What Babies and Toddlers Need to learn: Be Human, It Will Pay
The world is changing so rapidly. Technology has changed our lives so much in the past 10 years. Thinking about what life will be like a decade down the line is crucial to those of us raising children who will eventually turn into adults and workers. We have to know now what our children will need to be successful in a world that does not even exist yet. My parents certainly never could have known what skills to teach me some 40-odd years ago for this digital world in which I live, and maybe that’s been part of the parenting “condition” since the dawn of man, but since I have always been someone who prefers spending time looking ahead rather than looking backwards or at the present, I’m highly motivated to prepare my children for the future.
To help parents who are too busy, like me, chasing and driving children around to envision the future for them, Claire Cain and Chi Birmingham wrote “A Vision of the Future From Those Likely to Invent It” for The Upshot, a New York Times venture that presents news, analysis and graphics about politics and policy. Much of what was predicted was changes in technology and interfacing with the world, but the part that stuck out most for me regarding raising my children were two of Mark Andreessen’s comments:
1) “Far more generalized acceptance of widespread variations in human behavior. All of us who were raised pre-Internet were taught that there is something called ‘normal,’ and I think that whole concept might go right out the window.”
2) “There is a bow wave of uncounted billions of dollars of philanthropic contributions that will unfold over the next 10 to 20 years from Silicon Valley.”
His comments force me to ask my parent-self such questions as “Have I instilled in my children a solid ability to observe, interpret and manage their own or others’ behaviors?,” “Do my children possess the emotional intelligence to get along well with others and work with all different “kinds” of people?,” and “Will my children be able to identify the needs of communities, cities, etc. to help philanthropists find ways to improve our world?”
Quentin Hardy, writer of the above-linked article “Valuable Humans in Our Digital Future” for Bits Blog for the NY Times, gives the following advice to the college graduates of the class of 2014 “Be human” and “It pays.” His blog post includes a chart from an article in The New York Times on Thursday about poverty and the prices of goods. According to Hardy:
The article discusses how, in just the last nine years, the prices of many once-luxury manufactured goods have fallen sharply, affording the poor a more rewarding life. Prices of things associated with actually escaping poverty, like college, health care and child care, have soared.
There is another way to view the chart, however, that tells an interesting story about the impact of technology on society: Increasingly, the most valuable things in our world involve people looking at you, touching you and understanding you.
What does Hardy’s post tell me? It tells me that if I want my children to have sought after skills and to be hirable in the future job market, I need to be raising them to be “people” people. As the world of computers, software, social media and apps takes over, there will always be the need for human beings. Hardy says there is evidence that “human contact has become relatively scarce, and therefore valuable, in a digitally-driven society. Many of the new digital publishers, particularly technology sites like Recode or TechCrunch, make some money on web ads, but count even more on live events and conferences.” He gives us the example of the the annual TED conference, which attracts the digital elite who desire to be in contact with one another, as well as the examples from the world of music, in which you can listen to songs for free or buy them for a buck or so online, but also in which concert tickets can cost upwards of $1,800 on StubHub to experience Bruce Springsteen live.
This world rich in digital information will place importance on careers and aspects of life that may have been minimized or overlooked as important in my upbringing. Hardy reports that workers such as psychologists, nurse practitioners, home health care providers, personal trainers and life coaches will increase in value. He tells us that “physical contact, and the personal trust and relationship that still comes by spending time with someone, has become even more valuable, since it is harder to come by,” and, therefore, it’s easy to imagine how it will continue to become even more valuable in a decade and beyond. Hardy also gives us parents the following to think about for our children as we guide them through development:
The ever-higher rejection rate of elite colleges despite the increasing popularity of high-quality free online alternatives like Coursera makes perfect sense. People don’t want to be at Stanford; they want the personal relationships they get from being at Stanford. In a fast-changing digital world, that durable human network may in a decade be more valuable than anything a student learned in the classroom.
For some technologists, this shift represents a source of hope. The rejiggering of values means that much of the work that currently defines people will go away, but the parts of life that can’t be encoded will become the basis of still-unseen economic activity.
According to SriSatish Ambati, co-founder and chief executive of 0xdata, a company involved in open source software for big data analysis, “We’re moving towards a ‘post-automated’ world, where the valuable thing about people will be their emotional content. The only way to defeat the machines is if the world, including our brains, has an impossible level of complexity that the machines can never map.”
Armed with this information, I have a renewed sense of duty to make sure my children understand and use emotional content appropriately and accurately in order to negotiate the world in the future. I will work harder to help them to understand and manage their own and others’ emotions. I will aim to teach them to be keen observers of others’ body language and other forms of non-verbal communication while they listen to the others speak, since computers and apps are a long way off from being able to understand complex human behaviors and communication. I will help them understand how emotions affect our thinking, reasoning and attentional abilities. In fact, I now find myself thinking of all the ways that I can help my children develop the emotional intelligence in order to best prepare them for their future!