While I was watching TV a couple of weeks ago, I came across NYT columnist Thomas L. Friedman discussing his new book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. The interview was very short, but provided an interesting insight into how people, regardless of age, have to become lifelong learners in order to survive in the global market. I am sure we have all thought, at some point or another, that if I can just get this undergraduate degree, or this masters degree, or terminal degree, I’d be free to having never to attend a formal educational institution ever again. My how things have changes!
Fifty or sixty years ago, you could finish college and you’d have all the education you needed for the rest of your career. You don’t have that luxury in today’s job market. Skills that were cutting edge five years ago are likely out of date, and the jobs that we will perform in the next decade or two probably don’t even exist yet. If you want to stay competitive in today’s job market and potentially earn more money, you need to become a lifelong learner.
When I was a little girl, my mom—who was often between jobs—could usually find employment. Companies would hire you right on the spot, and in some cases you’d take home an honest day’s pay the same day. There used to be a time when people could graduate high school and go straight to the factory to work for the next thirty to forty years. My uncle worked at the post office for forty years and never worried about losing his job. My how things have changed! I guess the question is why did things change and what caused them to change, then and now. The usual flipside of that observation is that the number of jobs requiring greater cognitive skill has been growing.
Technological advances have improved the way we produce products and the way we communicate. The acceleration of technology is what is driving us to increase our skills and forcing us to become lifelong learners. Those that choose not to will fall behind and will be left with lower paying jobs that require little thinking—if any. In many occupations it has become essential to acquire new skills as established ones become obsolete. All professionals are experiencing the effects of accelerating technology.
Some work environments are more supportive than others when comes to professional development opportunities, but you should take the initiative yourself to become a lifelong learner. First and foremost, you would be empowering yourself, in addition to being an employee that is knowledgeable about current technologies and new practices in your field.
I love learning new things. I encourage others to not be afraid to learn something new. Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Learning new things can also help stave off old-age ailments like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
While I’ve worked in higher education my entire career, some of the positions demanded problem-solving skills using the latest technology. So sometimes the demands of your job will help you stay on top of this accelerated world we live. We live in a world where we want everything immediately—news, food, money, and information. People become upset if you don’t answer their text right away, answer your phone, or respond to an email.
The acceleration of technology has shaped this behavior. We want more and more, faster and faster. The world of computers and information technology has become such an important aspect of our lives, and it is highly doubtful that there will be a return to traditional methods of conducting business. The primary benefit of technology is efficiency. Businesses from small mom-and-pops to large conglomerates are capable of providing products and services at a faster, more efficient rate, which can result in higher profits.
Sharing and helping others learn encourages a rich climate in which to sustain the lifelong cycle of learning. As technology increases its stronghold in our lives, there will be countless new opportunities to harness its power for lifelong learning. Respect, patience and effort will help all of us to realize the impact that technology can have on lifelong learning.
There’s no turning back now! Are you going to become a lifelong learner in the age of acceleration or get left behind with your head spinning like a top?