Over the last decade, more than 2 billion people joined the online world. In the next decade, 5 billion more will join them. The promise of change is staggering. Even for those us who live and breathe tech skills and tech careers, understanding the implications of all these new connections can seem daunting. Inspiration, too, though comes with thinking about all of this change that is coming. We read and re-read The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, to get the view from Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman and former chief executive of Google, and Jared Cohen, a foreign-relations expert and director of Google Ideas. You don’t need to read it though. We took Cliff-Notes for you.
The authors rightly point out that the 5 billion people about to come online are very different from the Internet’s earliest settlers, those you are currently hiring for. Those coming online shortly are generally more impoverished, living in more dangerous contexts and facing more complex problems. If we think technology is pervasive in organizations today, just wait until we digitally interact with two times more people.
The book lays out wistful scenes of glitch-free daily routines. Computers scan the work schedule to select appropriate attire. Driverless cars show up in time to beat the rush hour. The news of Internet-fueled revolutions empowering more people with basic rights and economic opportunity gleam in 3D holograph form, beamed in from the trendiest celebrity’s news feed. In the eyes of Schmidt and Cohen, the next generation of technology workers are better at filtering than they are at inventing. They decide which platforms are best to use at the moment – among thousands of options. In the technology driven world, the future is going to need abundantly more skilled tech professionals to drive that innovation.
The book imagines the impact of technology on personal and state identity, war and crime, and the strength of freedom and community, offering up nuggets of advice and policy direction to the wise along the way. In the world of the future, parents use SEO techniques to decide on baby names and virtual identity management is a common class in college.
The conclusion, overall, is that “anyone passionate about economic prosperity, human rights, social justice, education or self-determination should consider how connectivity can help us reach those goals or even move beyond them.” The skilled technology professionals of tomorrow may increasingly come from backgrounds in the social sciences, according to Schmidt and Cohen.
While we think that data is “big” and platforms are “responsive” now, wait until we open up the virtual door and say hello to 5 billion new people.