Survey respondents say there’s still value to be found in traditional skills but new items are being added to the menu of most-desired capabilities. “internet literacy” was mentioned by many people. The concept generally refers to the ability to search effectively for information online and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well.
David D. Burstein, a student at New York University and author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Remaking Our World, noted, “A focus on nostalgia for print materials, penmanship, and analog clock reading skills will disappear as Millennials and the generation that follows us will redefine valued skills, which will likely include internet literacy, how to mine information, how to read online, etc.”
Collective intelligence, crowd-sourcing, smart mobs, and the “global brain” are some of the descriptive phrases tied to humans working together to accomplish things in a collaborative manner online. Internet researcher and software designer Fred Stutzman said the future is bright for people who take advantage of their ability to work cooperatively through networked communication. “The sharing, tweeting, and status updating of today are preparing us for a future of ad hoc, always-on collaboration,” he wrote. “The skills being honed on social networks today will be critical tomorrow, as work will be dominated by fast-moving, geographically diverse, free-agent teams of workers connected via socially mediating technologies.”
Frank Odasz, a consultant and speaker on 21st century workforce readiness, rural e-work and telework, and online learning, said digital tools are allowing human networks to accelerate intelligence. “Because everything is becoming integrated and interrelated, youth's abilities for expansive thinking and public problem solving will dramatically increase,” he noted. “Youth are learning to focus on ‘what matters most,’ with an emphasis on leveraging social media as one's personal learning network. Purposeful collaborative actions will leverage shared knowledge—if we all share what we know, we'll all have access to all our knowledge. Peer-evaluated, crowd-accelerated innovation will be recognized as a new dynamic for our global hologram of shared imagination. Digital reputations will be judged by the level of leveraged meaningful activities one leads, and is directly involved in advocacy for. Just-in-time, inquiry-based learning dynamics will evolve along with recognition that the best innovations can be globally disseminated to billions in a day's time.”
Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, emphasized the critical thinking involved in analytical search processes. “The essential skills will be those of rapidly searching, browsing, assessing quality, and synthesizing the vast quantities of information that is available and is of importance or interest to each person. These skills were not absent before but were not needed when the available significant information was less, more heavily vetted in advance, and more difficult to access. In contrast, the ability to read one thing and think hard about it for hours will not be of no consequence, but it will be of far less consequence for most people.”
Jeffrey Alexander, senior science and technology policy analyst at SRI International’s Center for Science, Technology & Economic Development, said, “As technological and organizational innovation comes to depend on integrating and reconfiguring existing and new knowledge to solve problems, digital and computational thinking will become more and more valuable and useful. While digital thinking may lead to excessive multitasking and a reduction in attention span, the human brain can adapt to this new pattern in stimuli and can compensate for the problems that the pattern may cause in the long run. Online and digital interaction will make new forms of expression more important in social relationships, so that there is less emphasis on superficial attributes and more value placed on meaningful expression and originality of ideas.”
“These two modes of thinking (rapid information gathering vs. slower information processing and critical analysis) represent two different cultures, each with its own value system,” maintained Patrick Tucker, deputy editor of The Futurist magazine. “They can work together and complement one another but only with effort on the part of both sides. Ideally, internet users across age groups take the time to develop critical thinking ability. We value these too cheaply today. The internet, in its very nature, pushes and encourages feral information gathering, so no special training or attention is really required to instruct the ‘over 35’ set how to find what they want online quickly. The premise of the question, thus, is flawed. On the contrary, some of the best content aggregation out there is done by baby boomers. Quick pattern recognition and extrapolation is a natural mental state. The ability to focus, to analyze critically, these require learning and practice.”
An anonymous survey respondent said talented people will have the ability to work with people on both sides of the technology divide: “There is too much of a gap between the ‘people in charge’ and the ‘wired kids,’ leaving too much room for miscommunication and inevitable friction. In 2020, I would imagine that the most highly valued intellectual and personal skills will be the ability to exist in both of these spaces.”
P.F. Anderson, emerging technologies librarian at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, suggested that it’s not just the new-age literacies that should be emphasized, writing: “Have young folk practice rapid retrieval skills alongside quiet time, personal insight, attention to detail, memory. Develop the skills to function well both unplugged and plugged-in.”
Gina Maranto, a co-director in the University of Miami’s graduate program, said ways of thinking to serve the common good will be of the greatest benefit. “Probably the most highly valued personal skills,” she wrote, “will be cosmopolitanism, in the way philosopher Kwame Appiah conceives it—the ability to listen to and accommodate to others—and communitarianism, in the way sociologist Amitai Etzioni has outlined—an awareness that there must be a balance between individual rights and social goods.”
Tom Hood, CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs, shared feedback from hundreds of grassroots members of the CPA profession, who weighed in on the critical skills for the future in the CPA Horizons 2025 report and arrived at these: 1) Strategic thinking—being flexible and future-minded, thinking critically and creatively. 2) Synthesizing—the ability to gather information from many sources and relate it to a big picture. 3) Networking and Collaboration—understanding the value of human networks and how to collaborate across them. 4) Leadership and communications—the ability to make meaning and mobilize people to action and make your thinking visible to others. 5) Technological savvy—proficiency in the application of technology.
Barry Chudakov, a research fellow in the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, said the challenge we’re facing is maintaining and deepening “integrity, the state of being whole and undivided,” noting: “There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives. Is this my intention, or is the tool inciting me to feel and think this way? That question, more than multitasking or brain atrophy due to accessing collective intelligence via the internet, will be the challenge of the future.”
An anonymous respondent noted, “The ability to concentrate, focus, and distinguish between noise and the message in the ever growing ocean of information will be the distinguishing factor between leaders and followers.”