An understanding of the technical and emotional networks which connect people will be vitally important in the workplace over the next ten years. We are fast moving towards a highly connected world where humans interact with each other using applications much more sophisticated than our current Facebook and Twitter. Technologies of ‘presence’ – the sense of being physically together in a virtual space – will become increasingly common.
Connecting ‘things’ as well as people
And it won’t just be humans who connect. The ‘internet of things’ where objects communicate together without their owners knowing about it, is developing fast. This means that soon your fridge will inform your grocery store that you need more milk and it will be duly delivered without you even having been aware that you were running out. There will also be growth in the leisure sector for those times when we want to escape from hyper-connectedness to be private and quiet in places of beauty and wildness. The natural world will be valued as inspiration for handicrafts and skills as we embrace both high technology and simple hand-made artefacts, and we will work even harder to protect it.
The 19th and 20th centuries were marked by humans struggling to come to terms with the technologies they had invented. Hopefully the 21st century will see us deal productively with these powerful challenges and find ways to enjoy variation and innovation rather than be frightened by them. There are great opportunities here for young people who are well-educated, energetic and open-minded.
New futures, new skills
The most important skill will be transliteracy – the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms and networks. The transliterate person is open to a constantly-changing environment, able to adjust quickly to new processes, tools, literacies and ideas, and alert to unusual connections and synergies. They have a sense of history and of the future, building upon the past to create the present and planning for what lies beyond the now. In the transliterate culture, difference and diversity are strengths which open doors to innovation and creativity.
Joining it all up
Don’t separate out your different skillsets – educational, workplace and personal. Bring them all together in a single map of everything you know and understand the connections. You may already make good use of your mobile phone in a social setting, but how might those skills transfer to a job or in further learning? In the future, you may need to blend your separate lives together more closely than you do now, so get used to managing those different identities. And if you don’t already use social networks, join Facebook or Linked In now and learn to get comfortable with them, because you may well need those skills in your next job.
Sue Thomas, Professor of New Media, De Montfort University, Leicester
Sue began an art degree which she didn’t finish, then had many jobs from bank clerk to bookshop assistant to freelance machine knitter. In her 30s she went back to university to study English, History and Information Technology. She became a writer and an expert in new media and social networks. Her varied background has helped her to think out of the box and she has grown a career suited to her interests.