Yesterday, I had the pleasure of returning to my old high school to speak to the student body about my work as a futurist. The entire 45-minute presentation — entitled “How to Think About Your Future” — is available here. (The talk is primarily aimed at children between the ages of 12 and 18 but is appropriate for anyone interested in the future.) My 17-year-old daughter accompanied me on the trip and, as I was taking her on a tour of my old stomping grounds, she spotted an old telephone booth located in the foyer of the school and got a huge laugh out of it.
Upon reflection, the phone booth was the perfect metaphor for my talk–which was all about preparing today’s youth for a world of constant change. When I returned home last night, I came across the video posted below: “How Software is Eating the World.” (Produced by Jessa Rubite of BestReviews. The original video can be at BestReview/EvolutionoftheDesk).
In it, you can see how email disrupted the U.S. Mail Service; how Craigslist and eBay changed the concept of a garage sale; how Amazon minimized the importance of physical libraries and bookstores; and how Uber and AirBnB are transforming society’s ideas of transportation, car ownership, and hotels.
Change is all around us, and it is accelerating. From one perspective, it is painful and disorienting–especially in the sense that certain technologies, jobs, and institutions will become relics of the past–much like the phone booth of my youth. But, from a different perspective, it is quite exciting. Why? Because today’s new tools — software, social media, virtual reality, robotics, 3D printers, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and gene editing technologies — will allow today’s youth to rethink virtually every industry and, in the process, create entirely new ones.
And this is the great challenge for parents, teachers, and educators. The future is calling. All too often, however, we are stuck in the “phone booths” of our past and can’t hear it because it has a different ring tone. To assist the next generation, we must strive to see the world with fresh eyes, hone our sense of hearing to capture the sounds of new voices and, above all, keep our minds open to new questions and new patterns of thought. In short, we must relearn how to learn so that we can impart a passion for life-long learning to the next generation–for that is the only way they will remain receptive to tomorrow’s extraordinary opportunities.
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