I was pleasantly surprised to get an email the other day from folks organizing the Accelerating Change conference Nov 5-7 at Stanford. There are some interesting speakers and futuristic-like topics on the table. Since it’s happening on a weekend I considered registering but never did anything. Now, I’ve been offered a “high school scholarship” and will be able to go for free. I think they found out about me through my blog. I did need to write up a little essay that addressed: “Describe the most important changes in the world you think you are going to see happen over your lifetime. Is this different from what you would ideally like to see happen? How would you like your government, businesses, schools, and other institutions help you deal with those changes? What things can you do personally to prepare yourself for the future? What can you do to shape the global future?” My quick essay is below. If you’re going to be at the conference, email me and we can hook up.
In the past we have been able to pinpoint changes on a timeline by taking time in the present to analyze and interpret history. This ability, to both deal with present-day issues while examining how our world has changed in the past, is rapidly deteriorating. Now, we are moving forward at a pace that many of us can not keep up with. We are moving forward with changes that are more complex and scientific than most of us are intellectually capable of digesting. For example, there is a certain amount of human despair when it comes to the simple task of voting. There are so many issues, so many different ideas and opinions, analyses and perspectives, and even more perspectives on perspectives, that it is not hard to see why so many throw our hands up in a confusing torrent of information.
It is not only the amount of information that worries people, but the media through which we receive it. Instead of everyone carefully reading the New York Times and feeling content for the day that they were well-informed, executive-level thinkers now consume 3 or 4 newspapers a day, 20-30 blogs, satellite radio, on-demand TV, and so forth. In the old days it took a printing press to influence opinion. Now all it takes is a personal computer. The result? Millions are exerting their influence, and when taken together, this creates a dizzying array of choices and contradictory opinions.
Hence my avoidance to use “information overload” and instead “stimuli-overload” as the key challenge and change I will see over my lifetime. It is hard to say how this compares with an ideal future. Will this accelerating change ultimately benefit society and the world? We can only find out. We often spend so much time analyzing our past and predicting the future that we forget to take a breath in the present. To that end, the only thing we do know is that change is happening now.
I believe that government must not try to regulate these changes. Instead, it must let innovation and change happen organically. Educational bodies must inform through research and studies. We often hear technology prophets and visionaries proclaim the Next Big Thing and that leaves a lot of people wondering just how much penetration new technologies are having. If universities can help clear the fog in this respect we will all benefit. Businesses, finally, must do what they do best: attract the smartest people, give them the tools to make change, and then turn those ideas into viable concerns. In the United States, it will take a combination of all these institutions in order to keep this country the capital of creativity and change.
It is up to my generation to look at technologies like the internet and say “To what extent do we accept it for what it is versus what it can and should be?” Fortunately, most young people have not had a problem adapting to an always-on world with more information coming from more places than any parent has dealt with. It is necessary for all of us to foster this spirit of optimism and embracement of change through the appropriate incentives to keep this young talent engaged, caring, and most important, rewarded for their role in producing and adapting to change.