Skills You Didn’t Need 150 Years Ago, But You Need Now

The world moves at an incredible pace. We already ran out of letters to denominate generations, with Gen Z. (to name the future ones, we will probably use global events, like the “Covid generation”). This speed brings incredible civilization advancements, from technology to medicine, but it also brings very serious challenges.

Although we are living in the safest period of human kind (the mere number of humans existing on the planet now, more than 7.5 billion, is enough of a testament to this) our lives are… different now. The skills needed just to experience a comfortable life evolved a lot.

Just as an exercise, I though for a while about what specific skills we need to live comfortably today, and we didn’t need just 150 years ago. The following list is just that: a playful exercise (if you have things to add, feel free).

Operating Washing Machines

This is no joke. Washing machines are tools that have a mind of their own, are ubiquitous, meaning everybody operates them and if you aren’t comfortable with them, your life will literally start to stink.

Symbol Based Pedestrian Navigation

I’m talking obviously about green / red traffic lights. Allegedly, some cities did have some ways to route the pedestrian traffic but they didn’t involve specific signaling symbols. The first semaphore (which was used for a very specific use, it was not mainstream) was invented about 220 years ago, but it took a few more decades until it evolved into what we know and use now. On top of that, an entire plethora of road signs are now needed just to safely cross from one side of your city to the other. If you don’t believe me, try crossing a road where there’s no sign telling you’re allowed to do so.

Operating Remote Connection Devices

For us, mobile phones are so familiar. But for people living 150 years ago, this would have been a huge shift in their lifestyle. I expect the cognitive burden of adjusting to such a device to be really significant. Again, we don’t realize how much we needed to learn and iterate until we reached a point where talking to someone on the other side of the world, in real time, with video, is something trivial.

Prolonged Learning

For the vast majority of people, education was very expensive 150 years ago. And even when you were able to walk this path, to learn until well in your late twenties (as it is today, with masters, post-graduates, PHDs, etc) it was quite uncommon. The sheer will to stay on that path would have been extraordinary. Now if you stopped at college level you’re considered almost uneducated.

Remote Shopping

It’s online shopping, obviously, but for someone living 150 years ago, this would have been, again, something better called “remote”. I know there were some sort of catalogues and ways of ordering for very wealthy people, but we’re talking about a widespread phenomenon. Everybody orders online these days, and, again, believe it or not, this is a skill. To understand how a shopping cart works in this context would have been a very complicate thing to explain back then.

What Next?

So, these are just 5 areas that have been dramatically changed in the last 150 years. Given that the world moves significantly faster now, I expect us to need skills that are inexistent now (or even impossible to comprehend, for us, because of the cognitive burden) much faster. Probably in 30-40 years, our lives will be so incredibly different from what we are used to now, that we will be barely coping.

And, somehow, I have a hunch that one of these skills will be something like “know the basic requirements for living on a different planet than Earth”.

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

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