’s your job is to learn. As you go into the work force, you’re going to need to constantly be learning and you’re also going to have to work whatever hours your job entails in addition to that.”
One thing I recommend is having a couple of different learning systems established that they can develop throughout their university years and whether that is, “Hey, I really like reading about something and then I blog about it.” I’m just making this up. Like “I take the things that I learn in a book and I write a summary and a critique, right. That’s how I ingest and digest the information,” or perhaps you’re more of a hands-on learner, maybe your technique is you go and do some tutorials and you build something, right. What is your learning system? How is it that you take in new technologies, new ideas, test them out, incorporate them into your day-to-day workflow. What are the methods that you use?
I tend to prefer like hard copy books, right, and part of the reason is I get to draw all over them. I get to highlight them. I get to circle things, write in the margins, etc., and that’s a very tactile and physical way for me to help embed that information in my brain. If I don’t do that, I don’t get the same quality of learning. So I’ve over time developed three or four different things that reinforce learning that create a cycle for me so I can take in new information and like I said, incorporate that into my day-to-day life.
So I really suggest to any students in the classroom when I’m giving this talk that they do the same and that they might have their own ways of doing it, but that you have this system that’s replicable and that you can build on. So with that in mind, Dirk, how do you learn? How do you see yourself taking in new information? Because I know you’ve changed the things you do a number of times and really taken different perspectives on things and had many different skill sets that you brought to bear.
Yeah, I mean I learn from experience and the sort of short elevator pitch of myself that I give to people is that I’m endlessly curious, but immediately bored and my life is sort of a reflection of that, but those things that I’ve learned are through experiencing them. They’re not through reading books. They’re not through attending classes. Whenever I’m in [a context 00:07:23], it forces me to read books or attend classes, my performance is underwhelming, but if you just leave me alone to explore what interests me, my performance is generally quite good, but that’s idiosyncratic to me.
I mean the article was talking about taking a new look at education and you were talking about I think some very smart approaches of identifying learning styles and creating system of lifelong learning and that all makes a lot of sense and the things that the article that you pointed us to, we’re talking about makes sense, too. My concern with all of it though is even though it’s smart and it does make sense from where we’re at today, I think it’s a very sort of techno utopic way of looking at things.
Let’s focus on the article, more so because I think the article gave good grist to talk against this. The article is very wisely saying by 2030, we don’t know what kind of things we’re going to be doing. We don’t know what kind of skills we’re going to need. So let’s develop imagination. Let’s develop curiosity. That’s where it falls down for me because we really don’t know what we’re going to be doing in 2030 and there’s a non-zero chance that by 2030, we’re at a point where not everyone needs to work and that’s okay, that we’ve changed where socially instead of saying “Everyone should be gainfully employed.” We say, “No, our country’s success, the world’s success,” however we’re framing the macro and the micro at that point in time, “maybe we don’t need or maybe we don’t want everyone to be employed in those ways.”
That could be our children looking at their Gen X parents and saying, “Yeah, our parents had this weird notion you had to be working and what the hell is up with that?” I think there’s a reasonable chance that that’s a possibility, too. In that context, I don’t know that imagination and curiosity are the best things. My curiosity has created instability in my life. My curiosity has gotten me in trouble a lot in my life. Education is something very near and dear to my heart. I mean I gave my first public talk on this in 2011 called Time and Tools for Change and at that time, and I still frankly believe this, I was on stage I was saying, “Fuck STEM, man, fuck STEM.” We’re all wrapped up in STEM and at the same time, more than half of all marriages end in divorce. We have, I don’t know, what is it, 1 in 5 or 1 in 4 women who go to a college or university will be the victim of attempted sexual assault. There’s all of these statistics, horrible statistics about how socially broken we are.
With marriage, we make the biggest commitment one person can make to another person, the biggest fucking promise, and more than half of the time that biggest promise is reneged upon. The crimes that I mentioned before have the potential to scar and change the entire rest and trajectory of someone’s life for being a victim of that. These are horrific things. So I don’t want us talking about curiosity and imagination. I want us talking about relationship skills. I want us talking about controlling our impulses, controlling our needs. I want us to talk about figuring out how as a social system to not have crimes being perpetrated, to not have a system forcing us to make these big grandiose promises and then breaking them.
To me, that’s where education needs to shift. It needs to shift away from 1 plus 2 and E equals MC squared to how in the hell do we have productive relationships with one another? How do we live in a way so that we’re not criminals? I mean when I did the research in 2011, there’s a category of crimes and I won’t get the term right anymore, but it’s like something violent crimes, the worst of the violent crimes. The number one predictor of if someone is such a criminal is are they male or not. The number two predictor is what is their age group. The number three predictor is what is their socio-economic status.
We can counter, reverse engineer why horrible things are happening in our world and we can address those horrible things, but we’re not talking about them. We’re saying “Yay, STEM, yay, imagination, yay, inspiration, yay, curiosity,” and we’re leaving behind and ignoring the most important things of all, which are protecting each other and nurturing each other and creating systems where we’re living in better ways and that’s going to be relevant if we are doing the exact same jobs in 2030 as we’re doing today or we’re doing totally different jobs or we’re doing no jobs at all. This other stuff is totally speculative and having us learn about creativity and imagination to me is just as vapid as having us learn about STEM.
Yeah. So a lot there, Dirk, for me to react to. I think to start with, I would say that there’s I think the very valid point that our social and societal interactions are busted in a number of different ways, sort of systems piled upon systems that sort of perpetuate the scenarios you talked about and then also in attempting to fix them, sometimes maybe not making things worse, but certainly not making things any better.
I think that I want to go back to what you were saying about there not being a need for everybody to work or for a part of people not having to work in this sort of 2030 and beyond next economy. I actually think that the way we’ve defined work is very, very narrow given our sort of post industrial, like sort of digital economy now and to speak to your point about the social from a different angle, I think we’ve actually made it very difficult to do the kinds of things you’re talking about, sort of paying attention to social systems because as we’re moving into this digital world, a lot of the fundamental organizations that made up the industrial economy whether you’re talking about groups like your church or the lions group or-
What’s a church, Jon, what’s a lions group? What are these things?
Right or unions, right. So social groups, all of these groups are declining sort of in influence and membership, etc., and there aren’t really well established ways of coming together in various communities yet that have evolved in the digital age, which is not to say that we don’t have pieces and parts of that. There are certainly all kinds of vibrant online communities. There’s different ways to fundraise for people who may have a need. There’s ways to communicate about very specialized interests. So creating community exists, but we’re not yet to the point where we have these institutions or ways for us to come together around specific social and moral ideas so-
The communities that exist are dysfunctional. I mean they tie social networking to suicide rates in teens. The more they use social networking, the more likely they are to commit suicide, the more likely they are to be depressed. So the digital tools of organization and community are largely broken. I mean going away from statistics and making it specific, I find Facebook and Twitter to be nothing but demoralizing. There’s some sort of professional obligation at least on the Twitter side to check in periodically. It just makes me sad. It’s just a lot of people trying to puff themself up or taking these really strong sort of not well thought positions on topics and I just come away feeling odd. I’m like I don’t even know what to contribute to this. It just makes me feel smaller and worse and less positive about humanity. It’s really bad.
Yeah. That’s probably an entire podcast in and of itself, but yeah, there’s sort of the underlying underbelly that gets exposed on Twitter an awful lot, especially in this polarized age that is kind of just very difficult to take. I wanted to circle back to the idea that we’ve defined work in a very narrow way and a really not … So I think my point there is that we’re not including in that definition a lot of I’ll call it caregiving work that is really critical to our communities, our states, our nation. I think part of that goes to what you were talking about having this focus on relationships, whether they’re one to one or one to many as in a community and I do think that if there is the ability for some solutions like universal basic income have been suggested, ways that people could have income and then devote their time to something like, I don’t know, taking care of their parents who may be elderly or volunteering at the Y and coaching or something-
It’s not going to work that way. People aren’t going to chose to take care of their elderly parents or volunteer at the Y. Some of us will, but many of us won’t. There’s no rocket science there. That’s the danger with those sort of situations is counting on people to take their time and to put them into things that are productive is setting those people up to fail. We need to acknowledge that many people would do nonproductive things with their time if left with their time and maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s just okay. Maybe they’re not sloths and vagabonds and drains. Maybe that’s the reality of the human condition for some proportion of humans. Maybe it’s all right.
Yeah, that’s an interesting take. I think there is a huge chunk of people who the aforementioned scenarios where that would be absolutely critical, I mean who would probably have healthier lives if they were able to focus on those caregiving routines.
But Jon, what’s the huge chunk? I mean look, if I were picking a percentage, let me put it on myself first and then I’ll put it onto you, if I was picking a percentage of people who I thought if they were given a universal basic income and didn’t have to work will put their time into community building, volunteering, sort of uncomfortable difficult family responsibilities, it would definitely be under 50%. Twenty percent might be a little too cynical, but 40% would be the top of my range, I mean 20 to 40% on that. To me, that’s not a huge chunk by any means. What’s your huge chunk?
Yeah, I mean just from my own experience, which of course is anecdotal, I mean-
And it’s about you, someone who’s a high functioning, well compensated, high performing individual. I mean don’t put the world through that lens because you’re going to be …
Because you’re going to be disappointed, Jon.
Yeah, I mean I guess I know a lot of individuals who could benefit from having the work time available to them specifically to take care of parents who need that kind of help. In fact, I’m pretty sure there are very few of friends in my immediate circle who wouldn’t-
Who are affluent, high perform … I mean you’re looking at a very vanilla group, right, and it’s a great group. I mean if only people were high performing and all of these things, but most people are not and so, I’d be careful about extrapolating that to the general public, Jon.
Yeah, we also have worked with a number of clients sort of in the healthcare/caregiving space. So I know that the need is there and certainly, people are working the equivalent of “two jobs,” right. So they have their 9 to 5 and then, they take their family leave time or vacation time or whatever to tackle some of these issues. I think the larger point around educating people though for both of us does come back to the idea of stronger ability to relate to one another both in the one to one and community. I do think that as, and I agree with your point about technology that it’s great that we’re moving so quickly, but we are disrupting all kinds of societal systems along the way and we absolutely need to incorporate that into our education and as part of our focus really as a country. Otherwise, I think we’re going to have a weird space where, I mean and we’re probably already in that space where things are disrupted and we don’t really know how to behave and what to do next.
Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to the digitalife.com, that’s just one L in the digitalife, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. You can find The Digital Life on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, PlayerFM and GooglePLay and if you’d like to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter @jonfollett. That’s J-O-N F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show is brought to you by Go Invo, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O.com. Dirk.
You can follow me on Twitter @dknemeyer, that’s @D-K-N-E-M-E-Y-E-R, and thanks so much for listening.
So that’s it for Episode 236 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett and we’ll see you next time.