It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future
Just 15 years ago, the World Wide Web came into existence, and changed the world perhaps faster than anything else ever has. You can read about it in Information Week’s special report, The Online Supernova: 15 years of the World Wide Web.
Imagine – only 15 years ago, there were no blogs to drive journalists and politicians crazy. There was no Amazon.com. The average person had no hope of trading stocks on a computer network. No HTML, Java, no PhP, no IM. No eBay, no online banking, no eGovernment. No online education, no major universities making their course lectures available to anyone in Nairobi with a DSL connection. No spam either, or online gambling, and porn at work was exceedingly rare (I’m in computer support – trust me, it isn’t rare anymore).
Whole new business models have been created. The economies of nations affected. Education has burst through boundaries of time and space. Not only millions of jobs created, but entirely new kinds of jobs.
So the next time someone says; “We need to teach kids the vocational skills they need!” you have my permission to point at them and laugh. A huge part of the world’s economy and society now runs on something that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Many of the jobs now available did not exist then, so how could we have trained children for them?
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” It’s useless to try to teach “computer skills” when computer interfaces are changing so fast. We need to teach kids how to read, write, compute (in the arithmetical sense), speak, and think clearly. We need to teach them history so they’ll be able to make sense out of the present and the future. We should teach them to expect change, even a number of different careers in their lifetime. We had better get them in the habit of learning on their own, because they won’t always be able to take a class in time to adapt to something new. This may require changes in the traditional model of ‘homework’ (which clearly isn’t working).
As water cannot rise above its own level, we cannot teach our kids attributes we do not ourselves posses. Complacency in our own skills and minds is not going to cut it. I’m just sayin’ it’s time to set the example. We grown-ups need to ditch the prime-time TV and start studying. Acquire new skillsets, or at least read up on the Ming dynasty. The days of coasting from college to retirement… are over.
Update: check out the very cool research on neuroplasticity by MIT neurolobiologist Elly Nedivi. Peering into the living brains of adult mice with 2-photon imaging laser microscopes, she found that even grown-ups grow new dendrites when stimuli calls for it. This goes against the long-held belief that an adult brain is pretty much as good as it’s going to get. It might take a bit more effort than for growing children, but we old dogs can not only learn new tricks, we can grow a better brain in the process.