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The Key to Thriving in the Digital Era

When I’m in front of high school or university students, I often coach them to prepare for the world that awaits them following graduation. I talk about the skills they’ll need in the future, regardless of the industry they join. (Skills like critical thinking, creative processing, analytic writing, emotional intelligence, problem solving, etc.) Then, however, I frequently move into helping them see the big picture of post-modern society. I expand out to the macro level and talk about the times we live in, and the role they’ll need to play for our civilization to thrive. Let me offer a summary below from one of the great minds in our day.

Thriving in the Digital Era

photo credit: UBC Library IKBLC Group Study1 via photopin (license)

photo credit: UBC Library IKBLC Group Study1 via photopin (license)

In 2012, Jonah Sachs wrote a book called, Winning the Story Wars. It’s a fascinating book that deserves our attention and application. In it he suggests three significant eras of communication we’ve experienced in history.

The Oral Era – During this time period centuries ago, all communication was oral. By this, Sachs means that ideas were spoken verbally and personally to a listener. There were no books or broadcasts. Thoughts were shared person to person. The advantage was—the message was personal and tailored. The disadvantage was that it couldn’t be scaled quickly at all. Tradition ruled the day and the times changed slowly as ideas spread slowly. This is what historians call the pre-modern world.

The Broadcast Era – During this period, the printing press was introduced, as well as the telegraph, radio and television. Now ideas could spread more widely and quickly. Books abounded, and translations were made fairly rapidly. The advantage was just that—ideas could now be scaled and multiplied globally. The disadvantage was the message was much less personal. Speed and volume ruled the day. This era began as we moved into the modern world. Reason motivated our course.

The Digital Era – Today, we’ve moved into a new world. Thanks to the computer, we have moved into the information age, where data can be both scaled and personal. Consider today’s reality: we can place content on a website, yet target a very specialized community of people. For that matter, we can create all kinds of sites tailored and customized for particular communities to interact with each other in real time. It’s like the oral era in that we can converse about ideas, but like the broadcast era in that our ideas can spread and scale rapidly.

We’re now in a post-modern world. In it, technology allows us to both customize and scale our messages, but it also enables us to be fuzzy in our values and ethics; to be lazy in our habits; to be low in emotional intelligence. But alas, we’ve learned to be tolerant, and never want to judge or be judged. This is both good news and bad news. We love to critique others, but refuse to be critiqued. We can impulsively retaliate on social media outlets, without facing the conflict personally. Every voice is validated, even harmful ones, because reason evaporated with the modern age.

This digital era is one that our young adults will grow up in and can capitalize on, if we help them. They want their influence to be personal and scalable. How can we leverage technology to help them do something redemptive and big? How can we equip them to use screens, yet develop their emotional intelligence at the same time?

I have found that students tend to naturally recognize this world and understand it more quickly than I do. Having grown up with these realities, they just “get it.” What they may not understand as well, however, are the timeless skills—or even virtues —that older generations have learned to be valuable. For instance…

They may naturally understand: They may not recognize:
1. Utilizing social media to communicate 1. Long-term consequences of misusing it
2. Leveraging a website to gain attention 2. How to leverage that attention for good
3. Customizing video content for users 3. Ensuring video content is redemptive
4. Creating appealing music or content 4. The discipline of doing it with excellence
5. How to get a timely message out 5. Making that timely message timeless

Every one of us, as educators, parents, coaches, staff and employers can still add value to this emerging generation. We must recognize, however, that in the Land of Tomorrow, we are the immigrants and they’re the natives.

We must empower them to make progress—the kind of progress they’re more suited to make than older generations are. But at the same time, we must impart to them the timeless values and virtues they’ll need to take with them into an uncertain future. We must clearly convey values and virtues like resilience, discipline, integrity, problem-solving skills, good communication, commitment and responsibility. That’s the critical role we can play.

Let’s look outward at where the future is heading.

This blog is just a small excerpt to whet your appetite for a new book coming out in the spring of 2017: Marching Off the Map. This book promises to be a guide to those who teach and influence Generation Z—to prepare them for the future. You can pre-order the book in January.


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