On Skills

by F.

I tend to think the skills necessary for success in an economy change somewhat over time. If you go back 50,000 years, at the margin, skills such as foraging for roots and berries and hunting were probably keys to (reproductive) success. This is, of course, total speculation. But, to continue in this vein, what will be the key skills of the next 50 years? Playing Xbox? Here are my guesses, as 2007 begins:

1. The ability to manage large amounts of information. We are currently experiencing info glut and it will only get worse. An ability to manage large amounts of information quickly, I think, will be important. By “manage” I mean both cognitively and technically (e.g., using a computer, going paperless, and so on).

2. The ability to learn. I suspect that the creative destruction of the market will accelerate. Professions that used to be safe will start getting commoditized. After all, in the early parts of the 20th century, I’ve read, many manufacturing plants had their own power generation facilities, with a “power manager.” Not any more. The antidote to commoditization is learning new skills and moving up to more valuable work (valuable in the eyes of the market). This requires learning, much of which will be self directed. I suspect, also, the rise of “ambient learning,” where you learn by doing, leveraging “habit,” with appropriate feedback. It’s more efficient.

3. The ability to change. This is similar to the second point, but I mean change in attitude, habit, and preferences. Maybe when you were growing up, you would never have had a boss who was 30 years younger than you. It’s different now, so it’s time to get your mind in shape to see things fresh.

4. The end of ideology and the triumph of facts. Ideology is largely a substitute for facts, so when facts aren’t available, expect it to triumph (and, hopefully, vice versa). As you can see by the posts over at Edge.org, I’m not the only one ready for “evidence based” everything; nor am I the only one optimistic that it is coming. Fast. This also relates to the first point. What does this mean for religion? It will morph. Religion is here to stay, but I expect more and more sects like Pentecostalism, where reason goes out the window and the religion is, basically, ecstatic entertainment. I see nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, it sounds kind of fun (other than the snakehandling). Just check your brain at the door of the church.