Are Your Kids Ready for the 3rd Industrial Revolution?

There have been a lot of predictions and discussions about a “3rd Industrial Revolution” in the past, but the one I’m referring to is promoted by a man named Jeremy Rifkin who was interviewed Oct. 3rd on NPR. He maintains that our current carbon based energy economy is unsustainable, because of both climate change and resource scarcity (we will eventually run out of the stuff). Everyone talks about the need for renewable energy, but Rifkin is promoting a shift away from centralized power and energy distribution to a more lateral system where we all create our own energy in homes and businesses, which are then all tied together by an “Energy Internet.” He’s trying to convince governments and industry to let go of the old business models in favor of a new system where we are all nodes in a giant web of information and energy transmission.

It’s an interesting idea, and I want to read his book to learn more. But it reinforces for me the urgency of our situation. Regardless of how well society transitions out of our old carbon-based energy dependence, we have to be ready for changes. Our kids will have to be ready for changes. Fortunately, they will probably be better at it than we will.

Based on my research so far, here’s some of the changes that I am predicting:

  • oil (and fuel) prices will continue to rise indefinitely, meaning prices for everything else will rise
  • local organic food production will expand due to high shipping and conventional farming costs
  • people will find ways to conserve more energy/drive less as costs go up
  • power companies will continue shifting to renewables but it won’t be enough to meet demand, so supply will have to be rationed
  • to control rising costs, any job that can be outsourced to cheaper labor pools will be outsourced
  • the only jobs left in the USA will be jobs that must be done in person here (construction, medical/personal care, hospitality, agriculture, storefront retail, etc.), and those that require creativity, research and innovation

There’s a bunch of other things that I could add to this list, but that will be enough to make my point for now. There are many people who present a very gloomy view of this future, and it’s true that a lot could go bad if we don’t adapt quickly. I don’t want to wait for things to go bad though. I want to adapt now, and help my community get ready too.

Part of that involves educating our kids, or rather, letting them educate us. Innovation isn’t top-down, it’s bottom-up. Great businesses know this. They have recognized that they need to give employees the freedom to come up with a better way to do things. While researching for my book, I found that so many of our greatest innovators did so in spite of formal education, not because of it. Now, I don’t mean to malign all formal education, just standardized formal education. We have to give kids the wiggle room to design an education that fits their personal interests and ambitions, because that’s where their genius is. And we’re going to need all the geniuses we can get in this new world.

We don’t need pliability, blind obedience, subservience, or disengagement. Here’s what we do need:

  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Flexibility
  • Personal responsibility
  • Leadership
  • Innovation
  • Experimentation

How do we get these things? Self-directed education is a great first step (read my book!), but that doesn’t mean learning in isolation. Kids really do need opportunities to find mentors, work in groups, solve real-world problems, and be involved in their community. They need access to other people and information via the Internet. Technology will be a big player in how all of this turns out, so there’s no use sheltering older kids from computers. There’s even evidence that multi-player video games give kids a chance to solve complex puzzles/problems and exercise creative thinking.

Adaptation on a massive scale is going to take all of us working and learning new ways to cooperate and live within our means. It will probably take a generous dose of humor and goodwill as well. We can start with ourselves, unlearning what we used to know, and let loose our kids to learn what we will need to know.

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